A Challenging Intersection of Passover, Easter and #CanadaSummerJobs

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"This Good Friday 2018 I decided to reflect on some events of Holy Week in writing. It’s been a unique Holy Week. Passover and Easter coincide this year. And, it seems our federal government is determined to keep the Canada Summer Jobs story alive, having carried it forward into mid-week, before our Prime Minister tweeted “best wishes” to Christians today.

Here’s our brief Good Friday interaction:

Justin Trudeau @JustinTrudeau : On Good Friday, I send my best wishes to Christians around the world gathering to reflect and pray on the blessings we share. Wishing you a peaceful and meaningful day.

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : Praying for you @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau, even as we seek constitutionally guaranteed equal treatment from your government. It would mean much more to us than ‘best wishes.’ #CanadaSummerJobs #CharterOfRightsAndFreedoms #ReligiousFreedom #EqualityRights #Diversity #inclusion

Of course, it’s not the Prime Minister’s tweet or my reply that brought the story into this week but the announcement made by Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu following her meeting with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The Minister acknowledged there is a problem with the attestation clause, and said she is prepared to review it prior to Canada Summer Jobs 2019.

That’s right. The government recognizes a problem exists today. The list of applicants for 2018 has not been finalized. No decision has been made about grant recipients. But the Minister and Prime Minister are not prepared to take the simple corrective action required now. Maybe next year?

Here was my twitter response to the announcement:

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : @PattyHajdu it would be simple enough to modify #CanadaSummerJobs #attestation now and open applications for a ten day period. Kids, refugees, homeless and students aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule. How about it @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau ?

It’s not complicated. That said, the Prime Minister and his Minister have said an unequivocal “no” to respecting the religious beliefs of past recipients and potential new applicants, leaving Christian ministries from coast-to-coast-to-coast responsible to determine next steps if they are in this summer of 2018 to serve the children, those with and without disabilities, the financially struggling, those with and without homes, and the students relying on summer employment to help fund their education.

Rather than comment on the dangers of the Church’s dependence on government funding (the risks and cautions are described in chapters 14 and 25 of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)), here are a few words on how we the Church – for the Church is the people who comprise the Body of Christ, not a building or collection of buildings large and small – are called to respond to the needs of … the Church.

First, we pray. We pray intelligently, knowing that there is a need and what that need is. We ask God, with whom prayer is conversation, about our part in responding to that need. He may well encourage us, individually and/or congregationally, to do something in addition to prayer.

That brings me to Passover and Easter. The two also coincided in the year that Jesus was crucified.

The night before the Feast of Passover was to begin was the same night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Before that late night betrayal took place, Jesus made arrangements to partake in what He knew would be a last supper with His closest followers. During the private dinner, Jesus shared with His disciples through example, washing their feet as their Servant, through discourse, communicating what the events that would unfold over the next few days would mean for their future, and in prayer, a prayer for unity among those at the table and for all of us who believe because of the historic record of His life and their testimony. You can read the true story for yourself in the Gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17.

Jesus knew that His prayer for unity was not a call for uniformity, either uniformity within the Body of Christ today – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant – or with the diverse twelve around the table with Him.

Jesus knew it would only be after His resurrection that His disciples would understand the significance of His example and His heart-to-heart exchange with them.

And, Jesus knew that, in time, we would be the beneficiaries of what was chronicled from that evening.

Without discounting the two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with all we are and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, Jesus added a third for those of us who follow Him.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)

The writers of the New Testament extended repeated challenges to us about how to love one another. They did so writing to a Church that had not yet found favour with the government of Rome and was out of favour with the governors of Jerusalem.

We tend to read New Testament comments on “love one another” as applicable to the second command, to love our neighbours as ourselves, when they were recorded as practical application of the third command, to love our brothers and sisters in the Church. The third might even be regarded as instruction on the “love ourselves” part of the second.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:4-13, ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26, ESV)

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, ESV)

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV)

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27, NLT)

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. … By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:14, 16-18, ESV)

When we consider Jesus’ new commandment, the message of the New Testament authors is compelling for you and me today when Christian ministries that serve other Christians and/or serve people in need find themselves to be in need. Those ministries are part of the Church, as are we. It’s time for us in the Church to assess what we can do to supplant the absent federal funding that was vital to the congregational and para-congregational ministries expressing the heart to serve “kids, refugees, homeless and students [who] aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule.”

