Disorder in the House

Yesterday, the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights reversed the government proposal in Bill C-51 to delete section 176 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits activity that obstructs or interferes with religious officials seeking to perform their religious duties or with “assemblages of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose.” A big thank you to people from a wide variety of religious organizations and communities who contacted MPs, submitted briefs and appeared as witnesses on this issue.

Here is my public commentary on this issue, and the study being conducted by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, as originally published at Convivium.ca on November 1, 2017.

Media Scrum at the Supreme Court of Canada

Media Scrum

In March, Canada’s federal government gave instructions to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to “undertake a study on how the government could develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic… religious discrimination.” A whole-of-government approach implies, at least to me, working together between departments and among parliamentarians.

Barely two months after delivering this assignment, the same government introduced a bill expressing its intention to remove the prohibition designed to reduce or eliminate unlawful interference with religious worship. This second proposal was set before another committee, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The left hand of government seems not to know what is already in the right hand. Or is it the right hand that doesn’t know what is already in the left?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is, basically, the largest law firm in the country. DOJ provides legal advice to the departments and agencies of the federal government, and reviews legislative proposals before they head to the House of Commons.

The motion, M-103, that resulted in the first study, by the Heritage Committee, and the legislation, Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, that resulted in the second study, by the Justice Committee, were introduced by the same political party, reviewed by the same legal department, and endorsed by the same Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and government.

It may seem repetitious, but, to be clear, at the direction of the same government, Canadians have a parliamentary committee engaged in a study from which one would expect prohibition on unlawful interruption of religious worship to be recommended, were it not already law, and a second parliamentary committee engaged in a study intended to remove the law prohibiting unlawful interruption of religious worship.

What are Canadians to make of a government that considers it a matter of our national heritage to put an end religious discrimination, while at the same time a matter of justice and human rights to embolden the disruption of religious worship?

Perhaps, instead of looking to our duly elected government to decide on a priority, Canadians need to make our own assessment and share our thoughts on the matter with our elected members and leaders.

Following is the section of the Criminal Code now being considered before both committees – one for and the other against:

176 (1) Every one who

(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or

(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)

(i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or

(ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process,

 is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

 (2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

 (3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the   order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. [summary conviction: a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment, maximum fine of $5000 or both]

The stated government position is s. 176 is not necessary, as other sections in the Criminal Code may be used in regard to the same subject matter.

A minister of the government stated in private correspondence that police can use the public disturbance section, s. 175. But, places of worship are private buildings, even though members of the public are often invited to attend at identified times. That won’t work.

Well then, he suggested, use the section that deals with threats (s. 264.1) or the section dealing with assaults (s. 265) or the sections dealing with hate crimes (s. 318 and 319) or the section dealing with public mischief in relation to a building used for public worship (s. 430 (4.1)).

These have been put forward as the reason s. 176 has been deemed unnecessary. But none of the other sections properly address the wilful disturbance or interruption of religious worship, or interference with the performance of a solemn religious rite.

If the hate-fueled murderer that entered a Quebec City mosque in January had instead entered a house of worship armed with one of those neon-coloured water soakers fired randomly into the crowd at Gay Pride parades, what charge would police have pursued against the perpetrator of soggy Muslims, Christians or Jews?

In the 1980s, we lived in a hub-town in the interior of British Columbia. At a pastors’ gathering, my twenty-five year old self was warned we had an “ichabod” man in town. Ichabod is the English transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “the glory [of the Lord] has departed.” Our ichabod man saw it as his role to set up a large sign on the sidewalk outside his church-of-the-day, then use a bullhorn to declare that the glory of the Lord had departed from that church and state disagreement with particular religious beliefs of his target audience. One pastor had contacted the RCMP. We were advised that what is now s. 176 would be used if the Sunday meeting was interrupted by the man either entering church property for his protest or using amplified sound that was disruptively heard inside. Otherwise, as long as the public walkway was unimpeded, he was entitled to free speech.

When ichabod man arrived, I took the short walk to his chosen spot to let him know he was welcome in our church, provided he was not disruptive, or he could continue his protest, provided he did not use his bullhorn. We had one Sunday morning of worship with unwelcome sidewalk signage and the unintelligible faint din of his voice. Ichabod man departed with exiting parishioners following the service. They came back the next week. He didn’t.

