Tomorrow the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on General Government will complete a clause by clause review of Bill 213, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2020. Following is the text of my submission made last week on Schedule 2 which proposes amendments to the Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies Act, 1999.
Schedule 2 of Bill 213 is a proposal to amend the 1999 Act Respecting Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies, including renaming the school, granting it university status, and approving the conferring of B.A. and B.Sc. degrees, in addition to fourteen degrees previously authorized.
If Canada Christian College meets the impartial education-related requirements for the granting of B.A. and B.Sc. degrees, Schedule 2 should receive Royal Assent.
In October 2020 the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 213, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2020. The bill comprises a series of schedules proposing amendments to various pieces of existing legislation. The amendments are intended to come into force as provided in each schedule.
Among Bill 213’s proposals are amendments for name changes and additional degree granting privileges for three post-secondary education institutions: Redeemer Reformed Christian College to Redeemer University (Schedule 25); Tyndale University College & Seminary to Tyndale University (Schedule 29); and, Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies to Canada University and School of Graduate Theological Studies (Schedule 2).
While all three of these are private religious institutions, theologically identified with evangelical Christianity, the latter has attracted aggressive, negative comments from opposition parties and some members of the media. The public denunciation is unrelated to the qualifications of the school to deliver the degree programs proposed, instead expressing disapproval toward its president because of his personal participation in the political arena and debates about matters of public policy.
NDP and Liberal Party MPPs have referred to Dr. Charles McVety in terms best described as ad hominem attacks on his person – bigot, homophobe, transphobe – intended to marginalize him by subjecting Dr. McVety to detestation or vilification, and by association to disqualify Canada Christian College, and Schedule 2, from proper consideration.
The matter before the legislature is not political or media opinions concerning Dr. McVety’s public policy pronouncements or his personal participation in the political sphere, which involvement is not uncommon for college and university professors, staff or administrators.
At issue in regard to Schedule 2 of Bill 213 is the ability of Canada Christian College to meet established requirements to provide the degree programs proposed. If and when Canada Christian College is recommended by the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board as having satisfied those requirements, Schedule 2 should receive Royal Assent.
Because NDP and Liberal MPPs have been insistent and persistent in making public allegations against Dr. McVety, intending those allegations to discredit the school, I will comment briefly on the allegations under the heading The McVety Factor and then on the matter properly to be considered by this committee under the heading The Education Factor before summarizing with a Conclusion.
The McVety Factor
Canada Christian College was founded as Richmond College, a Christian arts college, in Canada’s centennial year, 1967, under the leadership of Dr. Elmer McVety. Seven years later it added a theology program under the name Canada Christian College. Over time the school moved to different locations as it expanded faculty, courses, and degree offerings. Elmer McVety died unexpectedly in 1993. His son Charles was selected to succeed him.
Under the leadership of Dr. Charles McVety, the school continued to expand and move to progressively larger campuses until arriving at its current location in 2018. Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies has graduated more than 6,500 students and currently offers 14 degree programs including bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees.
In addition to Christian post-secondary education, Charles McVety has a demonstrated interest in politics and public policy. As noted in my book Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867 – 2017), McVety adopted a style of political participation that aligned with that of the late twentieth century Moral Majority in the USA. Although his political engagement has been criticized by some for its form of expression, McVety has consistently presented a reasoned, biblically-exegeted understanding for his positions on policy matters. Those positions have found alignment with leaders in other religious communities on a variety of issues. Unquestionably, some of his more quoted remarks have been provocative.
I will touch briefly on some of the issues raised by the opposition parties.
Same-Sex Marriage – In June 1999 the federal Liberal government overwhelmingly supported maintaining the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman in a House of Commons vote of 216-55. A pitched public policy debate followed in legislatures, in the courts, and in public. Eventually, Prime Minister Paul Martin found himself in the position of having to whip the vote of cabinet members, and encourage Liberal MPs who objected to changing the definition to not attend the vote, in order to ensure passage of the Civil Marriage Act in 2005 by a vote of 158-133. In the definition changing legislation, the government paid heed to the caution given to the federal and provincial governments by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2004 decision in Reference re Same-Sex Marriage. The Act states in its preamble:
WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;
WHEREAS it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage…
The Act further states in sections 3 and 3.1:
3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
3.1. For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.
Martin lost the ensuing election in which one of the commitments made by his challenger, and successor as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was to hold a free vote on whether or not to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage.
