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.


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.

For Christians Only: About the Canada Summer Jobs Program

I know. I know. Another piece about the Canada Summer Jobs program. But this one’s different. This one is just for Christ-followers.


Are you praying?

Are you praying for our Prime Minister, his cabinet, our government?

Mainstream media – the major television, radio and newspaper outlets – across the country have expressed a common opinion. Even Canada’s leading pro-abortion activist has publicly expressed her opinion that the government needs to change the now infamous attestation clause. Is there more to what’s happening?

St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us in chapter 6, verse 12 that, “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.” Call me crazy, but this is about more than the nation learning what the word attestation means.

Stick with me.

Last November, Christian leaders from coast-to-coast-to-coast called the nation to prayer in regard to the Trinity Western University law school cases (Ontario and British Columbia) that were presented before the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 and December 1, 2017. And, people were asked to keep praying until a decision is released. Here’s a part of that prayer request as I noted last November,

… representatives from TWU have asked for prayer that there will be a healing of the hurts revealed through this process. The request is particularly that the dialogue between all people who live together in the shared free and democratic society of Canada might continue with respect and acceptance, even when there is not agreement.

Have you ever prayed about one thing and realized your prayer was impacting something else?

As Christians in Canada have shared in the prayer highlighted above, we have engaged a request for broader dialogue than the accreditation of a law school.

Step back from the politics of the Canada Summer Jobs situation for a moment. Ask yourself why self-described atheist and feminist Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, has asked Prime Minister Trudeau to make the correction that would enable faith groups to apply for funding without being asked to compromise the holistic claims of their religious beliefs?

The Canada Summer Jobs fiasco has resulted in the media – politically left, right and centre – giving more national coverage to the true nature of Canada’s abortion situation than the best organized pro-life group could ever have imagined. CBC, CTV, Global, National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and more have all run pieces written by people who cover the political spectrum in which they have shared that the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Morgentaler did not establish a right to abortion in Canada. Canadians have been informed that because Canada has no law providing protection to the child in the womb at any stage of gestation, our nation is the only outlier on this issue among the world’s democracies. The media has reminded Canadians abortion remains an active political issue.

In addition, the mainstream media has championed the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression (speech), found in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians from across the country are phoning, emailing and writing letters to their Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Trudeau.

This is amazing! Keep praying!

As Paul wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2,

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.

And keep contacting parliamentarians. The application process is open until February 2.

Here are some excerpts from the letter I sent to my MP and the PM:

First, please be assured that I am praying for you, your family and the Government of Canada. Leadership of our nation is an immense responsibility.

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

… Both sides in this conversation seem convinced what they’re saying is reasonable and clear. However, as noted above, neither is being heard as such. Repeating the same words, a little slower and a little louder, will not resolve the situation. Movement is required. Under Canada’s constitution, that movement appears to be required of government, not the potential applicants.

A failure to correct the situation will result in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of agencies that depend on CSJ funding not receiving funding they rely on to serve the most underprivileged in our society, as well as those in the middle class. Countless community service programs from coast-to-coast-to-coast may be cancelled as a result, with the least privileged in our society suffering the most. It will likely also result in freedom of information requests in regard to CSJ funding recipients, continuing media coverage, and litigation. Many organizations have expressed a willingness to fight for the equal treatment that journalists, religious leaders, and lawyers have now publicly assured is guaranteed them in our “free and democratic society” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Please do not take our nation down this divisive path.

Please make provision for religious organizations to have a means of application for CSJ funding without requiring them to compromise their beliefs.

There is a saying that often “when we mix politics with religion, we get politics.” Let’s keep our religion faithful. And remember – like St. Paul whose appeal to his Roman citizenship was for fair treatment, equal to any other citizen – the rights of our citizenship are to be exercised for God’s glory, not political gain.

John Stackhouse has written this concise reminder for us:

The most important message we have to tell, of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, however, is nested within the great Story of all that God has done and said, and all that God wants for us. So we have much to say, of different sorts in the public sphere today. (Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, page 183)

I couldn’t have said it better.

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 Preston Manning had to say about the book:

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.