#CanadaSummerJobs: What’s Next? Hard Choices.

People have connected with the issue of the #CanadaSummerJobs attestation clause. Those who oppose the Government’s position and those who support it want to know what’s next.

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Opponents desire to stop such imposition on freedom where it stands.

Supporters wish for this reshaped interpretation of rights by the Government to multiply. The first glimpse of their wishes being granted is found in the attestation requirement for participation in the Canada Service Corps youth initiative. And, there are rumblings about implementing a similar attestation requirement for registered charities.

Let me use the next thousand words or so to paint a thorough picture for the Church, one that depicts where we’ve come from on this issue and where we might be headed.

First, the issue of a government changing funding requirements is not new. Neither is the issue of government expanding funding requirements beyond expectations detailed in human rights legislation and decisions of the courts. That doesn’t make such behaviour acceptable. Although also addressed elsewhere in my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017), there are two chapters directed toward the topic, Chapter Fourteen ‘The Church Likely Cannot Serve Both God and Government without Trouble’ and Chapter Twenty-Five ‘The Church as Charity.’ It’s important we enter government funding opportunities with our eyes wide open, aware that over time:

Christian ministries and government bureaucrats have entered into agreements in good faith, knowing that the ministries were doing a better job than the government because of the heart behind the work. It was ministry unto Him, not simply unto them. Times changed, representatives on both sides of the negotiating tables changed, and government spokespersons increasingly pushed beyond the focus of serving people in need to challenging things they didn’t understand or accept about the Christian ethos of the increasingly government-dependent organizations. (Under Siege, page 122)

Second, despite what you may have read or heard, Canada remains a democracy. The next federal election is scheduled to take place in October 2019. In Canada, governments change.

Third, although much attention was given to the issue of pro-life anti-abortion activism, the concern with the attestation clause is about much more. The requirement to tick the box of agreement is a violation of constitutionally enshrined freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression that are guaranteed to all Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The clause reads:

Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression

If the clause only stated, “Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada” it would comply with the Charter and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be a non-issue.

Problems arise with the following:

  • The undefined nature of “the values underlying the Charter. Do you have any idea what those values are? Neither do I.
  • The unidentified extent of “as well as other rights.” What exactly are these other rights that are not included in the words “individual human rights in Canada”?
  • One example given as an other right isreproductive rights.” Reproductive rights don’t exist under the Charter or in Canadian human rights law. Any wonder that asserting a non-existent right became a point of contention?
  • The list of bases on which the job and core mandate of an applicant organization are to be free from discrimination imposes commitment beyond the requirement to “respect individual human rights in Canada.” As I have noted previously, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized a positive right for religious organizations to be selective in employment based on religious requirements of belief and practice (and other organizations based on culture, heritage, etc.).

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the protections provided to Canadians in the Charter require government action to be neutral in the treatment of Canadians. The attestation clause steps away from government neutrality, requiring from applicants a form of compelled expression that goes beyond constitutional or legal requirements in order to secure an otherwise neutral funding grant.

Fourth, the dispute over the attestation clause is about something more significant than money or jobs. It is about constitutional freedom. However, it is also about money and jobs.

With the support of the Official Opposition, MP Karen Vecchio presented a way out of the conflict with this motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.

The motion was not politically tainted, as some can be. It aligned with statements made by Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau. It even left space to exclude anti-abortion activist organizations.

When the vote was called, it was encouraging to see pro-choice NDP Member of Parliament David Christopherson, Bloc MPs Xavier Barsalou-Douval, Marilene Gill and Mario Bealieu, Green MP Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Scott Simms break party ranks to stand in favour of the motion with Conservative MPs. It was also encouraging to watch MP John McKay stand for the roll call and then depart the House of Commons prior to the vote. Christopherson stood knowing his party had earlier chastised MP Nathan Cullen for commenting that the attestation clause was problematic. Simms and McKay understood full well their party leader’s requirements to vote with him on this issue and will likely face retribution from the Prime Minister.

