Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
Gleanings from the mind of a Christian Leader and Lawyer
Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)
PART I: THE FOUNDATION
PART II: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AS INTERPRETED BY THE COURTS
PART III: FAITHFUL CHRIST-FOLLOWERS ASK “HOW SHOULD WE THEN ENGAGE?”
Conclusion: Fear Is a (Strong but) Poor Motivator
UNDER SIEGE is available from a variety of booksellers in paperback, Kindle, Kobo, Scribd, Google Play & Apple iBooks.
Originally published at Convivium.ca on August 3, 2018.
In the second of his two-part Convivium essay, Don Hutchinson details how the recent Supreme Court decision on Trinity Western University puts Canada on an enigmatic path toward an ill-defined ideal of diversity – and puts foundational democratic principles at risk. 8 minute read.
The re-conceptualization of “diversity” by the Supreme Court of Canada in two recent decisions portends critical shifts in the way Canadians think about their country, their society and perhaps even themselves.
It’s important to note that in Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University and Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, the Court did not provide a (re)definition of diversity or explain the (new) concept envisioned by classifying diversity as a Charter “value.” Yet its rulings enabled a reducing of the context for the Court’s consideration of diversity from a broad concept involving the national fabric to a concept that can be applied to a single, specific profession such as the law. Then “diversity” was reduced more narrowly to a single private institution – Trinity Western University – and finally to consideration of one potential future applicant.
This hypothetical applicant is a (hypothetical) member of the LGBTQ community who desires to attend a Christian university, and objects to the Christian beliefs and practices of the university. Despite not actually existing, the applicant has, for some reason, chosen not to attend, or is otherwise unable to attend, one of 19 public university law schools in Canada, narrowing his or her prospect of attending law school to one seat at Trinity Western out of the 10,000-plus available nationwide. (Based on Trinity Western’s history, one cannot assume for a moment that the law school’s academic standards would be at or near the low end of national standards, i.e. academically, it would be easier to get into many other Canadian schools.)
The narrow requirement of responsibility for diversity in the venue of private education, specifically pertaining to equality of opportunity for potential LGBTQ students, was accepted by a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada as a reasonable concern for the two government regulatory agencies to have and to hold in withholding their approval of the proposed law school. This is the standard that applies to the law societies as government regulatory bodies, not a standard that would otherwise apply to Trinity Western. The school was compliant with all academic, legal and constitutional human rights requirements for a university. (Trinity Western complies with the B.C. Human Rights Code. Other Canadian courts have found the Charter has no application to publicly funded universities, and therefore would not be applicable to a private university.)
This fresh constitutional perception of diversity from five members of the Supreme Court was determined to be a Charter “value.” The Charter value “diversity” is distinct from the Canadian value promulgated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who says diversity is understood like “the air we breathe.” It is also distinct from the “diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct” earlier stipulated by the Court as that which is found in a “truly free society.” The Charter value “diversity,” however, was used as the legal construct to override the constitutionally enshrined Charter right to freedom of religion, the right that had been previously recognized by the Court to protect the same Christian university community from a similar attempt to infringe its religious beliefs and behavioural expectations by the government regulatory body for teachers.
The most quoted paragraphs I’ve seen in commentary on the Trinity Western law school decisions were written by Justices Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown, who disagreed with the majority’s opinion. Justices Côté and Brown wrote:
First, Charter “values” — unlike Charter rights, which are the product of constitutional settlement — are unsourced. They are, therefore, entirely the product of the idiosyncrasies of the judicial mind that pronounces them to be so. … What is troubling, however, is the imposition of judicially preferred “values” to limit constitutionally protected rights, including the right to hold other values.
Secondly, and relatedly, Charter “values”, as stated by the majority, are amorphous and, just as importantly, undefined.
In the end, “diversity” was left undefined objectively, either generally or in law, yet applied as necessary to the practice of law and thus a justifiable concern in regard to legal education.
