In October of last year, I wrote Lawyers Won’t Bow to Law Society. The article was published a few days after the then Law Society of Upper Canada, now called the Law Society of Ontario, announced that members’ individual annual reports for 2017 would include a new mandatory declaration:
I declare that I abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.
Simply, tick the “Yes” box and all would be well. Opting to tick the “No” box would require explanation.
In early consideration of the Law Society’s edict, I reflected on the origins of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court of Canada’s robust definition of freedom of religion, and the Law Society benchers’ (board of directors) discriminatory decision in regard to Trinity Western University’s proposal to establish a school of law. The Law Society’s resolve was akin to a determination to impose a form of ideological tick box on TWU – intruding on the religious beliefs, as expressed in the TWU community covenant, of the religious institution in order for that religious institution to be permitted by the government regulatory body to provide a private religious education that meets or exceeds the government established standards for that education.
In Lawyers Won’t Bow, my conclusion was stated as,
I expect to find myself among a group of lawyers from a variety of faith communities who consider our religious beliefs, commitment to the laws of nation and province, and obligations under existing rules of professional conduct – which is a mandatory community covenant for all who desire to practice law – as sufficient to address the Law Society’s concerns. There really is nothing more to add for purposes of an individual Statement of Principles.
However, submitting a statement that says my faith beliefs and existing obligations are more-than-enough may fall short of the Law Society’s expectation for members to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.” Perhaps, only because we may have different understandings of what the words “promote,” “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” mean.
In the time between writing those words and this week completing my 2017 annual report, additional disconcerting government impositions on constitutional freedoms have either been established or announced.
The federal government introduced an attestation clause to the application for Canada Summer Jobs grants. The attestation required is not about adhering to the law, not about following human rights requirements, or even requiring compliance with government funding policies. It mandates that applicants endorse the position of the federal Liberal Party’s leader (currently the Prime Minister) on matters of human rights. His position is not official party policy. Nor is it a proper understanding of our constitution or the law. It is, however, the requirement to be considered by his government for funding that is otherwise generally available to public employers for purposes of providing summer jobs to high school and university students.
Despite the best efforts of religious leaders from a diversity of faith communities, as well as lawyers and members of the media from across the political and religious/non-religious spectrum, to explain to the Prime Minister and Minister of Employment why certain religious individuals and communities could not comply with (let alone be legally be required to comply with) the demand to tick the box in agreement with a stipulated ideological position that is contrary to their religious beliefs, the government persisted. Essentially the government position is, there are different understandings of the words “core mandate,” “must respect” and “as well as other rights.” The common dictionary definitions of those words do not apply. Neither, apparently, do the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada in regard to freedom of conscience and religion or freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as guaranteed in the Charter.
The Charter states, and has been unquestionably understood by the courts, that its purpose is to protect citizens from having our rights violated by government action.
The Law Society is a government authorized regulatory body. The Charter constrains its actions. The federal government is likewise bound by the Charter. Similarly, as doctors in Ontario are engaged in a battle for their conscience rights, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is a government authorized body that is bound by the Charter. The federal government has announced a new national youth initiative, the Canada Service Corps, to which its tick box requirements will apply for partner organizations and youth applicants.
For the first thirty-five years of the Charter’s existence, the responsibility of government and government authorized agencies and regulatory bodies for Charter compliance was understood. Now, the question is “Who will next be bullied into unconstitutional confession of agreement with a statement of political ideology?”
Don’t get me wrong. In Canada, we have robust freedoms. Guaranteed by the Charter. Protected by the courts. And, until recently, respected by government, including its authorized agencies and regulatory bodies.
To maintain these freedoms, we will have to stand for them. If necessary, we will have to fight for them in the courts, both judicial and of public opinion.
In 2008 I sat in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. with several Christian lawyers from China. We talked about the personal cost they and their families were paying to fight for religious freedom in Chinese courts. Many have “disappeared” since that meeting. This week, I read the news that one has made what in military terms is referred to as the ultimate sacrifice. Just as I was deeply moved by the faithfulness of twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded on a Libyan beach in February 2015, I was touched to the core to learn of Li Baiguang’s death.
As a writer, I read. Really, you can’t write well unless you read good writing. Every now and then, I read something that causes me to move through the following progression. I wish I had written that. That is well written. Kudos to the author for writing that. It’s good to know I’m not alone in those thoughts. I’m glad someone else wrote something that is so inspiring. I need to write.
In the last few days I have read two such commentaries.
In Tearing Down the Idol of Religious Freedom, Kristopher Kinsinger reminds,
Christians should educate themselves about the challenges currently being mounted against religious freedom in Canada and around the world. Those of us who have a passion for public affairs should look for ways to engage our culture for the sake of the Gospel. In doing so, however, we must remain attuned to the pendulum of our motivations. If our primary desire is for cultural revolution – rather than seeing hearts and minds transformed by and for Christ – then our witness is a false one. Only when we are fully “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” can we truly say our fight for religious freedom is for the glory of God alone.
In Just Check the Box: the growth of statism and what’s next for Canada’s Christians, André Schutten writes of the tick boxes,
It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license.
Schutten briefly explores the early stages of state control in several nations that descended into authoritarian communism, concluding with a series of questions relevant for today.
So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next?
Bearing Kinsinger’s thoughts in mind, I completed my annual report for the Law Society, dutifully noting in the optional section on religion that my religious belief is “Other” and offering the one-word explanation “Christian.” I chose this rather than ticking the pre-itemized boxes of “Protestant,” “Roman Catholic,” or “Other Christian, such as Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic.” When I consider the plight of many in the Church around the world, I am compelled to define myself as simply Christian, a member of the global Body of Christ – one Body with many parts.
Bearing Schutten’s thoughts in mind, I ticked the “No” box for the Statement of Principles declaration, providing the following explanation,
The Law Society benchers have demonstrated in debate and decision that they do not themselves understand or promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally as understood in decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning application of constitutional and other human rights legislation. The oath I voluntarily swore at my call to the bar, and my adherence to both the Rules of Professional conduct and the law generally are sufficient. The Law Society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand more of me. I, therefore, refuse for reasons of conscience and principle to provide such a statement to the Law Society.
There will be Christians who tick the “Yes” box. There will be others who tick the “No” box. Depending on the form being completed, there may be explanation as to why they can’t tick “Yes.”
In time, Freedom of Information requests will reveal which Christian organizations received Canada Summer Jobs funding. Also, the Law Society will take whatever action (intimidating by the lack of stipulated potential penalty) against dissenting members. Whether or not one ticked “Yes” will be revealed.
I hope and pray that a small mark in a small box does not become a great line of division.
I also hope and pray that those asserting our freedoms will help to maintain them. Those freedoms belong to all Canadians.
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 Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, had to say:
Don Hutchinson in Under Siege walks us through the critical issues of freedom of religion in a country where one might naively assume its record is stellar. His message is that there is always the need for vigilance. In a time when the secular assumption that faith will soon ebb away carries with it a belief that there is no need to protect its freedom, this book advises the opposite. A timely and wise warning.
Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.