It was disappointing to watch my MP, Andrew Leslie, vote against the motion. A pastor from our riding who had addressed the unnecessary but very real difficulty of this situation directly with Mr. Leslie was in the gallery. If the government does not relent, Mr. Leslie knows that lost to our riding will be student summer employment opportunities to serve in day programs for children with disabilities as well as children from financially challenged and middle class families, service opportunities working with individuals and families who are struggling financially, service for seniors, and more. This will be multiplied for students, children, people in need and senior citizens across the 338 ridings from coast to coast to coast.

Mere moments following the 207 to 93 vote against the motion, social media was aflutter with the question, “What’s next?”

First, the number of applications rejected at the initial stage jumped to 1,561 in 2018 from 126 in 2017. (That number does not include organizations that received #CanadaSummerJobs funding in the past but opted not to apply this year because of the attestation clause.) Many of those 1,561 are organizations that provided written explanation as to why they could not “tick the box” when submitting their applications. Having received notification as to what is required for an acceptable application, a number are awaiting reply from the second round. It is possible that, the point having been made in the House of Commons by defeating the Opposition motion, the Government will approve the applications. Not likely, but possible.

Second, there are active pieces of relevant litigation. The Trinity Western University law school cases were heard November 30 and December 1, 2017. Now retired Chief Justice McLachlin took part in the hearings and then retired on December 16. If she is to participate in the decisions then they are to be issued within six months of her retirement date. Keep praying and pay attention to whether there is content in the outcome that may impact this situation. The other piece of litigation to watch is a direct challenge to the attestation clause initiated by the Toronto Right to Life Association, scheduled to be heard by the Federal Court on June 19, 2018.

Third, the Toronto Right to Life litigation is about the attestation clause but the situation differs from other organizations denied funding because they engaged their Charter right to protection from this government action. Those organizations will have to make some difficult choices. Will they seek alternate sources of funding to operate programs such as day activities for children with disabilities, fresh air camps for city kids, summer outreach to those living on the streets, and other summer employment opportunities? Or will they cancel for lack of funds? Can they afford to put money into litigation, even if subsidized by lawyers working for little or nothing? These organizations will need your support. Your prayer support. Your financial support. Your volunteer efforts. If you know of Christian organizations that have in the past hired summer students for these efforts, don’t wait. Contact them now and let them know how you can help.

Organizations in a position to litigate will have to determine process. One litigant or a group. Even if successful, will it be of any benefit this summer? Will it benefit those organizations not part of the litigation? What about the organizations that opted not to apply because they thought the situation overwhelming? This is best coordinated with those experienced in Charter litigation for the Church. Encourage organizations you know of to contact the Canadian Council of Christian Charities or Christian Legal Fellowship for advice. And, be prepared to support them.

By the way, Government uses our money to fight these court battles, just as it knowingly excluded us from equal access to our money to employ our students to offer services to our children and our neighbours. Governments have no money of their own. They have only the money of the people they serve, and money borrowed on our behalf.

Fourth, pray for students who planned on returning to or commencing previously #CanadaSummerJobs funded positions who find themselves in limbo because of this situation. Do they look for another job? Do they wait to see if the organization they want to work with finds funding? How will life plans change if they can’t find a summer job?

Fifth, after the final list of approved #CanadaSummerJobs applicants is released, Christian organizations will likely be on the list. Not everyone paid attention to the attestation clause. Not everyone objects to the attestation clause. Others, decided the #CanadaSummerJobs funded work done by summer students to serve children and other clients in need was more important than the disputed clause. The Body of Christ has many parts. If we all agreed beyond acceptance of the Trinitarian creeds we wouldn’t have multiple expressions of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Love one another.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

Sixth, consider signing this petition, E-484 (Discrimination). It is on the parliamentary website, so your personal data will be required but not collected. Remember petitions that are not on the parliamentary website may be used to collect your personal data, which may result in other use. Petitions are regularly presented in Parliament and help to keep debate alive on the issue. It’s important to continue efforts in Parliament even after the news cycle has moved on to other things or some have entered the courtroom. This petition is open for additional signatures until June 6, 2018. Inform your friends so they can sign too.