Speaking Grace To Political Power

Originally published January 9, 2018 at

Leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church are thoughtful and selective about their direct interactions with government. On the Julian calendar’s Christmas Eve – January 6 2018 on the more widely accepted Gregorian calendar – His Grace Bishop Mina of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada issued a statement to Canada’s Prime Minister on behalf of the Coptic Community.

UNDER SIEGE - book launch

Coptic Christians are devoted. The North African church was founded in the middle of the first century, separated from the Western and Eastern Churches in the middle of the fifth century, and has lived in the light of persecution – not the shadow, but direct persecution – since the Arab Muslim conquest of Egypt in the middle of the seventh century.

Copts in Egypt constitute both the largest Christian population in the Middle East and the largest minority religious community.

In February 2015, the world was shocked by video of 21 men in orange jumpsuits being beheaded by black-clad masked executioners on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Twenty had been easily identified by their executioners by the crosses tattooed on the inside of their right wrists, the sign of Christ’s ownership and of membership in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The same sign is now often confirmed at the entrance to Egyptian church buildings as a security measure. The 21st man is said to have converted to Christianity that moment, on that beach, because of the unwavering witness of the other 20.

Faithful. And fearless.

Part of Coptic faithfulness is expressed through prayer for the political leaders of their nation in every liturgy, that is every congregational service and the daily private prayers of every priest.

Part of Coptic fearlessness, facing fear with faith, is the willingness to stand up publicly in grace for truth.

Part of Coptic fearlessness, facing fear with faith, is the willingness to stand up publicly in grace for truth.

The following message from Bishop Mina was read aloud in the Church of Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius in Mississauga, Ontario, with several federal cabinet members in attendance:

The Feast of the Nativity is a feast of Hope, Joy and Peace. We proudly say with the Prophet Isaiah “for unto us a child is born.” He is not any child and His birth is not like any birth. This birth is the very moment that our journey to salvation was re-established through a baby born in a manger. His birth is a great example of humility as He chose to humble Himself because of His love for all of humankind. Through His Birth, salvation became attainable for those who believed in His name and sought repentance.

As Christians, we are always taught to show love and pursue peace. However, we are also taught to stand up for the truth. Many of us have seen a recent picture, where the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his brother are (each) wearing a sweater that depicts Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with an emoji of a smiley face seated at the last supper. The depiction of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the Last Supper is a symbolic and deeply cherished image in our faith. We are all shocked and extremely saddened to see anyone, and especially the leader of our very own country, disparaging our Lord in such fashion. As a Coptic Orthodox community, we patiently waited for news that this image was fake, but it never came. We find ourselves today firstly praying for our Prime Minister, which we do in every liturgy, for God’s wisdom and enlightenment. Secondly, we understand that we all make mistakes, but when we do, we must stand up and apologize for the very mistakes we made. Thirdly, we are reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:23, where the Apostle Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”

This is the very enlightenment that we pray for God to show the Right Honourable Prime Minister. We are very proud Canadians and particularly proud of our right “to freedom of conscience and religion” that all Canadians are afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, with these rights comes a responsibility to respect one another. We cannot force anyone to worship in a particular way, but we must at minimum be afforded the decency of respect of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Mr. Prime Minister, if the picture is real, we forgive you, but you should know that you hurt many of us deeply. We expect better from our leaders. Think of the example you set to many people throughout Canada. We pray that you see the error in your ways and apologize to all of us who are offended for this reckless lapse of judgment. We truly are grateful for all Canadians, Christians and non-Christians, who have shared their concern and voiced their displeasure. Without common respect of ALL faiths, we will fail as a society.

Regardless of this sad incident, we will not dismay or despair as the Feast of the Nativity is about the birth of Emanuel, which means God with us. With God on our side, we know the forces of evil will never prevail.

We sing with the angels and say aloud with all our hearts, louder than ever before, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward man.” (Luke 2:14)

May all our hearts be lifted in praise on this very special day for the wonderful gift of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the joy He brings to our lives. May God Bless the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau, and each of us and fill us with Love, Joy and Peace all of the days of our lives. Merry Christmas.

The message is respectful, honouring of the Prime Minister’s position, and unhesitating in challenging an insult to Christianity, without returning insult for insult. Bishop Mina’s words, like those of St. Paul when he stood before Governor Felix and King Agrippa declaring his Roman citizenship, are shared by Bishop Mina as a Canadian and with conformity to the message of God’s grace and God’s truth in Jesus Christ.

