The 20th Century Belongs to Canada

Originally posted at The Gospel Coalition Canada on July 24, 2017. (1st of 3 parts on the Canadian Church and the public sphere)

Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, famously said, “The 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.” Those taking hold of Laurier’s claim have frequently reduced his statement to simply, “The 20th century belongs to Canada.”

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Shortly after winning the 1891 election, Canada’s founding Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald suffered a stroke and days later died. Five years later, his Conservative Party was still in disarray. On their fourth leader (and fourth Prime Minister) since Macdonald, the Conservatives fell to Laurier’s Liberals in 1896. Laurier would win four majorities in succession and lead the nation for fifteen years.

He had good reason for hopeful words about the future. Little more than three decades old, the original four provinces that linked together to form Canada at Confederation on July 1, 1867—Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—had been joined by Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873). In addition to Manitoba, the process was in place to establish the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the then vast Northwest Territories, acquired by Canada in 1870 from the Hudson’s Bay Company. A Mari usque ad mare, from sea to sea, the last spike in Canada’s transcontinental railway had been hammered home November 7, 1885. And Laurier had approved construction of a second and a third!

The Canadian Church in The 19th Century

The political and industrial optimism of the nation extended to the Canadian Church. In 1867, Catholic and Protestant churches had their right to operate denominational schools secured in the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867). This security for future generations was repeated as each new province joined Confederation. The transcontinental railway system, with multiple provincial spur lines, introduced opportunities for evangelism and expansion from both east and west across the prairies.

Denominations sought ways to transition from colonial and regional activity to establish their presence throughout the budding nation. In his book, The Church in the Canadian Era, John Webster Grant described the challenge faced by the Church to keep up with the rapid progress. A number of theologically related denominations merged to facilitate administration of a national presence. Canada’s churches were enthusiastically engaging their membership in the formation and growth of the nation.

E.C. Woodley, in The Bible in Canada: The Story of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Canada, tells how the para-congregational British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), founded in 1804 by a small group of Christian leaders including British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, expanded with Church and nation. At an early meeting of the BFBS, the decision was made to publish the Gospel of St. John in Mohawk. Active engagement in what would become Canada quickly followed. With Confederation, railways and substantial Indigenous and immigrant populations, the work of Bible distribution and translation multiplied. In 1904, fourteen independent auxiliaries of the BFBS joined together to form the Canadian Bible Society (CBS). CBS would find a place in the hearts of many through its supply of New Testaments and Bibles in a variety of languages to Canadian and other allied troops and prisoners of war in World Wars I (270,000) and II (798,000). The available selection of translations had been developed to meet domestic needs resulting from burgeoning, mostly European, immigration.

The Canadian Church in The Early 20 Century

The Great War saw Canadians flock to churches to pray for victory. Whether because of answered prayer or seeking continuing comfort for lost loved ones, they stayed at war’s end. Those who returned from the front sought out similar support at home as had been provided overseas by chaplains, the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the CBS Bibles.

The national growth spurred a uniquely Canadian merger in 1925. The Methodist Church, Congregational Church, and two-thirds of Canada’s Presbyterian congregations joined together to form the United Church of Canada. At union, the United Church became the largest Protestant denomination in the country, quickly displacing the Anglican Church as the primary Protestant voice to counter that of the Roman Catholic Church in both politics and culture. Other potential church mergers, including between the Anglican Church and the new United Church, would be discussed actively among Protestant leaders for another half century.

Even the Great Depression of the 1930s could not slow the overall progress of Canada’s Church. Congregations and para-congregational missions became the backbone of both voluntary and government networks of meeting human need.

My stepfather soldiered at the front in World War II. He used to say that there were no atheists in a foxhole. However, that sentiment did not necessarily carry back to Canada with those who came home. World War II resulted in what had been known as The Great War being retitled as World War I. Questions about global political and military stability were rampant, as were mounting fears of a World War III. Trends in church attendance indicate soldiers returned home, but not necessarily to Sunday worship. Evangelism crusade ministries, such as Youth For Christ started by Charles Templeton and friends, were having a positive impact but traditional Protestant denominations became concerned about Sunday attendance.

Automobiles, air travel, radio and television were making Canada a more connected—might it be said, smaller—country. Occasions to be away from Sunday services, at the time still morning and evening for most congregations, increased as opportunities to visit family or friends for an afternoon or to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour (or other early evening television programs) presented unanticipated competition.