Seventh, the Church will have to seriously and prayerfully consider disentangling from dependence on government support. Assistance from programs such as #CanadaSummerJobs may have to be regarded as in addition to rather than necessary, and caution may have to be exercised to prevent drift back into the essential funding column. Christian giving and generosity are also not the same thing as tax receipted donations. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of those receipts while we have them, but our giving must not be dependent upon them. As noted in Under Siege,

How we steward the financial resources God gives us is part of the “spiritual return on investment” Jesus expects from those who follow Him. (Under Siege, page 242)

What’s next will involve some hard choices for others, as well as for you and me. Hard choices are best made with prayer.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what former Member of Parliament Preston Manning had to say:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

 

I don’t know what I don’t know – how about you?

“For people who don’t know, they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know.” My pastor said this on Sunday. I know he will appreciate that it’s not the only thing I remember from his message. But that sentence stood out because of some recent commentary I’ve read online from Canadian Christian leaders.

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There have been some seriously off-the-mark statements made about the state of religious freedom in Canada, the federal government, a few provincial governments, and the response “demanded” of Christians.

Please consider the following as measured advice; my understanding of what is demanded of us.

First, the response demanded of Christians begins with prayer. There’s no way around it. Jesus said it. Peter repeated it. Paul wrote about it. Luke recorded it in both of his books. Here’s a concise summary written by James:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. (James 5:13 NIV)

Start with prayer.

Pray for understanding. Pray for government leaders. Pray for the God of all creation to intervene. Pray to know what God wants you or me to do, if anything, in addition to prayer.

The second response demanded of Christians is to conform our behaviour, including our comments, to the pattern found in Scripture. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book In the Name of Jesus:

Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance.

Prayer and biblical insight go hand-in-hand.

Drawing from Nouwen’s first sentence above, the third response demanded of Christians is to “have well-informed opinions.” There’s a lot of stuff circulating on the internet, and sometimes we post things on social media that we think are (or maybe just might be) true, but we don’t really know. If we don’t know, it’s probably best not to post. Even if we saw it in a trusted friend’s tweet, if we don’t know and have confidence in the reliability of the initial source, we actually don’t know, and it’s best not to post, retweet or quote tweet.

What I have read online suggests there are drastic misperceptions about the Canadian situation. They are being widely shared by a number of leaders in the Canadian Church. Among those misperceptions are misunderstandings (and thus, misstatements) about the extent of our religious freedom in Canada. As stated in Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017):

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… we need to be prepared in our relationship with Christ, and the nation in which we live, to stand publicly in our faith as witnesses to Him whom we live for. One key to that preparation is engaging fully our commitment to Christ, His Church, and His Word (the Bible). Another is being accurately aware of how Canadian courts are defining what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to as the “fundamental freedom” of freedom of religion.

One of the many things I appreciate about my pastor is the knowledgeable simplicity of his biblical teaching. Some preachers complicate the understanding of Scripture. My pastor makes it straightforward and down-to-earth. Of course, with understanding comes the challenge of meaningful and genuine life application. He explains that simply, too.

That’s the manner in which I wrote Under Siege. As someone who has been a pastor and focused on constitutional freedom of religion as a lawyer, the book is written for pastors and pew-sitters, all of us Christ-followers together. The uniquely Canadian context is established through a brief look at relevant history, a little political insight, and key decisions of Canadian courts on Canadian religious freedom. The application of that content to our current situation is then set in the framework of Scripture and contemporary culture.

As I cringed my way through some of the last month and a bit’s commentary on the church-state relationship in Canada, what repeatedly came to mind were various chapters and thoughts in Under Siege that would have been helpful to those authors, whether writing 140 characters, 140 words or more.

As awkward as I find it to recommend my own book, it would be more awkward if I didn’t trust that I could.