Forewarned, we didn’t need to use s. 176 that day, but it has been used since. Here’s a sampling.

A former member decided to attend at a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting with protest signs, speak to members as they arrived and knock on the doors of the building throughout the worship meeting. He was sentenced to three years’ probation (R. v. Reed, [1999] B.C.J. No. 2868).

In another case, a Christian dinner was interrupted by protest. Police had to be called as the event was unable to continue. The protester was fined $500 (R v Geoghegan, 2005 ABPC 255).

In June of this year, a woman entered an Ottawa church, where she disrupted the meeting by screaming and then broke an arm off a statue of Jesus. She was charged under s. 176.

When then Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler introduced specific provisions on human trafficking for inclusion in the Criminal Code in 2005, one of the arguments against Bill C-49 was that other sections of the Code covered off the elements of the offence. No one today would argue against the value to both police and prosecutors of having the human trafficking prohibition in one readily accessible and actionable part of Canada’s criminal law.

When current Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said s. 176 makes it illegal only to disrupt a clergyman or minister, but not an imam or a rabbi, the advice she was relaying from her department, DOJ, ignored the facts. Based on earlier DOJ advice, the Canada Revenue Agency defined the word “clergy,” as used for income tax purposes, to include “priests, pastors, ministers, rabbis, imams, commended workers and other persons who have been commended, licensed, commissioned or otherwise formally or legitimately recognized for religious leadership within their religious organization” (Interpretation Bulletin IT-141R, issued May 2000). This DOJ/CRA definition of clergy aligns with decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada made over a period of more than fifty years, before and after arrival of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most recently, the Court adjusted the concept of clergy-parishioner confidential communications to “religious communications” (R. v. Gruenke, [1991] 3 SCR 263) and noted in the government’s reference case in regard to changing the definition of marriage that “religious officials” could not be compelled by the state to perform marriages in violation of their religious beliefs.

If the government is serious about religious freedom, including freedom to worship and seeking an end to religious discrimination, it won’t ask one of its committees to report on why Canada needs s. 176 and another to consider removing its protection. Instead, the government will explore why the largest law firm in the country failed to adequately prepare Parliament and brief the Minister of Justice on its own decades old advice, advice based on more than half a century of decisions from the nation’s highest court.


Under Siege: how and why I authored this book

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

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

under siege HR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Americans love an underdog

Americans love an underdog. The media, pollsters, and both major parties worked together to create one and now he is President-elect.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

“Love, Hope, Believe”

Interesting to me as I followed the comments of too many evangelical Christian leaders supporting one candidate or the other is how those who were peacemakers for Hillary (this is the safe route for America’s future) and prophets for Trump (the world will end if Hillary is elected) have this morning on social media become prophets for Hillary (the world will end because Donald was elected) and peacemakers for Trump (it’s time to set differences aside and work together). Christians, including our leaders, are wonderfully human and imperfect.

Democracy is a flawed and incredibly interesting system of choosing governance. I was concerned that a Democrat majority in House, Senate, Oval Office and Supreme Court could prove troubling for the future. The same concern goes now for a Republican majority in House, Senate, Oval Office and soon Supreme Court. It will be very interesting to see how the U.S. constitutional checks and balances will function in light of this impending four institutions of governance sweep.

Praying for the USA.


Pray for me

Today, the blog is personal.

I like Kirk Franklin’s “Pray for Me” for several reasons. It reminds me of the need for prayer, your need and mine. It speaks of the deep desires heard in Leonard Cohen’s cri de couer,Hallelujah,” but with the hope found in a community of voices responding. Perhaps, most strongly for me, Franklin communicates in story. Those who know me, know I speak in stories. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get to the point, but point there is and the story usually makes it better understood. Usually.

Pray for me. DonParlForum

I’ve posted on Facebook the incredible view from my room at the Banff Springs Hotel. And maybe I lost you at “Banff.” But it’s a journey to get here.