Similarly undefined was the mechanism of Charter values that was exercised by the Court to overrule a Charter right. And, while Charter rights are written in Canada’s Constitution, Charter values are “entirely the product of the idiosyncrasies of the judicial mind that pronounces them to be so,” as Justices Brown and Coté put it.
If there is a redeeming characteristic to the majority’s 2018 law school decisions, it is that the Court did not overturn its own decision in Trinity Western 2001. The 2018 reconceptualization of diversity and its application as a Charter value is confined by the Court to the unique circumstance of the decisions made by the two law societies; the fact situation of the law societies’ consideration of the mandatory religious behavioural requirement for students in relation to educational training for the practice of law. It really is that narrow in application.
But no decision of the Supreme Court of Canada exists in isolation. So, what might the paired decisions mean for Canadians’ understanding of “diversity”?
That’s not clear. The Court has left diversity undefinedly in a state of confusion about its meaning and application in Canadian law and life.
What is clear is the Court chose not to consider equality under the Charter as a competing right with the Trinity Western community’s Charter right to freedom of religion. No balancing act, instead the law school decisions rest on the Charter value diversity. Perhaps, a hint as to the Court’s meaning may be found in a paper presented by Chief Justice McLachlin in 2012 in which she states:
Considering social context has proved important to ensuring that Canada’s judges meet the challenge of judging in a diverse society.
In the law school cases, the unique social context developed by the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada was the distinctive responsibilities and place of the legal profession in Canadian society.
Still, diversity has got to mean more than the potential availability of a single position in a small Christian law school for someone from the LGBTQ community. And it has to mean more than a chair at the table of an unstipulated and undefined diverse corporate board. Diversity also has to mean less than having each instance of its subjective microcosmic assertion authoritatively able to supersede recognized institutional compliance with stipulated operating, legal and constitutional requirements.
In affirmation of the current vagaries of diversity, State actors – politicians, diplomats, lawyers, judges, and regulatory bodies – have taken an enigmatic path from a constitutionally recognized government responsibility of making space for a wide assortment of Canadian individuals and institutions in a broad societal context to select destinations that mandate “diversity undefined” in the setting of personal responsibility within a private organization. It’s a path from expectations of State protection for cultural variety to a terminus that features enforcement of ambiguous criteria for beliefs and practices on private actors, institutional and individual.
Has it been a prudent journey that strengthened the fabric of Canadian society, promoting respect for our differences? Or, has it been an improvident expedition, pulling from time to time on single threads of ideology, occasionally disregarding the rights and freedoms recognized both historically and by the legislatures of our nation?
In the end, we may have thoughts about what diversity means, but we have lost our effective definition and general perception of diversity, and it has not been replaced.
Like beauty, it seems diversity may be in the eye of the beholder; and, beheld differently conditional on setting, whether similar or dissimilar. With such ambiguity, how does one restrain a State “beholder,” particularly one that has authority to impose its view on a private institution, a profession, or a nation?
Isn’t that just what the nationally negotiated and written words in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were meant to do? Whither the diverse and “truly free society” observed and definitively commented upon by the Supreme Court of Canada a fleeting three decades ago?
Not addressed in The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2018 decisions was the conclusion reached by a 5-0 unanimous British Columbia Court of Appeal in its 2016 decision in Trinity Western University v. Law Society of British Columbia:
A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.
Perhaps, because the decisions in Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University and Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada were jurisprudentially confined to the narrow position of the two law societies in regard to their particular concerns for the study and practice of law, the characterisation of diversity recognised by Canadian judges as applicable to the rule of law remains as it was prior to June 15. Perhaps not.
In the last week of July, more than eighty countries participated at the first global Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the U.S. State Department. Canada’s official representative was Member of Parliament Matt DeCourcey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. DeCourcey stated Canada’s commitment to freedom of religion in terms of inclusion and diversity:
Canada is steadfast in our commitment to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that enshrines the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. We are firmly dedicated to the promotion of inclusion and respect for diversity as well as the protection of all human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, at home and internationally.