I know a journalist who keeps Under Siege by his desk as a reference book. A lawyer informed me that he gained an appreciation of the overarching context for religious freedom that he had not previously grasped. A pastor who moved to Canada from Nigeria suggested the book should be required reading in Canadian seminaries and for immigrating pastors. One amazon reviewer noted the book is written “in a way that makes the subject easy to understand and fascinating.”

You can assess for yourself. Take a look inside the Kindle edition at amazon.ca. If you’re looking for paperback, there are fewer than 140 of the special Canada 150 logo edition covers left in stock at donhutchinson.ca. There may also be some left at Chapters/Indigo and local Christian booksellers. These were produced under limited license from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. The second printing does not have the Canada 150 imprint on the cover (although the content is just as good!).

Here’s what my pastor had to say about Under Siege.

In Under Siege Don has written an outstanding resource driven book which outlines not only our religious freedoms in Canada, and how our culture has arrived at this point, but how we might best engage today. Under Siege is recommended reading for all followers of Jesus, not just leaders.
– Jason Boucher, Lead Pastor, Lifecentre, Ottawa

You can read what others have said here. And you can check out some of the media reviews and interviews here. Thank you to those of you who have benefited from securing a copy of Under Siege. Let your friends and colleagues know this book is a useful and timely resource for today’s Canadian Church.

We still may not know what we don’t know. But about this, now you know.

St. Paul and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Do you know your rights as a Canadian? As a Christian living in Canada?

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The apostle Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen. It saved his life. And, that gave us over half of the New Testament.

At Antioch, the Holy Spirit chose Barnabas and Paul for missionary service. (Acts 13:2) Paul’s Roman citizenship was his passport to travel throughout the Empire. He used that passport to preach the gospel; with Barnabas on his first journey, then on a second trip with Silas, then on a third, some suggest with his spiritual son Timothy as Paul was not in the habit of travelling alone.

While in Jerusalem following his third mission tour, Paul was arrested. (Acts 21:30-33). When the crowd rioted against him, Paul informed a Roman officer that he was a Roman citizen who knew his rights. (Acts 22:25-29)

The crowd was determined to kill Paul. The Roman officer, because of Paul’s citizenship, protected him and saved his life. While in prison, word reached Paul there was a plot to kill him when he was being transferred from Jerusalem to his hearing in the court of the governor, Felix, in Caesarea. Again, knowing his rights saved Paul’s life. He alerted his jailers to the plot and, as a Roman citizen, was provided a military escort to ensure his safety to appear before the Roman governor’s court. (Acts 23:16-33)

If Paul had not known his rights, he would not have made it to prison, or to trial – or to subsequent hearings based on his appeal, as a citizen, to be tried before Caesar.

During his lengthy imprisonment and the accompanying journey to Rome, Paul was visited by the physician Luke who took copious notes of their conversations. From his notes, Luke penned two short books. The first is known as the Gospel of Luke. The second, we call the Book of Acts. Those books wouldn’t exist but for Paul asserting his rights. Neither would the thirteen letters written from prison by the apostle – Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon – and a fourteenth, Hebrews, which is believed either to have been written by Paul or an author imitating Paul’s writing style. That’s sixteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books and letters!

In a previous blog, about the Canada Summer jobs attestation clause, I quoted from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In it, he reminds us, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

In the same blog, I quoted from the first of two letters Paul wrote from prison to his protégé Timothy. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul begins:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

How important are those two points for Christians grappling with discrimination based on religious beliefs? For those encountering anti-religious prejudice from the Government of Canada today?

One of the reasons the current federal government has been able to tread the path it has chosen is the general lack of awareness Canadians have about our rights and freedoms, let alone how those freedoms have been defined by the courts. Bold assertion has been made about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on both sides of the dispute, much of it inaccurate and uninformed. Reasoned argument in support of well-defined rights has been met with response akin to close-minded mob mentality against. Many Canadians, including many politicians, simply do not understand our rights.

What the current “kerfuffle,” as the Prime Minister called it, has done is encourage numerous Canadians to read what the Charter says. That’s good, but reading the Charter only scratches the surface of how the listed rights and freedoms have been defined and applied by the courts. Canadians who browsed as far as section 32 found out the Charter is intended to protect us from government actions that violate our freedoms, not to empower government to demand we sign on the dotted line in agreement with its ideological whims.