Yesterday morning, I rose at 3:00 (1:00 Mountain Time) to take a friend visiting from South Africa to the airport for her flight home. At the airport for 4:30, it didn’t make much sense to head back home when my flight was leaving at 7:30. A friend picked me up at the airport in Calgary and I made my first trip to Big M Drug Mart. If you’re a Canadian freedom of religion geek, you’ll get it (or click on the link for a hint). Yes, Big M is still open on Sundays.

But to do all that meant leaving home before my daughter arrived to send me off. Gosh, I hate to miss those moments. It meant leaving home while my grandson was still in bed, knowing he would wake up to my absence and that of his South African friend whose company John had come to enjoy. At least he would wake up to his Mum being there with his Nana. And, leaving Gloria to get the boy off to school and home again for a few days. And, simply, again, leaving Gloria as I scoot off on another adventure.

Driving into the mountains, I found myself shedding a few involuntary tears as I thought about my Dad. I miss him. It was in the backdrop of the mountains at The Salvation Army’s Miracle Valley that we had what I consider our first significant talk about faith. It altered the trajectory of our relationship and opened the door to a conversation a dozen years later that would heal a brokenness that had long existed between us.

I know God’s in it. I know He’s with us. … I know we need Him.

Tonight when I get to my feet to speak, it will be about 7:45 (9:45 Eastern Time, 10:45 before we turned the clocks back, i.e. after my bedtime) and I need prayer for strength. Tonight when I get to my feet to speak, the big news will likely be the name of the next President of the United States of America, or a continuing nail-biting (for some) wait. Please pray about the distraction.

Tonight’s message is called, “Under Siege or Under Fire: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150.” It’s an important message. It’s also the tentative title of a book that is almost finished. Negotiations with a publisher (hopefully, soon to be referred to as “my publisher”) going well, it will be available in the Spring of 2017. Pray for tonight, pray for the negotiations and pray for me to finish the remaining few chapters on time.

I won’t likely get back to the blog before I speak tomorrow morning (11:45 Mountain Time; 1:45pm Eastern) on the topic, “Under Siege and Under Fire: The Global Church in a Multi-Religious World.” Prayer for that would be appreciated as well.

I just really need my praying friends to pray for me. And, I’m daring to ask openly. To express a bit of my current story. And share my appreciation for an artist like Kirk Franklin being an encouragement to do so.

I’m off to join the community of pastors and their spouses that are gathered here as we share in prayer and communion to start our day. I am looking forward to it as something I simply need right now.

Pray for me.

Rev. Don Hutchinson Named as Interim National Director of Canadian Bible Society

Toronto: The Board of Governors of The Canadian Bible Society (CBS) is pleased to announce the appointment Rev. Don Hutchinson as Interim National Director and CEO, effective April 27, 2015.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

Don Hutchinson is a nationally recognized executive leader, consultant, and public policy specialist. Most recently, Hutchinson was the Vice-President, General Legal Counsel, and Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Hutchinson’s background also includes ordained ministry. He and his wife, Gloria, led congregations together, beginning with service on a First Nations reserve in Northern British Columbia to a church plant in Markham, Ontario. Hutchinson has wide experience serving on boards of organizations and as a valuable resource to not-for-profit groups across the country. A graduate of Queens University, Hutchinson received his law degree from the University of British Columbia.

“We are delighted to be led by God to a person of Don’s many gifts and broad experience,” says Dr. William H. Brackney, Chairman of the Board of Governors for CBS.

Hutchinson is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to Canada in promoting freedom of religion and development of public policy. He resides in Ottawa with his wife Gloria and a grandson.

“It is an honour to fill this transitional role for the Canadian Bible Society,” says Hutchinson. “The Bible is the sacred text that is foundational for the Canadian and world-wide Christian community, so the translation, publishing and distribution work of the Canadian Bible Society is critical work for the Kingdom of God.”

Don will remain in his role as Interim National Director and CEO of the CBS until a permanent National Director assumes responsibilities.

The Canadian Bible Society (CBS) exists to promote and encourage, without doctrinal note or comment, the translation, publication, distribution and use of the Scriptures throughout Canada and Bermuda, and to co-operate with the United Bible Societies in its worldwide work.

Originally published at www.biblesociety.ca