Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins anoints the altar of St. Michael's Cathedral during a rededication ceremony Sept. 29, 2016. Canada's proposed Bill C-51 would remove a section of the Criminal Code that currently makes it an indictable offense to threaten or obstruct clergymen or ministers from celebrating services or going about their work. Photo by Michael Swan

Faith leaders push to keep law protecting religious groups

  • November 8, 2017
Canada’s bishops have joined 65 other faith leaders to urge the federal government to rethink legislation that would eliminate laws that make it an offence to disrupt a religious service.

In an Oct. 31 letter to the Attorney General, the multi-faith group said Parliament has a duty to protect religious communities “at a time of growing intolerance.”

The letter said that the faith leaders were “deeply concerned” over a section of Bill-51 that would remove provisions from the Criminal Code (section 176) which provide specific protection for religious communities. 

It is “Parliament’s duty to ensure the protection of faith communities,” said the letter addressed to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

In addition to Canada’s Catholic bishops conference, the letter was signed by leaders from a wide range of Christian organizations and leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist communities.

“The removal of section 176 would send the wrong message in our current climate,” said the letter.  “According to a Statistics Canada report released in June 2017, 35 per cent of hate-motivated crimes reported in 2015 were motivated by hatred of religion.”

Attacks against Muslims are up 61 per cent and attacks on Catholics have also risen, the letter said. 

“Attacks against the Jewish population of Canada accounted for 13 per cent of all hate crimes.”

The letter acknowledges the government’s intent to remove language in the Criminal Code that is “redundant and obsolete.” But the faith leaders insist laws to protect religious services do not fall into those categories.

“An attack against a religious assembly or the deliberate assault of a religious official outside a house of worship is a different kind of offence from other public disturbances, assaults, threats or incitement to hatred,” the letter said. “An offence against a people at worship reverberates through the community and touches every member.”

The letter also warned the proposed change would “erode protection for religious freedom in Canada,” contrary to international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An offence against one particular person or community at worship has an impact on all religious adherents,” the letter said.

The letter not only called for the retention of section 176, but proposed that it be expanded to explicitly include protection for all religious leaders, not just Christian male clergy.

The letter follows testimony before the Justice Committee Oct. 30 by Bishop Lionel Gendron and Cardinal Thomas Collins, speaking on behalf of the CCCB. Many other religious leaders also appeared before the committee to argue against the proposed change in the law.

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