Several statements on the Trudeau sweater from other Christian leaders have made me cringe. Their remarks reminded me of the comment, “When you mix religion with politics you get politics.”

Bishop Mina’s words, however, remind us Canadians can mix sincere religion with loyal citizenship. Christians can speak truth to power without compromising the humility, grace and love that are the hallmarks of the gospel of Jesus Christ.



Freedom, Government and Appropriate Response: Canada Summer Jobs

Originally published January 2, 2018 at The Free Methodist Church in Canada blog of Bishop Cliff Fletcher, CliffsNotes.

DH headshot3

I’m sure that by now you have heard about the Trudeau’s government new requirements for all applicants for the Canada Summer Jobs funds. I asked Don Hutchinson to help me sort out this very concerning development.

Cliff Fletcher

Canada Summer Jobs: 3 Questions Concerning Changes in the 2018 Application Process – Q&A with Don Hutchinson

Question 1: What is the new requirement for all potential recipients of the Canada Summer Jobs internship funds?

There are actually two new requirements. They cause separate but related concerns.

First, let me summarize the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) initiative of the federal government. CSJ provides wage subsidies to employers who hire for summer employment to full-time secondary and post-secondary students (ages 15-30) who are planning to return to their studies. Not-for-profit employers, which includes registered charities, are eligible to receive from 50% to 100% of the hourly minimum wage in their province for each summer-student employee.

CSJ has been running for as long as I can remember. In addition to other summer job opportunities, CSJ has become a foundation for many summer activities run by young adults and teenagers for children who are on school break, including church-based care and camp programs.

The employment priorities of CSJ are adjusted from time to time, however for 2018 the federal government has added a requirement to the application process that presents an obstacle for many faith-based organizations. I use faith-based because this isn’t just a concern for Christian organizations. The Applicant Guide states the Articles of Agreement requirement that must be agreed to by all applicants, as follows:

To be eligible, the core mandate of the organization must respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), 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, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

The attestation is required for the application to be considered complete and eligible for assessment.

“Churches, religious and faith-based organizations” continue to be listed under the category of eligible employers, and the Guide includes the following note in the section on ineligible employers:

NOTE: That an organization is affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.

The other problematic requirement for faith-based organizations is the eligible activities for funding, which now includes the following requirement for jobs to be performed by students employed under CSJ:

To be eligible, the job must respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) 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, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

There is no provision permitting exemption from the attestation requirements in regard to core mandate of the organization or details of the summer job.

Question 2: What are the implications?

Applicants who do not attest their agreement are ineligible for CSJ. This is problematic for both the potential applicant and the federal government.

First, the federal government.

The Charter is constitutionally intended to protect against abuse of power by government or government agencies. The Charter is not intended for use to coerce agreement, or conformity, with ideological positions taken by government.

The attestation requirement mistakenly asserts recognition of reproductive rights (a.k.a. a right to abortion) under the Charter and requires conformity with the government’s position. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down an existing law that restricted abortion. In its decision, the Court noted the legitimate constitutional interest of the federal government to legislate limitations on abortion that would protect the child in the womb. An effort to do so by the government of the day failed in the Senate. There can be no violation of the Charter by a non-governmental organization, and there is are no constitutional “reproductive rights.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has noted there is no legal or constitutional recognition in Canada of the separation of church and state, which is a U.S. constitutional concept. In Canada, the Court has stated a requirement for government to be neutral in regard to religion, i.e. neither to favour nor discriminate based on religious beliefs. This includes government funding of programs generally available to the public, such as CSJ.

The Court has also recognized a positive right of religious organizations to be selective in employment based on religious requirements of belief and practice. In the case of summer employment, religious requirements must be known to candidates and specified in the job description, including statement of responsibilities that legitimately require the employee to meet religious requirements as part of the job (e.g. setting a Christian example, leading in devotional times, providing spiritual counsel, etc.).

That leads us to implications for a religious organization that would like to apply for CSJ funding, and cannot truthfully attest to the CSJ core mandate or job requirement statements.