Like the Geneva statement and Twitter activity from Global Affairs Canada, inclusion and diversity were joined at the hip in DeCourcey’s statement, before being tied at the ankle, as in a three-legged race, to “all human rights, including freedom of religion.” It’s not clear what that means for the Government of Canada’s understanding of diversity, “respect for diversity,” freedom of religion, or other human rights, except that the government stated it is “firmly dedicated” to their promotion “at home and internationally.”
The “at home” commitment to freedom of religion and “respect for diversity” brings the Canada Summer Jobs attestation clause to mind.
Where any definition of diversity will settle for politicians, diplomats, lawyers and judges remains to be seen, as does where such understanding will be settled as a general perception for Canadians. We can hope such definition will be as expansive as the Supreme Court’s conception of a “truly free society” in 1985 and as envisioned by B.C.’s Court of Appeal about accommodating our differences in 2016. Otherwise, we may be left to ponder whether Canada truly has, or will continue to have, the “free and democratic society” proclaimed (in both official languages) in writing as part of 1982’s amendment to our constitution.
Originally published at Convivium.ca on August 2, 2018.
Canadians have developed a swelling pride about creating a country where respect for difference is key to the national spirit. But in this deep dive into what we mean by diversity, Ottawa writer Don Hutchinson says recent developments risk draining the concept of any common understanding. 11 minute read.
“Diversity is our strength,” proclaimed Justin Trudeau. “It’s easy, in a country like Canada, to take diversity for granted. In so many ways, it’s the air we breathe,” the Prime Minister continued.
Diversity, he declared, is a “Canadian value.”
It is easy in Canada “to take diversity for granted.” We may think we understand it like “the air we breathe.” But what do we understand diversity to be?
Does our comprehension of diversity draw Canadians together or assign us to differing camps, like contradictory perspectives on “the air we breathe”? Some think little about the nature of air. Others are continually absorbed in delving into the complexity of air’s composition, and whether the quality of air is manageable or polluted, sounding alarms and demanding immediate action.
On the World Day for Cultural Diversity, Global Affairs Canada conjoined “#diversity” and “#inclusion” in tweets from home base in Ottawa and diplomatic missions around the planet. Does diversity, then, change in nature when combined with inclusion, like components of air combined as two parts hydrogen and one-part oxygen (H2O)?
In Ontario, the government-appointed body for regulation of lawyers mandated each of its members to personally “abide by a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.”
Is adding equality to the diversity and inclusion mix a formula for yet another composition of diversity? Equality does bring with it the distinction of being a right recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On June 15, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada released two decisions that hinged on the “Charter value” of diversity. Does the Charter value differ from the Canadian value expressed by the Prime Minister? What message do we comprehend when other politicians as well as diplomats, lawyers and judges refer to “diversity”?
Those who lived in the neighbourhood where I grew up generally perceived it as diverse. My parents had come from Barbados. We also had multi-generation Canadians, immigrants from Poland, Germany, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa, the USA and more. Protestants lived side-by-side with Catholics, non-churchgoers, and people from religions about which I knew little. Mostly white-skinned, we were well seasoned with a peppering of black and brown. The boys gathered around hockey, football, baseball and sledding, and as we matured, music and girls. We got along. This diversity was our Canada.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was included as Part I in amendments to Canada’s Constitution in 1982.
Deliberating in a key decision on the subject of “diversity” in 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed its earlier Charter-related conclusions on the theme. In the 1996 case Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15, the Court found it:
… obvious that the pluralistic nature of society and the extent of diversity in Canada are important elements that must be understood by future teachers because they are the fabric of the society within which teachers operate and the reason why there is a need to respect and promote minority rights.
In order to grasp the “the fabric of [Canadian] society” it was deemed essential to understand two things: pluralism – the coexistence of people and groups from different backgrounds, with differing beliefs, opinions and practices; and, the extent of diversity in Canada. The Court observed that the path to its 1996 discernment was set in 1985 in R. v. Big M Drug Mart, its first decision on the Charter’s stated right to freedom of religion. In Big M, an expansive concept of diversity was deemed the evidence of “a truly free society.”