Throughout the public debates, McVety took a position endorsing the traditional definition of marriage.
LGBT+ activities and activists – Dr. McVety has presented the historic theologically conservative understanding of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant parts of the Christian Church on matters of sexual behaviour.
Remarks on the nature of Pride parades (there is no other event where public nudity and simulated sexual acts are permitted) and changes made to Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum did not endorse or encourage hateful behaviour or result in any reported incidents of hate speech.
The Supreme Court of Canada identified the difference between “hurt feelings” and “hate speech” in its 2013 decision in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott. The Court stated that hate speech is speech intended to expose an identifiable individual or group to detestation or vilification based on one or more prohibited grounds of discrimination.
In Whatcott, the Court also concluded it is not the place of courts or governments to “be drawn into the business of attempting to authoritatively interpret sacred texts such as the Bible.”
Quoted in a November 2010 feature story by Charles Lewis in the National Post, I am on record as stating that Dr. McVety’s “theological position is at one end of the spectrum of Canadian evangelicalism and his American perspective draws attention and stirs up conversation.”
There may be difference in exegesis. There may be difference in presentation. There may be difference in opinion on public policy. But Charles McVety has not advocated hatred as some MPPs have alluded or alleged. And, in any event, such allegations are not the matter for consideration before this committee.
The Education Factor
As noted, Canada Christian College has continued to upgrade its faculty and facilities over the last half century and has graduated more than 6,500 students.
The McVety Factor means Canada Christian College is a school that teaches academic and practical theology; service to church and community as participatory good citizens.
I have personally benefited from part-time studies at Canada Christian College, beginning in the 1990s. The experience has had a positive influence on my professional practice and writing. My instructors have had an interesting variety of life experiences and come from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, some speaking with accents aligned with their country of birth in Africa, the Caribbean, Great Britain or Europe. My classmates similarly had a variety of ethnic origins in Africa, Asia, South Asia, South America, Europe and North America.
Canada Christian College initiated distance learning by correspondence decades ago, and adjusted that to online interactive virtual education well before the current pandemic-driven rush by other colleges and universities to do so. I have been a beneficiary of this foresight.
In terms of meeting academic requirements to provide instruction for B.A. and B.Sc. degrees, that assessment is for the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board.
In my experience, Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies is:
- Pursuing a standard of academic excellence; and,
- Fully committed to foundational evangelical Christian principles.
In 2001, in the case Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, the Supreme Court of Canada stated, “For better or worse, tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of democratic society.” The Court’s conclusion in that case was that while “TWU is not for everybody; it is designed to address the needs of people who share a number of religious convictions.” Ultimately, because TWU’s school of education met provincial academic requirements there was no bar to its operation, and the school’s religious nature was to be respected.
Again from the Court in that case, “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.”
I will quickly address the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2018 twinned decisions in regard to TWU’s proposal to open a law school, Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University and Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada. The Court did not deal with or overturn its 2001 decision in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, which means that decision remains good and applicable law. Instead, the Court distinguished law school education from other education because of the unique nature of public interest considerations in the regulation of legal professionals. In deciding the case, the majority of the Court did not rely on constitutional or legal principles but on the concept of a Charter value of “diversity.” As Justices Côté and Brown noted in dissent,
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.
Which is to say, the law school decisions are not pertinent to consideration of Bill 213, Schedule 2. However, consideration of other decisions pertaining to relevant rights and freedoms under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, some of which are noted above, are germane to the legislature’s deliberations on Schedule 2.
Deliberation on Schedule 2 by this committee and the legislature is not a matter of interest in either the religious nature of the school or the public policy engagement of its’ president, but whether the proposal made by Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies to the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board meets the necessary requirements to provide suitable education for B.A. and B.Sc. degrees.
If Canada Christian College satisfies those requirements, Schedule 2 of Bill 213 should be passed by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and receive Royal Assent.
Addendum – Bill 213, including Schedule 2, was passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly on December 7, 2020. Canada Christian College awaits completion of the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board’s review process.