The Canadian Church in The Mid 20th Century

However, it was the early 1960s which witnessed a visible decoupling of culture from church. In Quebec, after a decade and a half of rule by Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale, a party closely aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, the rallying cry Maîtres chez nous (“Masters in our own house”) secured victory for the Liberal Party of Jean Lesage. La Revolution tranquille (“the Quiet Revolution”) brought both cultural and political change. At the same time, a general cultural revolution (it was more than a sexual revolution) was sweeping across English Canada and a generation was emboldened to step away from the strictures of religion.

Concerned about the nascent trend, in 1963 the Anglican Church of Canada retained a former Anglican, author Pierre Berton, to conduct an assessment and write a general critique. The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity And the Religious Establishment in the New Age was published in 1965. The little book was an instant bestseller. After publication, Berton was invited to share his thoughts with the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Berton’s diagnosis portrayed the church as wealthy, insular, and filled with people primarily there for social and business reasons; he also portrayed the church as endorsing a private and unchallenged faith and failing to offer guidance on issues of morality or public engagement—from business ethics to the major decisions of political leadership. His solution? Realign the church to engage the culture as part of the culture. This would necessarily involve reevaluating or setting aside historic principles of Scripture, which Berton considered to be no longer relevant to Canadian society in the century’s closing decades.

The greater portion of the Protestant Church in Canada embraced Berton’s recommendations and began to drift with the tide of culture.

At the same time politically in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s Liberal government came to power, implementing new immigration policies that redirected Canada’s immigration tendencies. This redirection impacted Canada’s historic churches in an adverse way.

Pearson also envisioned the future of his Liberal Party being secured through establishing a power base in Quebec’s constitutionally-guaranteed minimum of twenty-five percent of seats in the House of Commons. He actively recruited high profile candidates from the province. One of those candidates, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, would become Pearson’s Justice Minister, then succeed him in 1968 as Prime Minister. Trudeau introduced legislation that made it easier to obtain a divorce, as well as decriminalizing abortion and homosexuality.

The culture that had grown with the Church was, like the Israelites of old, finding fresh distractions and new temptations. The traditional churches were in the beginning stage of what would become a rapid decline by century’s end.

Re-emerging would be denominations and congregations that placed primacy on orthodoxy (sound doctrine) and orthopraxy (sound practice), holding fast to the Word of God. Evangelicals, whether denominationally or congregations within traditional Protestant denominations, were holding their statistical percentage of an increasing Canadian population. That meant growth. Also growing were Eastern Orthodox communities, benefiting from immigration changes, and networks of immigrant-led ethnic Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations. For the most part, this new wave of immigrants observed a more conservative expression of faith than their European-origin Canadian forebears.

Canadian culture and demographics looked different entering the 21st century than they did when Laurier made his proclamation at the beginning of the 20th. So did the Church.

Space within the law in which religious voices can be heard

Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, made an unusual and significant decision on Monday. The Chief Justice issued a variance to the order of Justice Richard Wagner, significantly expanding the number of organizations that will present to the Court on the Trinity Western University cases scheduled to be heard together November 30, and now December 1 as well.

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At the Supreme Court of Canada

You may recall that TWU satisfied the educational requirements of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education as precursor to recruiting staff and opening a law school. Three Canadian law societies (the provincial self-regulatory bodies for the legal profession) decided to step back from their agreement with the Federation in regard to the approval because TWU would be the first private religious school in the country authorized to educate lawyers. They objected to the Christian religious requirements of the TWU community, particularly abstention from sexual activity, except with their spouse for those staff and students who are married, marriage being defined in the religious tradition of the school as between one woman and one man.

The Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear the remaining refusals of the TWU law school from British Columbia and Ontario.

The Law Society of British Columbia is appealing a unanimous decision by five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that approved of TWU opening a law school, concluding:

A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.

The other case is an appeal by TWU of the unanimous decision by three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal in favour of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision to deny admission to legal practice by graduates of the law school, noting:

… the LSUC did not violate its duty of state neutrality by concluding that the public interest in ensuring equal access to the profession justified a degree of interference with the appellants’ religious freedoms.