The 1985 Court declared:
A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct.
This review of earlier verdicts led the Court to conclude in 2001, in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers,
The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.
Within the context of the fabric of Canadian society as a whole, the societal landscape as it was synonymously phrased, a diversity or multiplicity of organizations and views was to be expected, and respected.
In the particular case before them, the Supreme Court of Canada decided it was unreasonable for the B.C. College of Teachers to deny accreditation to a school intended to train teachers for public school classrooms simply because it was part of a private religious university community with religiously founded behavioural standards. It was one of Canada’s diversity of organizations.
The Court clarified that both the beliefs and the practices of Trinity Western’s university community were protected from interference by the government regulatory body because of the Charter right to freedom of religion. The regulator, the Court determined, was confined to assessing graduates’ academic qualifications and regulating teachers after they entered the teaching profession.
In the context of the fabric of Canadian society identified by the Supreme Court between 1985 and 2001, the Prime Minister’s words might be correct, diversity is a strength. Long held principles undergirding Canadian society cultivated the freedom required for the kind of diversity noted by the Court – a range of different beliefs and practices, variety in individual and organizational expression in Canada’s multicultural and multi-religious milieu.
The description of diversity as a societal respect for the non-conforming Canadian, or community, as depicted by the Supreme Court is more than virtuous tolerance. It is an expression of acceptance, empathy, and an attitude of fair treatment toward those who are “different,” whether the “other” be an individual or a community. The Court’s perception of diversity could certainly be described as a Canadian national strength, if indeed it was the Canadian general perception of diversity.
At some point in fairly recent Canadian history, diversity became twinned with inclusion, and the two are now rarely seen at any distance from one another. With the coupling, the understanding of diversity transitioned from the wide-ranging context of the national societal fabric to a more subjective, fluid concept for application in a narrower, one-organization-at-a-time setting.
The transition is summarily expressed in a 443-word statement made by Canada’s representative to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 20 2017. In the lead up to the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity, Canada spoke on “The Power of Inclusion and the Benefits of Diversity.” Our international position quickly rerouted from observation of diversity in the national and international context, having noted “[d]iversity is an indisputable fact … each context is unique, all communities, countries and regions of the world are diverse,” to smaller-scale obligation with the authoritatively phrased declarations:
Inclusive workplaces are more productive, and have higher employee and client satisfaction. Evidence indicates that companies with diverse boards perform better.
What does an inclusive workplace look like? What are the metrics that compare inclusion with productivity and with the satisfaction of both employees and clients? What is a diverse corporate board? How is board diversity measured against corporate performance? Are these affirmations from observation or assertions of hypotheses on the world stage?
Eight months after the Geneva statements, Ontario’s Law Society gave two months warning to members that by the end of the year each would be required to develop and “abide by a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally,” in addition to existing expectations of adhering to the law and human rights legislation.
Tripleting equality with already twinned diversity and inclusion seemed to further narrow the once-upon-a-not-so-distant-time-ago expansive “national fabric” conceptualization of diversity. The transition in contemplation of diversity thus journeyed from broad societal recognition, through organizational requirement of non-discrimination and affirmative pursuit of diversity and inclusion, to a compulsory personal responsibility for promotion, advancing the cause. But what cause? How is the cause defined?
In a clarifying document, the Law Society offered circular commentary as the rationale for the new requirement. The “intention of the statement of principles is to demonstrate the personal valuing of equality, diversity, and inclusion with respect to the employment of others, or in professional dealings with other licensees or any other person.” “Equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” were not defined by the Law Society in making this requirement of its members, lawyers.
It all seems relatively innocent, even positive and harmless, until one arrives at the realization that the government’s responsibility to accommodate a variety of cultures and institutions in the fabric of society has been incrementally reframed to redirect the responsibility from government to State-compelled endorsement and responsibility for belief in, and advancement of, the ambiguous, transitioning, and undefined concept “diversity” by private organizations and individual persons.