The apostle Paul knew the rights of his citizenship applied equally for him, even as a Christian, as much as for any other citizen of the Roman Empire. He knew his rights. And, he knew how to exercise his rights.

under siege HROne of the reasons God stirred me to write Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 is so that Christians in Canada might know, understand, and be equipped to properly exercise our rights in the twenty-first century, as Paul did in the first.

Here’s what Pastor Jason Boucher had to say about the book:

In Under Siege, Don has written an outstanding resource-driven book which outlines not only our religious freedoms in Canada, and how our culture has arrived at this point, but how we might best engage today. Under Siege is recommended reading for all followers of Jesus, not just leaders.

John Pellowe of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities said:

Don Hutchinson has that rare combination of gifts: a deep thinker, an excellent writer, and able to make complex subjects easily understood. Under Siege is a must-read for Christians who care about the mission Christ gave His church but feel hindered by the current Canadian legal and social environment. Hutchinson puts it all in perspective and gives suggestions for how we can continue to undertake the church’s mission in Canada today.

Paul knew his rights, and he understood them. He also understood that, as Christians, our rights and freedoms are not for our personal advantage. Our rights and freedoms are to be used for the benefit of the gospel, which is “nested in the great Story of all that God has done and said,” writes John Stackhouse, including the life witness of every Christ-follower.

Don’t just know you have rights, know your rights. Understand them. Be prepared to use them when necessary. And to do so, as St. Paul did, as an ambassador of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what former Member of Parliament Preston Manning had to say:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

 

Canada Summer Jobs: headed to a courtroom near you?

These have been an interesting seven days for those with interest in Canadian religious freedom. Two important decisions in regard to violations of religious freedom demonstrated that decision-makers are not necessarily listening. A third suggests, it is possible.

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Hope – adventus as Jürgen Moltmann referred to it, the need for something new to come from outside to change the situation, like the advent of Christ, the Hope of the World – was high that the Canadian government would hear the united voices of over eighty religious leaders and thousands of calls, emails and letters to Members of Parliament, Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about problems with changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program that bar participation for many religious organizations.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister posted photos of himself observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Surely he would hear the pleas of Canadian rabbis in regard to CSJ. Any concern for the marginalization and exclusion of an identifiable group of religious Canadians, including Jews, precipitated by the CSJ attestation requirement did not, apparently, change his mind.

Two days later, the Prime Minister attended the ceremony observing the first anniversary of the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy where six Muslim men were killed and nineteen seriously injured while participating in worship. Surely the Prime Minister would listen to the pleas of Canadian imams in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? Not yet.

The next day, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. The day after that, he issued a statement celebrating Black History Month. The significant and continuing contribution of Christian black leaders, including congregations and ministries that have a history of accessing CSJ funding to benefit vulnerable communities must have come to mind. Perhaps, he would hear these leaders in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? He did not.

Having committed to be in the House of Commons for Question Period each Wednesday when Parliament is sitting, it was reasonably anticipated we would that day get answers from the Prime Minister to the questions with which Canadians have inundated Members of Parliament since the CSJ announcement in December. This week, however, the first week Parliament is sitting after the government’s announcement of the revised CSJ attestation clause, Prime Minister Trudeau opted instead to leave Ottawa following his morning caucus meeting, skip Question Period, and fly to Winnipeg for a town hall Q&A at the University of Manitoba.

The response of Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau to the repeated efforts of Canadian religious leaders, from across the spectrum of faith communities, has been to repeat government talking points, like the tourist speaking slowly, louder and more assertively in a foreign land, as if religious leaders did not understand them the first time. Core mandate and student hiring conditions as defined in the new for 2018 requirements from the federal government for CSJ funding insist religious leaders and communities must compromise their beliefs, surrender the constitutional right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion,’ and relinquish the right granted under provincial human rights legislation to observe religious beliefs and practices in the hiring of co-religionists, even summer students, for their work.

Each summer, many CSJ summer students have worked with religious charities to serve, among others, the needs of those with disabilities, or identified as underprivileged, or the most in need and at risk in our society. Without question, they have also provided services that benefit co-religionists, equally Canadians.