Justice Wagner was tasked with deciding who would be permitted to make arguments before the Court in addition to TWU and the two law societies. These extra presenters are called “interveners.” To receive authorization to present before the Court, they must comply with an application process. Justice Wagner decided that a limited number of applicants would be permitted as interveners.

The Chief Justice altered that preliminary decision, as is the prerogative of her position.

Her decision is in keeping with a previously stated position outlined in my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017).

Beverly McLachlin became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2000. On October 9, 2002, speaking at the Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy conference held at McGill University, she stated her opinion that it is the responsibility of the courts to find somewhere “in the comprehensive claims of the rule of law, a space in which individual and community adherence to religious authority can flourish.” The Chief Justice recognized that in the claims of law and religion, “two comprehensive worldviews collide. It is at this point that the treatment of religion becomes truly exigent… both lay some claim to the whole of human experience.” It was the Chief Justice’s conclusion that the courts must meet this challenge in society and that they have been charged with the responsibility for creating this space, “a space within the rule of law in which religious beliefs can manifest.”

On Monday, the Chief Justice decided to make some of that space in her courtroom.

In addition to those who support TWU’s law school proposal, she also made space for those who do not, expanding the field of interveners from the nine selected by Justice Wagner to all thirty-two applicants. In doing so, she affirms a point of law on which she stated agreement in 2004, written by Justice Charles Gonthier:

…nothing in the Charter, political or democratic theory, or a proper understanding of pluralism demands that atheistically based moral positions trump religiously based moral positions on matters of public policy.

The Court’s particular role as an instrument of the state is to do its best to be neutral in hearing and deciding these two related cases.

Comments of Justice Marie Deschamps, made in 2012 and with which the Chief Justice agreed, in regard to the state’s duty of neutrality are also noted in Under Siege:

The Court concluded “that, from a philosophical standpoint, absolute neutrality does not exist”.

However, following a realistic and non-absolutist approach, state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever, while taking into account the competing constitutional rights of the individuals affected.

The place of the religious Canadian in Canadian society is equal with that of the non-religious Canadian.

It will be a far more interesting discussion on the points of law at issue in this case with the additional interveners granted the opportunity to present before the Court, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the World Sikh Organization among others.

Through this decision, informed by the wisdom of experience – no doubt also a difficult one, particularly since Justice Wagner, from Quebec, is being touted a likely successor to the Chief Justice’s chair on her retirement in December – Beverley McLachlin is staying faithful to her word by making space in which important religious voices can be heard.

You can follow the status of the cases here.


Religious Freedom and the Celestial Marriages of William Blackmore

Originally posted at Context with Lorna Dueck on July 25, 2017.

It took decades of deliberation to launch a prosecution. Monday’s conviction of Winston Blackmore and James Oler was the first in the 127 year existence of Canada’s Criminal Code prohibition against polygamy, following more than seven decades of plural marriage practice in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Don Hutchinson

Don at the Supreme Court of Canada

This constitutional battle will likely come to end with a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. During the trial, Blackmore’s lawyer announced his client would appeal a guilty verdict if one was delivered by B.C. Justice Sheri Ann Donegan.

What is the likely final outcome? Does Canada face legal, constitutionally supported polygamy as some predicted during the national debate about redefinition of marriage?

Let’s review some history behind this week’s decision before I share an educated guess on the final outcome.

The situation in Bountiful was one of Canada’s drawn-out well-known secrets. In the 1990s Canadians were awakened to the long submerged truth about child sexual abuse in a variety of settings where adults had been regarded as positive role models to children in their care – schools, hockey arenas and religious institutions among them.  In that wake, the RCMP expressed concern to the Attorney General of B.C. about the wives and children of Bountiful.

A series of Attorneys General had studies prepared about the likelihood of courtroom success, apprehensive because of the Constitution Act, 1982’s guarantee of religious freedom in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The reports consistently advised prosecutors were unlikely to prevail as the marriages in Bountiful were not formalized in accordance with provincial requirements. Rather, they were religious marriages, called “celestial” marriages, documented in the records of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. FLDS is the breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful that has tied its practice of plural marriage to its religious beliefs, as the main branch of Mormonism had done until the late 1800s.