This is not consideration of societal values resulting in acceptance and respect for all Canadians. It is not application of the Charter to protect Canadians’ rights from government interference in the context of the national fabric. Nor is it the observation of non-discrimination in hiring or housing contemplated by provincial human rights codes. What is this new conceptualization of diversity that requires a statement of belief and commitment to promote?
Smack dab in the middle of Pride Month, on June 15 to be precise, the Supreme Court of Canada embraced the ambiguity.
That morning, the Court issued paired decisions in Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University and Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada. In its fresh consideration of diversity, the Court moved jurisprudentially away from its historic recognition of diversity as an expression of the expansive Canadian fabric in a pluralist society. Set aside was the position on diversity that it had previously affirmed as “obvious” and “essential” to the interpretation of the Charter right to freedom of religion.
In place of the time-honoured and steadying societal paradigm stood something more akin to the narrower organizational and personal responsibility re-conceptualization of diversity, the one fused to inclusion and equality; the diversity that is subjective and undefined. As a result, the Court deliberately chose to impose on a Canadian religious organization the constitutional responsibilities expected of a government body.
The enshrinement in Canada’s Constitution of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was the result of a negotiation between the federal government and provincial legislatures. The Charter that emerged recognizes protections intended to ensure fair and equal treatment for all Canadians, including Canadian organizations, in regard to actions of government, and agencies authorized to act on behalf of government.
Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court followed more than three decades of judicial precedent when, in his 2015 decision in Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers Society, he observed:
The Charter is not a blueprint for moral conformity. Its purpose is to protect the citizen from the power of the state, not to enforce compliance by citizens or private institutions with the moral judgements of the state.
Law societies are agencies authorized by provincial and territorial governments to act on government’s behalf to regulate the legal profession. Two of these government authorized agencies, from British Columbia and Ontario, ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada because they were unwilling to recognize an academically certified law school proposed by a private Christian university. Why? They objected to its religious Community Covenant setting out expected Christian behaviour for members of the university community. The Covenant includes a religiously based prohibition of sexual activity by staff or students outside of the marriage relationship between a woman and a man.
The law societies (government agencies) made an argument not too different from that made by the government authorized agency for regulating the teachers’ profession less than two decades earlier in Trinity Western 2001. The crux of their argument was unease that establishing a law school at Trinity Western would “negatively impact equitable access to and diversity within the legal profession and would harm LGBTQ individuals, and would therefore undermine the public interest in the administration of justice.”
Let’s ponder that position on diversity.
There are more than 120,000 lawyers in Canada – 55,000 in Ontario and 14,000 in B.C., the two law societies (out of fourteen nationwide) that ended up in the Supreme Court. There are more than 10,000 student spaces available to study common law in Canada, at 19 public universities. The private Christian university, Trinity Western, was proposing to open a 180-student law school, i.e., 60 students per year of the three year program.*
The professional anxiety expressed by these legal leaders about diversity, as presented to the Court by the two government authorized agencies, may be reduced to the question, “What kind of message would be sent to the nation if the potential for attendance at a private religious institution became the preferred or only available option to study law for one or more LGBTQ individuals who took offense with the religious university community’s beliefs and campus code of conduct?”
The LGBTQ community was the only group out of the entire Canadian population distinguished for such consideration. Concern was not expressed about the potential impact of the Community Covenant on members of other religious communities, non-religious students, heterosexual students who are sexually active outside marriage, or the Covenant’s stated constraints on the use of “vulgar” language, tobacco and alcohol (two products as legal as same-sex marriage in Canada).
Take a moment to reflect on a few simple questions.
How did that sentence about conduct at a private religious school make you feel? What were your first thoughts about a religious community that has such restrictions on sex, language, tobacco and alcohol?
What do you think of when you consider diversity?
Do you think your neighbour’s idea of diversity aligns with yours?