The mandated checkmark may have seemed innocuous to government officials, but the response of religious leaders made it clear the attestation statement to which that checkmark is affixed was a demand to betray their beliefs. In addition to calls, letters and emails, the concern was expressed at town hall after town hall. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response at those town hall gatherings suggest he is more concerned about talking than listening.

Thursday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its report Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia, in which it recommended consultation with religious organizations on government action that affects them. (There is some good stuff in the report, for a later blog. There are Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs who consider listening to religious perspectives by government to be both possible and beneficial.) On the matter of Canada Summer Jobs funding, such consultation might have prevented the current predicament. Actively listening to after-the-fact communications from religious leaders and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast would also have led to a solution.

The last time I was as disenchanted by government refusal to hear legitimate concerns about taking action that will have damaging impact on employment opportunities and services for Canadians living on the vulnerable edge of our society was the previous government’s decision to cancel the national census. The Canadian census is internationally recognized as one of the most accurate. It is valuable to government at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards), charities and businesses for their program and financial planning. The people most impacted by the cancelled census were those who became the invisible disadvantaged, because they did not show up on the national household survey. The same holds true for those who will lose out on the benefits of summer jobs and the programs conducted by summer student employees across the country. Many are students on the edge of being able to pay for their education. Others are those living on the edge of poverty who will lose the option of supervised activity for their children during school vacation, and those caring for special needs children who will lose the one or two weeks of respite provided by summer camps or a few hours each day provided by local church-run day camps.

While the clock ticked down to the Friday midnight (Pacific Time) deadline for CSJ applications, Minister Hajdu offered her own form of compromise. To those asking for a change in the attestation clause and an extension for application, she conceded a one-week extension, but kept the clause. Is there still hope that the many voices, and more voices, might be heard over the next week and the necessary adjustment take place?

Hope had also been high that three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court would sort out the law, accurately apply the Charter, and protect physicians from being forced to choose between violating their consciences or leaving their current medical practices. Thursday, in its decision, The Divisional Court concluded the beliefs of physicians were indeed violated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy requiring all practicing physicians in the province to participate in ending-life medical procedures. But, the court also found it justifiable to require this standard as a condition of patient care in the province. (Yes, patient care was defined to include intentionally ending the patient’s life.) Ontario is the only province refusing to accommodate physician’s personal beliefs on this matter.

Unchallenged, the decisions of government and court will mean those in greatest need will be those who suffer most.

The shortage of summer opportunities for those in need – whether student employees or student clients – means the vulnerable, perhaps the most vulnerable, will pay the cost Canada’s government has so far declined to fund because of an ideological transformation of a previously non-discriminatory successful program.

The violation of physicians’ beliefs will result in a different kind of shortage. Doctors have said they will retire or move on from meaningful work that was, for them, always about healing, easing pain, and saving lives.

If either or both decisions are to be contested further in the courts – the guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it were– there will be a different cost. The litigation process is expensive.

If you believe these freedoms are deserving of continuing protection, i.e. equal treatment of all applying for summer employment grants (of our money from our government) and recognition of the conscience rights of those who have taken an oath to do no harm, then you will want to follow the status of these situations. In addition to prayer and writing your MP about the CSJ, or your Member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly about the policy of the government regulatory College of Physicians, you may also want to make an encouraging financial contribution to those fighting the fight for continued recognition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion.

However these situations turn out, hope – adventus – is not sacrificed at the feet of Prime Minister or Divisional Court. We do need to keep praying for our Prime Minister, government leaders and the judges of our courts; appealing to Him who is our Hope, with confidence He is, in truth, the Hope of the world.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what the lawyer in Ontario’s physician rights case, Albertos Polizogopoulos, had to say about the book:

As a lawyer whose practice is largely focussed on religious freedom litigation, I read about the issues and cases referred to in Under Siegeon a regular basis. Don Hutchinson has been able to present a legal and political history of religious freedom in Canada in a manner that is not only easy to follow and understand, but also personal and engaging. It is written for lawyer or layperson and is equally accessible.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.