A general religious and legal overview:
Approximately 77% of Canadians identify themselves as Christians. This is
close to the US figure. However, there are major religious
differences between the two countries:
||Canadian culture is more highly secularized. The percentage of adults who "say" that they
attend regular church, circle, mosque, synagogue or temple services is only about 20% and
is dropping 1% point per year. In the US, about 40% of adults report attending regular
services; that number is fairly constant. (Recent studies in which attendees were actually counted have revealed that these numbers
are about double the actual number in both Canada and the U.S.).|
|The percentage of adults which are Roman Catholics is much higher in Canada (42%)
compared to the US (28%).|
||The two main Protestant denominations are both liberal (United Church at 19%, Anglican at
15%). The largest Protestant denominations in the US are the Southern Baptist Conference and other evangelical denominations..|
The high ratio of liberal to conservative Christians is probably responsible the
current status of "hot" religious topics in Canada.
These differ significantly from the US:
||There are few active protests against women's access to abortion.
Women can obtain abortions in every province except Prince Edward Island. The cost for women having abortions in hospitals is born
by the universal health care system. Canada is believed to be unique, at least among the developed countries. It has no legislation limiting abortions.
However, individual provincial medical associations do have regulations which restrict
late-term abortions. |
||Of the ten provinces, only one (Alberta) has no plans to expand provincial civil rights
to include persons of all sexual orientations -- heterosexual, bisexual and
homosexual. Canada gave special
rights to heterosexuals in terms of marriage, until same-sex marriage was
legalized across Canada in 2005-JUL, except for Prince Edward Island (PEI).
PEI made same-sex marriage available only when threatened with a lawsuit. Sexual behavior between
any two consenting adults in private has been decriminalized across Canada, including that by both heterosexuals and homosexuals.|
||Canada has been spared many of the excesses of the anti-cult movement
which targeted new and emerging religious groups, until it became discredited in the 1990s. Also, the conservative
movement which attacks minority Christian groups with non-traditional beliefs is rarely heard from.|
Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees
freedom of of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, peaceful assembly,
association and expression (including freedom of the press and other media of
communication). Some results of the Charter (and previous constitutional documents) are:
|Most Canadians enjoy considerable freedom of religion.|
||Although polygamy is theoretically against the Criminal Code, the Attorney-General of
British Columbia until recently decided to not prosecute members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) -- a splinter
group which practices polygyny. He felt that the province would probably lose a
constitutional challenge because of the freedom of religion guarantees of the Charter.
A hearing started in the British Columbia Supreme Court to test the federal anti-polygamy law. |
Chief Justice Robert Bauman released a 335 page decision, ruling that Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada -- the section that criminalizes polygamy and bigamy -- is constitutional. He acknowledged that it does restrict religious freedom and freedom of association. However, these restrictions are justified because of the harm that polygamy causes to children, women and society. More details.
||Separate religious schools have been guaranteed and financially supported by various
provincial governments since Confederation. However the number of supporting governments is decreasing.|
Typical examples of religious intolerance:
|Anti-Semitic activities continue at a low but rising frequency.|
|Economic and physical attacks by individuals against Neopagans,
who are open with their religion, once made them the most
persecuted religious group in Canada, on a per-capita basis. Greater awareness
of Neopaganism and acceptance of those Wiccans
and other Neopagans who have gone public with their religious beliefs resulted
in a massive reduction of discrimination in the 1990s and 2000s.|
||From time to time, battles are fought in the courts over child custody by separated or
divorced parents. A parent sometimes ends up being prohibited from teaching his or her
religion to their child. That spouse usually follows a minority religion, like Jehovah's Witnesses or Wicca.|
||Under pressure from the Roman Catholic church, the government of Quebec withheld the
vote from women until the mid 1940's. This made the province the last political
jurisdiction in North America to eliminate special rights for men, and extend the vote to
all adults. The Roman Catholic church made an sincere apology to the women of Quebec on
the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage in Quebec.|
Recent examples of religious tolerance, freedom, liberty & intolerance:
|1997-NOV-8, Blainville, Quebec: Michel Pynard, a Jehovah's Witness was
preaching door-to-door with his wife and daughter and three others. 1
Five of the group, presumably the adults, were fined on the spot for breaking a city bylaw
which prohibits knocking on doors and preaching without a permit. Blainville is located
about 30 minutes northwest of Montreal|
|1995-1998, Newfoundland: Until recently, this province had four,
government supported, religious school systems, but no secular public school system.