While some religious organizations might attest to the Articles of Agreement – perhaps considering their religious status to exempt them from the reproductive rights and discrimination statements contained in the descriptive sentence following reference to Charter values, or assessing the resulting good as worth the risk – the government cannot legitimately require such forced expression that may be at odds with religious beliefs and practices. An organization that attests may find itself being held to the attestation requirements (endorsing abortion, hiring people based on their gender identity/expression, etc.) contrary to their religious beliefs and practices.

More obvious, several organizations that have a long history of accessing CSJ for qualifying programs may find themselves unable to access CSJ funding in 2018 for reasons that are unconstitutional and not merit based. This may require finding alternative sources of funding or cancelling long standing programs of community service.

Question 3: What can we do?

This is a particularly good question. The application deadline is February 2, 2018 and the changes were announced just before Christmas. The timing creates logistical problems.

A number of Members of Parliament have prioritized this issue, but the reality is the announcement was made after Parliament started its Christmas break and Parliament is not scheduled to resume until January 29, 2018.

Organizations such as the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada have initiated contact with MPs and the Minister of Employment, Hon. Patty Hajdu. They are requesting the government amend the CSJ application process so that religious organizations may apply and stay true to their constitutionally protected beliefs and practices.

Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Pray for religious freedom to be respected and the CSJ application process to be amended accordingly;
  • Review the application criteria to see if you otherwise qualify;
  • Create a network of CSJ applicants who can keep each other in the know (it may be helpful to designate an individual or steering group to be the hub for communications);
  • Contact your MP by phone, email or letter (letters addressed to any MP by name may be sent postage-free to: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6) – MPs are required to read paper letters and their staff filter phone and email messages; and,
  • If you belong to the EFC, 4Cs or other organizations that are engaging the government on this issue, let them know of your concerns and any action you take. Track the action they’re taking so you can notify your CSJ applicant network as soon as there is news.

Don Hutchinson has been a leader in the Canadian Church for over thirty years. Pastor and lawyer, Don is the principal of ansero, a ministry engaged on religious freedom in Canada and with the global persecuted church. He is the author of Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). To find out more visit

Speaking remarks: Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage – M-103 – religious discrimination

Written submission to the committee linked here:

M-103 CHPC study on Religious Discrimination (E)

M-103 CHPC study on Religious Discrimination (Fr)

Thank you Madam Chair for the opportunity to participate today. My comments will follow my written submission.

DH headshot3L

Anti-religious discrimination in Canada has not been confined to any one religious community. And, such incidents cannot be considered to be of greater or lesser significance based simply on which religious community is targeted.

While unfortunate that M-103 highlighted one religious community, the motion did spark national debate and provided a mandate for this committee that goes beyond the concerns of or for any one religious community.

I will set aside comment on the use of the uncertain term Islamophobia; except to suggest that the concern of this committee ought to be in regard to mistreatment of people from any and all religious communities. Islam is not a race. Muslims, and people in any other religious community, are from a variety of races. My comments will address the committee’s study in regard to mistreatment of people based on their religion and reducing systemic discrimination based on religion.

Canada is a nation with a history steeped in religious tension, religious accommodation and the development of robust political, legal and constitutional principles in regard to freedom of religion, including prohibitions on discrimination based on religion. A brief history of that religious tension and accommodation is set out in paragraphs 8 to 16 of my written submission, particularly noting the Constitution Act, 1867 did not assign responsibility for religion to either the federal or provincial governments. Although, both jurisdictions impact on religion.

The federal government assumed a role in regard to religion through its criminal law and taxation powers. The provinces, through constitutional jurisdiction over civil rights, enacted human rights legislation that includes recognition of religious rights to belief, association, assembly, teaching, practice and worship.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was included in the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter applies between all levels of government – federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, school boards, other government agencies – and Canadians.

The first freedom in the Charter is “freedom of conscience and religion.”

In decisions on Charter cases, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed several pre-Charter legal concepts in regard to freedom of religion and religious accommodation which are briefly described in paragraphs 17 to 20 of my written submission.

In the Charter, freedom of religion is intimately connected with the freedoms that follow it in section 2. “Religion” is also a stated ground on which discrimination is prohibited under section 15 equality rights. Section 27 requires the Charter to “be interpreted in a manner consistent with… the multicultural heritage of Canadians,” which necessarily means a multi-religious heritage as well.