In 2007, B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal had had enough. Those who left Bountiful, by escape or eviction, confirmed RCMP concerns. Girls were groomed from childhood to become teen brides in the multiple celestial marriages of older men. Some were pre or early teen sexual conquests before marriage. Boys and young men deemed competition to dominant males were expelled, losing home, family and their place in the world.

Two special prosecutors retained by Oppal again recommended no action be taken. In 2009, a third special prosecutor agreed to move ahead. Technical errors in his appointment resulted in action being stymied.

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled section 293 – the polygamy section – of the Criminal Code constitutional. Tracking the structure in Charter decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, B.C. Chief Justice Bauman found the right to religious freedom – freedom to believe, worship, share religious beliefs openly, teach, evangelize and engage in practices interconnected with sincerely held religious beliefs – is violated by section 293 in regard to celestial marriages, but the violation is a justifiable and reasonable measure for the protection of women, children and the interests of society.

In 2014, one charge each was laid against Blackmore, who has twenty-four wives, and Oler, who has five. Both were convicted on Monday. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. Both intend to appeal.

This case will likely end with a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, unless a plea deal is reached with Blackmore and Oler. Now headed to the B.C. Court of Appeal, if the decision of that court is well-reasoned it’s possible the SCoC will decline to hear the case, deciding to enforce the ruling of the appeal court. More likely, there will be a hearing before Canada’s highest court at some point in the coming years.

The other potential ending is in Parliament.

In 2004, the SCoC reminded Canadians that the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act) remains relevant in the Charter era. Resolution to the constitutional reference case on same-sex marriage by the Canadian government was found in section 91 of the 1867 Act. The federal government has the constitutional jurisdiction to define “marriage” for Canadians. The Court noted that a redefinition in contradiction to religious beliefs could not be used to force a change in religious beliefs or practices.

The Civil Marriage Act was passed in 2005 by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government, with support from the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Canada’s definition of marriage was restated as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” Martin’s hands had been tied on the issue, but not by the SCoC. His predecessor, Jean Chretien, had decided to not appeal court rulings in several provinces that authorized the solemnization of same-sex marriages – solemnization of marriage is provincial jurisdiction under section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Martin was left with the quagmire of not recognizing same-sex marriages lawful in a checkerboard of provinces or extending authorization to all. His government did not remove section 293 from the Criminal Code.

Parliament has the authority to, again, redefine marriage. However, I expect judges and legislators will respect the 2005 definition of marriage, the 2011 legal reasoning of Chief Justice Bauman and this week’s decision of Justice Donegan.

Canada 150: A nation steeped in religious freedom

Originally published in the Voice of the Martyrs Canada newsletter, July 2017.

Canadians started celebrating #Canada150 early on the evening of December 31, 2016, but the focus of yearlong festivities is this month. July 1, 1867 to July 1, 2017 – Confederation to sesquicentennial!

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Confederation negotiations were sensitive to religious differences in the four founding provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario). Particular attention was given to the presence of minority religious communities, notably Protestant Christians in Quebec and Roman Catholic Christians in Ontario. While Canada was never constitutionally a Christian nation, the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867) included provisions to protect the schools of minority religious communities on a province-by-province basis.

As the new nation grew – adding the provinces of Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905) (both established out of NWT), Newfoundland and Labrador (1949), as well as the Northwest Territories (1870, NWT), Yukon (1898) and Nunavut (1999) (both also out of NWT) – its churches expanded with it, a Mari usque ad Mare (From Sea to Sea) along waterways, railway lines and fledgling road systems. Small towns featured one or two churches at their heart and city centres had a church every few blocks.

Historian J.W. Grant wrote, “Canada grew up under the tutelage of its churches.”[1] The nation also grew up with continuing tension between religious communities, unresolved by constitutional division of powers between provincial and federal governments. Canadian courts were left to carry forward the work done earlier by diplomats, who brought peace between the French Roman Catholic and English Protestant factions a century earlier in the 1763 Treaty of Paris that formally transitioned New France (Quebec) to British control.

Religious difference, some historic and some resulting from changing immigration patterns, was addressed early in the Constitution Act, 1982, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this same Canada 150 year. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II sat sheltered from the rain at a table on the front steps of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block when they signed the document that gave Canada control over its constitution for the first time. Canada, born July 1, 1867, became an independent nation April 17, 1982.

Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The first fundamental freedom noted is “freedom of conscience and religion.”

Many Christians perceive that an advancing secularism is trying to force upon Canadians a culture in which faith is to be private. However, decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Charter’s first freedom tell a story that is not enough heard. The Charter guarantees, and the Court agrees, freedom of religion is more than the right to believe. It is more than the right to worship. It includes the right to declare religious beliefs openly, to teach and to evangelize without fear of reprisal. This is the Canadian story that needs to be better understood as our nation matures, and as new tensions surface around religion. More on that next month.


[1] John Webster Grant, The Canadian Experience of Church Union (London, UK: Lutterworth Press, 1967), 23.

Under Siege: how and why I authored this book

This is a shorter version of the blog Under Siege: What it’s About originally published March 22, 2017 at Word Alive Press.           UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867-2017) is my first book.

Writing and publishing Under Siege was intimate and personal, and also not possible without intentional interaction with others in the Body of Christ.

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In April 2016 I was invited to speak at a pastors and spouses conference taking place in October 2016. The request was for two keynote talks on religious freedom, a subject that has been woven into my adult life through education and experience. One talk would be about religious freedom in Canada and other about the global persecuted church.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I started work on the project early. Long before the deadline was even on the horizon, I was praying, outlining, researching and capturing thoughts—I sleep with a notepad on the nightstand. Waking early one morning with the idea of turning the Canada talk into a book, I scribbled out three section heading ideas and many of the chapter titles before going back to sleep. Beginning that morning in May, work on the talk was combined with work on the book.

At the same time, I was finishing teaching a course on living a public faith; part of the apologetics training year at Ottawa School of the Bible—OSB is a practical understanding and application Bible school that is an initiative of the Lifecentre, and is accessed by students and pastors from across the city. I was teaching those in or interested in Christian leadership, and in October I would be speaking to pastors and their spouses. As a result, I found myself writing for Christian leaders, pastors and their spouses.

There are well written books on religious freedom in Canada for lawyers and academics. Distinct from those who engage the courts and in universities, missing was something designed to equip the troops who are engaged in the daily frontline spiritual warfare of 21st century Canada. Christian leaders minister in a human rights minefield, both real and imagined. They are the people who will primarily benefit from an accurate understanding of the Canadian situation. Under Siege is written for them, for us.

It wasn’t until late August or early September that I convinced myself I was actually writing a book for publication and willing to accept the responsibility to finish the task. I’ve written blogs, opinion pieces for newspapers, and had a regular column in Faith Today. But I hadn’t written a book until Under Siege. As a result, I started seeking advice from people who had written, edited, published and marketed books.

When I was about seventy percent of the way through the writing process (and thinking I was ninety percent done) I invited input into the process from members of my target audience, pastors and Christian leaders, and some constitutional law lawyers. The lawyers were qualified to review my comments in the specialized constitutional law area of religious freedom. The pastors and Christian leaders gave me feedback on how to better communicate various concepts I was writing about.

Finally, when the draft was complete, I invited a couple of dozen people to read and comment on the full unedited text, including most of those who had input at the earlier stage. They had a four week deadline, which coincided with the deadline for approving the final edit of the text. I am exceedingly grateful for all who accepted, including those who ran out of time.

As each one was also invited to consider writing an endorsement, I ended up with seventeen endorsements from a good cross-section of Christian expressions and experience. I was excited— I cried when I read them all together at the deadline.

For editing, it was a privilege to work with an experienced, young Christian author/editor who was interested in the topic of my book. He held me to task on improving my footnoting, strengthened grammar and made good suggestions for adjustments in the text. Cover design and layout were done with similar thoughtfulness and professionalism.

Throughout the process I asked for advice from both the Word Alive Press team and a small group of personal-friend advisors—people praying for me while I was writing—who shared their thoughts on what they read, and were also invited to comment on cover design and layout.

In the end, Under Siege is available in offset and print-on-demand paperback, and a variety of electronic formats.

I applied for and received a license to use the Canada 150 logo based on the theme of the book, which only allows printing with the logo until the end of 2017. Extra fees would be required to remove the logo from print-on-demand and electronic formats effective January 1, 2018, so the offset press paperbacks printed by Word Alive Press are a kind of special edition Canada 150 cover. Get ‘em while they’re here!