Does your understanding of diversity include that other religious community? The LGBTQ community? People with visible disabilities? Invisible disabilities? Those with different cultural and racial backgrounds than you?
Based on your personal sense of diversity, who is welcome and who is unwelcome in your Canada? Or your line of work? Are you interested in hearing what people who are different from you have to say about who they are or is your idea of who they are sufficient for you?
With those questions in mind, let’s go back to the law school cases.
The law societies set aside evidence about Trinity Western provided by students from other religious communities, and non-religious and LGBTQ students who had already attended the university, living by the Covenant while studying there. They had positive experiences. The Covenant, you see, also requires community members to “treat people and ideas with charity and respect.” To do justice to the Community Covenant requires reading it, not just being captivated by the hype about gay sex.
The two (out of fourteen) law societies fixed their gaze, like a horse wearing blinders in a Triple Crown race, on the improbability that one or more students from the LGBTQ community (which comprises fewer than two per cent of the Canadian population) might potentially be at risk of feeling excluded from attending law school at Trinity Western because of the religious standards of the small private Christian university. The process employed by each of the two government authorized regulatory bodies rejected the Supreme Court’s finding from 2001 that the university community’s standards were protected by the Charter’s enumerated right to “freedom of religion” as part of the “diversity of Canadian society.”
The Supreme Court of Canada went along with the new re-characterization of diversity by the law societies, finding it a viable option, but not the only option, for the purpose of application to the legal profession, and the purpose of education for the legal profession.
Does it make sense to you that the delineation of diversity, under the rule of law or otherwise, would be different in different settings and for different professions?
I’ll seek to offer answers to that question tomorrow in part two of this essay.
*Correction to the original article which stated, “a 60-student law school, i.e., 20 students per year of the three year program.”
The week of Canada’s National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly jam-packed adventure for those with an interest in the intersection of religion and politics. Established in 1964, the NPB is the longest running annual event on Parliament Hill. The side events that pop up around it are significant in themselves.
For those in Ottawa a day early, the week started with the NPB Leadership Dinner on Monday. Kim Phuc, the nine-year-old girl from the infamous Vietnam War napalm photo, shared about that day, her later acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Saviour when a young adult, and her escape from communism to Canada, to live out her life of faith in freedom. Freedom and faith would be recurring themes throughout the week.
Intrigue was piqued for Tuesday’s main event, the Breakfast, when the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Honourable Geoff Regan (Liberal, Halifax West), broke with tradition by withdrawing from co-sponsorship of the breakfast with the Speaker of the Senate, The Honourable George Furey (Newfoundland and Labrador), who went it alone. Regan has previously co-sponsored and participated. No explanation was given.
One topic of conversation leading up to the Breakfast each year is whether the Prime Minister of the day will attend. Delayed opening of the doors until after exit of RCMP officers with sniffer dogs was a sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau) would be present. In 2016, Mr. Trudeau read Romans 12:3-18, a passage about humility and living peaceably with all. On this morning, however, his reading would end with an awkward silence from the assembled crowd. One person near me quietly asked aloud, “Did he just read a poem instead of the Bible?” Yes, he did.
The poem had been shared with him in a meeting with Cardinal Lacroix, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Quebec.
Lord, When I am cold, send me someone to warm. When I am grieved, send me someone to console. When my cross grows heavy, let me carry another’s cross too. When I am poor, lead me to someone in need. When I have no time, give me someone I can help a little while. When I am disheartened, send me someone to cheer. When I need understanding, give me someone who needs mine. When I need to be looked after, give me someone to care for. When I think only of myself, draw my thoughts to another. Amen.
Several versions exist of this poem, translated from the original in Japanese, written by an unknown author. It is a thoughtful Christian sentiment. As evidenced by the hushed crowd, it is not Scripture.
Mr. Trudeau was the first reader. I was not alone in feeling uncomfortable at the spontaneous applause following comments and Scripture readings from Andrew Scheer (Conservative, Regina—Qu’Appelle), Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and David Blakely (NDP, Elmwood—Transcona).