The Supreme Court has asserted a robust definition of “freedom of religion” that aligns with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, stating:

A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct. … The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.

The Court continues:

… Freedom in a broad sense embraces both the absence of coercion and constraint, and the right to manifest beliefs and practices. Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.

The right applies to individuals, groups and institutions, because religion is practiced both individually and in community.

Canada does not have a doctrine of separation of church and state, a constitutional concept in the USA. The Supreme Court has ruled the Canadian state is to be “neutral” in regard to religion, not permitted to act as arbiter of religious beliefs or to favour one religion over another. Nor is government permitted to require “no religion” in its relationship with Canadians. All Canadians are constitutionally welcome to participate in Canadian life from the perspective or worldview that informs the way they choose to live, without fear of mistreatment or punishment for doing so.

Statistics Canada confirms that our nation’s largest identifiable religious community comprises simply the largest minority religious community in the country. Catholics, including Roman Catholics, comprise under 40% of Canadians. We are a nation of minorities.

2015 data on hate crimes notes 35% of reported incidents were motivated by anti-religious bias. 37% of anti-religious incidents were directed against the Jewish community, which comprises 1.1% of the Canadian population. 34% were directed against the Muslim community, which comprises 3.2% of the Canadian population.

This brief historic tour and commentary is offered in a context expressed by a Mi’kmaq friend. Look back to learn how the issue has been considered in the past. Assess the status today. And then look forward seven generations to consider the future impact of actions taken today. Looking forward seven generations would take us from #Canada150 to #Canada300. If that seems a stretch, at least look to #Canada200, which will take place within the lifetimes of many in this room, rather than be overly concerned about scheduled federal elections in 2019 or 2023.

The following recommendations are made in the spirit of the Constitution Act, 1867’s provision that the federal government “make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada,” the Constitution Act, 1982’s description of Canada as a “free and democratic society,” and a whole-of-government approach.

Parliamentarians are encouraged to engage openly with people of various religious beliefs, including connecting with faith-based organizations in the community and those participating in the process of policy development.

Continue to Protect

Remove from Bill C-51 its section 14, the proposal to eliminate section 176 from the Criminal Code. Section 176 protects the ability of religious officiants and congregations to celebrate religious services, without threat, interference or disruption. If the Criminal Code did not already contain such a provision, adding it would be the kind of recommendation anticipated from this committee.

Retain section 30 of Bill C-51, the proposal to remove section 296, the Criminal Code’s blasphemy section. Blasphemy laws in other nations have led to persecution of religious and non-religious minorities, counter to the values of a free and democratic society. In Canada, all beliefs and practices, religious and non-religious, must be open to critical evaluation and peaceful dialogue, debate and dissension.

Retain Criminal Code provisions dealing with hate propaganda and with mischief relating to religious property.

Progress from Protection to Promotion

Seek opportunities to educate Canadians about our constitutional and legislated positions on religious freedom. It is important to move from protection of rights to promotion of understanding rights.

Ensure religious representatives are participants in appropriate government activities, including public events and situations such as donation matching for emergency disaster relief.

Continue working with religious organizations, whose work provides public benefit.

Maintain and develop appropriate historic markers that recognize the contribution of religious individuals and communities to the development of the nation.

Continue to collect and share data in regard to religious observance by Canadians.

The Government of Canada is encouraged to hold a First Ministers’ Conference with an agenda committed to promotion of religious freedom.

The Government of Canada is encouraged to establish guidelines that facilitate faith-based activities across the public service with consistent application within all government departments.

Encourage Canadians to continue support of religious and religiously-based organizations that provide public benefit, including by means of the personal tax credits.

Continue to provide a well-funded chaplaincy for inmates in Canadian prisons and members of Canada’s military.

Continue military briefing on religion relevant to theatres of engagement.

Re-establish the Office of Religious Freedom or a similar dedicated office. Matters of political theology and religious literacy are essential to global engagement.

Re-establish Global Affairs consultations where representatives from religious and other communities of concern may comment on developing global situations.

Canadians are affected by religious freedom challenges, and systemic religious discrimination, that happen in Canada and globally, requiring a whole-of-government approach.