The old joke has only one line, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” That and “We’re the party of the Charter” seem to be key assertions Justin Trudeau’s government leans heavily on in the effort to distance image from action in search of trust, particularly in regard to matters touching on religion.
“Thank you, Canada… for putting your trust in the Liberal team,” Justin Trudeau tweeted the day after the 2021 election; a poll in which his party mustered the support of 2 in 10 electors (3 in 10 of those who troubled themselves to vote), retaining his minority government.
But for the prudent, trust is earned. Trust is not conferred merely because of words―spoken or tweeted.
For people in a substantial number of Canada’s faith communities, spanning several religions, the trust relationship with the Trudeau Liberals has been uncertain for valid reasons.
When Minister of Justice David Lametti assured that Bill C-6, amending the Criminal Code to address conversion therapy, would not capture “good faith” religious and counselling conversations hundreds of submissions were generated and sent to the Justice Committee during its review of the bill. The common theme was, “put those words in the bill.” Canadians know the opinion of Minister Lametti expressed at a press conference will bear little weight in a court of law, or the court of public opinion. Inexplicably, three-quarters of the submissions made to the committee were literally ignored, not even looked at.
C-6 died when the election was called in August 2021, as its predecessor C-8 had been put to rest when Prime Minister Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August 2020.
C-6 was resurrected in amended form November 29 as Bill C-4. For many it was time to start reviewing submissions they made a year ago to re-work them as required because C-4 is not the same bill as C-6. It has been amended to define a larger snare for a wider coterie of potential lawbreakers.
There was hope submissions by Canadians to our parliamentarians might this time be read, considered, and acted on. The request remains simple. Put the good faith conversations and counselling exemption in the bill. It’s now also necessary to add good faith referrals for counselling to the exemption clause in the definition because of changes made to C-4.
One constant between C-6 and C-4 is the non-legislated just-trust-us-on-good-faith-communications guarantee from Minister Lametti.
When two days after its tabling Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party moved unanimous agreement to skip committee review of the new bill many were perplexed that not a single MP insisted the revised legislation require the assessment of normal parliamentary procedure. Half of his caucus had opposed C-6, and O’Toole had publicly committed to a free vote on C-4. Anyone who read the bill had to be aware of the changes from the one previously debated. But, with Jody Wilson-Raybould standing down last election, there was not a single MP found who would stand up for principle or procedure. Not one. So, it’s off to the Senate, oft referred to as the chamber of sober second thought.
Bill C-4 was introduced and passed by the House of Commons so quickly that the Department of Justice, Minister Lametti’s department, had not prepared the statement on whether the bill is likely or unlikely to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, required under section 4.2 of the Department of Justice Act to be presented when a bill is tabled in the House of Commons.
Before commenting further on concerns with Bill C-4, following is a partial recap of trust inhibitors established by the current governmnet in its relationship with Canadian faith communities.
One of the Trudeau Government’s first acts was to shut down the Office of Religious Freedom. It took advocacy from multiple religious communities and leaders over the tenure of three prime ministers―Chretien, Martin, and Harper―before their voices were heard and the Office was established. Despite a post-election evaluation that recognized significant contribution by the Office to international relations, diplomacy, trade, security and human rights, including women’s rights, early in 2016 Trudeau declared a shift in international focus to feminist reproductive rights policy. The Office was closed.
In December 2017, places of worship and other religious organizations were blindsided by a new attestation requirement Canada Summer Jobs 2018 funding. Declared support for abortion became the standard. Fresh air camps, inner-city day camps, seniors summer programs and more were cancelled or limited across the country as a result. Religious organizations―Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, and others―simply could not sign in good faith. With pressure mounting and an election scheduled following summer 2019, the government relented.
When Quebec’s government introduced and passed Bill 21 forbidding the wearing of religious attire at government funded jobs, it was suddenly illegal to wear kippahs, hijabs, turbans, crosses or any religious symbols to work as a teacher, doctor, nurse or in any number of government funded jobs. Trudeau was quick to personally say his government would not interfere or challenge the legislation in court. The NDP and Conservative leaders were quick to align. There are a lot of votes in Quebec. Freedom of religion finished second.
Bill C-6 is mentioned above. Being ignored by parliamentarians from a plurality of parties did not send a positive message. The bill might have passed in the last Parliament if the government had not sat on it from the Justice Committee report in December 2020 until June 2021 just before summer break and calling an election in August.
Also tabled in the House of Commons in June 2021 was Bill C-10, proposing internet regulation by government that would extend to personal social media accounts. Canadians, religious and non-religious, were concerned.
Following confirmation of 215 unmarked gravesites at the former Indian residential school in Kamloops, church fires and defacements started. Several dozen church buildings were destroyed or damaged. Pressed to comment, Prime Minister Trudeau noted it was “unacceptable and wrong,” adding however that it was “understandable” because the trauma and anger is real. Not reassuring for the faithful.
During the election, candidate Trudeau campaigned on eliminating the charitable status of Crisis Pregnancy Centres. Mostly run by Christians, these centres offer counsel on the options of child raising, adoption, and abortion to expectant mothers. They provide continuing support regardless of which option is chosen. Warning signs flash about an earlier review of “advancement of religion” as a charitable ground.
There is widespread agreement with Bill C-4’s objective of prohibiting forced conversion therapy.
Many, however, have expressed concern that the C-4 definition of conversion therapy captures voluntary, good faith counsel of children and adults as well as good faith referrals for that counsel. They want Minister Lametti’s press conference guarantees included in the legislation.
Among the voices expressing concern in the verbal submissions and the 290 written submissions made to the Justice Committee on Bill C-6, 220 of which went unread, were: people who are LGBT+ in sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity; people who were previously gender dysphoric; and, religious and non-religious educators, counsellors, therapists, healthcare professionals, lawyers, parents, relatives, and religious leaders.
When the prime minister and his minister of justice ask us to trust them, we are aware that 338 Member of Parliament, including Trudeau and Lametti, acted as if unaware that the law requires the presentation of a Charter statement from the Department of Justice at the same time a government bill is tabled in the House of Commons. And not one MP was prepared to insist that proper parliamentary procedure be followed.
There is no “party of the Charter” where the Charter, the law, and the rules of Parliament are ignored.
Just trust us? Trust is earned by action, not just words.
Hopefully, in the Senate Bill C-4 will receive the sober first thought it deserves.