I hope the Prime Minister understands the silence, as well as the appreciation that he made time to be present. Applause had greeted his introduction. It took some courage for Mr. Trudeau to stand before that crowd, knowing many were from organizations denied Canada Summer Jobs funding because of refusal to agree to the attestation clause introduced by his government. That courage would, no doubt, have been tempered somewhat by ongoing reassurance that those same leaders are praying for him in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:-3.
Uncharacteristically, there were two keynote talks. The first, shorter, was from Rev. Sean Brandow, who went quickly from being chaplain to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team to chaplain to a city, a province, and a nation in mourning. Brandow opened his heart to the room, sharing his struggles and his solace in Christ in light of the sudden tragedy that took the lives of too many of his friends. Dr. Os Guinness followed with a captivating presentation on the historic, philosophical and cultural necessity for private and public religious freedom if a society is to remain free and democratic.
Following the NPB, I was honoured to participate in a conversation between Mr. Scheer and a group of Christian leaders from across the country. As one might expect, the topic of the Canada Summer Jobs attestation arose. Another topic raised was the decision by the previous government to establish the Office of Religious Freedom and the closing of that Office by the current government. While governments around the world are recognizing the importance of religion in geopolitics, and establishing offices with ambassadors or envoys who play a key role in international diplomacy, Canada went a different direction after the last election.
Which leads these words to an event later the same day. Canadian think tank Cardus had been quick to hire now Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, the former Ambassador for Religious Freedom, when the Office of Religious Freedom was shut down. Announced Tuesday evening was that Dr. Bennett, also a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, DC, will lead the new Cardus Religious Freedom Institute (CRFI). The CRFI is targeted to fill the gap between academics and practitioners to facilitate public understanding of, and dialogue about, religion and religious freedom.
Unsurprisingly, because the Canada Summer Jobs attestation clause has been featured in mass media for more than five months, media interviews about the new institute included questions on the attestation for the former international ambassador, who is no longer constrained from commenting on the Canadian situation.
Bennett noted the attestation has “a certain totalitarian feel to it.”
“Whether you’re a person of religious views or a person who just doesn’t want to have an opinion, the government through this action is compelling belief,” Bennett told The Canadian Press.
At Wednesday morning’s inaugural lecture from the CRFI, Bennett introduced its first report, An Institutional History of Religious Freedom in Canada, which seeks to “provide a historical context for why freedom of religion and conscience is foundational to Canadian democracy, diversity, pluralism, and to our common life as human beings living in this place, this Canada.”
Freedom. Democracy. Diversity. Pluralism. These words echoed again the next day from orators speaking at the National March for Life. Thousands gathered on Parliament Hill, then for a march through Ottawa’s downtown streets, seeking parliamentary protection for children prior to birth. As I noted a couple of weeks ago,
The Supreme Court has also determined that the reproductive rights on which Trudeau demands agreement do not exist. Constant repetition of the words “reproductive rights” may be a technique for re-education. It does not change the constitution. Abortion is legal in Canada by the absence of law from Parliament constraining it. Holding differing opinions on whether a child is a child when in the womb violates neither law nor constitution.
It’s a debate that needs to take place in Canada. Our nation is out of step with the world’s democracies, alone providing no protection for children until after they have emerged fully from their mother. Shout downs by pro-choice representatives are not debate. Refusal by politicians to discuss the subject, and false representations about the state of the law in Canada, have not resulted in silence on the issue.
Having an annual breakfast where those gathered pray for all Canadians, for our federal government and for just deliberations in Parliament invites us to address issues, even difficult issues, in our nation honestly and directly, including matters of human rights. It takes courage to stand before an unwelcoming audience, whether a Prime Minister at a Christian prayer breakfast or thousands on the lawn of Parliament Hill. May that courage be tempered by prayer, and by application of understanding and the freedoms expressed in Canada’s constitution.