public referendums and a constitutional amendment finally terminated government support for
religious systems. Public schools in the province are now secular. The most
recent referendum was held in 1997. 73% of adults voted in favor of the change.
||1998-SEP-9, Nova Scotia: 229 people died in the crash of Swissair
Flight 111 off of Peggy's Cove, NS in 1998. On SEP-9, an inter-faith memorial service was
held to comfort the families and friends of the victims. Carolyn Nicholson, a minister of
the United Church of Canada, was selected as the Protestant clergyperson to take part in the
service. She maintains that the Federal government's protocol officer asked her and a
Roman Catholic priest, to submit their parts of the service to the protocol office
for advance approval. She believes that she was told to make no references to Jesus
Christ, and to not use any readings from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
A Native Canadian was permitted to speak of her people's beliefs; a Jewish Rabbi read from
the Hebrew Scriptures; a Muslim read from the Qur'an. But she and the priest read only
from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Prime Minister stated on 1999-JAN-17 that no Federal
employee restricted the content of the service. The situation remains a mystery.|
|1999, Quebec: The province has historically operated two school
systems: one Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. This
arrangement was scrapped and replaced by two secular school systems: one French, the
other English. This is viewed by many Christians as a restriction on their religious
freedom. It is seen by many secularists as a major improvement.|
|2007, Humbolt SK: Humboldt and surrounding communities had
previously agreed to contribute $13 million for construction of the new Humbolt Uniplex, a large
medical center that
will replace the local 85 year old St. Elizabeth's hospital. The municipalities
later decided to
withdraw their support, if the new hospital is run by a Roman Catholic board.
Although there might have been some religious bigotry involved in this decision,
the main concern was over the Church's prohibition of family planning clinics, tubal ligations, vasectomies and other fertility-related topics. The
Saskatchewan Health Region decided that Uniplex the will be run as a public
institution rather than by Saskatchewan Catholic Health Corporation. 3,4|
|2008, Toronto ON: Miss Canada Plus 2007 was invited to be a judge
at the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant. The invitation was cancelled because
the pageant directors considered her interest in Tarot cards to be
un-Christian. The competition is a secular one, but the organizers are
conservative Protestants. More details.|
||2012-SEP-05, British Columbia: David Harty, a spokesperson for Corrections Canada -- the agency of the federal government that operates the federal prison system, -- said that they had put our a tender for a Wiccan priestess/priest to serve the spiritual needs of Wiccans in prison. The job included delivering Wiccan spiritual services, pastoral counselling, and crisis intervention. He said:
About one hour after the tender was announced, Julie Carmichael, director of communications for federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews's office, said that the tender would not proceed until it is reviewed. She issued an email saying:
"This has been put to tender because there is a need. The requirement of these services is on-going. It has been used in the past."
"Religious freedom is a paramount value in Canadian society. However, the government is not convinced all services offered through the chaplaincy program reflect an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."
Meredith Kimber, 35, is Wiccan priestess from Nanaimo, BC. She said:
"Wiccan is so hush-hush, people hear the word witch and they freak out. There must be a high enough number within the inmates for this to be necessary."
Sam Wagar, 55, is a Wiccan priest who founded the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of B.C. He said:
"Wiccans are human beings. Some human beings screw up and end up in jail. They may still need the same kind of spiritual care as people from other religions who end up in jail. ... Everybody who isn’t a Christian differs from the mainstream. Big whoopee, get over it. We have a way of being spiritual, a way of connecting to the gods, a set of ethics, and beliefs and they help us to live our lives better." 5
||2012-OCT-05, Canada: In the most outrageous and extreme government attack on religious freedom and tolerance in recent years, Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has announced that the contracts of all part-time non-Christian chaplains ministering in federal prisons across Canada will be terminated as of the end of March 2013. The Canadian Anglican Journal commented:
"After that date, penitentiary inmates of minority faiths, from Buddhists to Wiccans, will have to rely on full-time Christian chaplains for interfaith services, religious counsel and spiritual guidance.
'I could never pretend to be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh and tend to the spiritual needs of all these different people,' says the Rev. David Price, an Anglican priest in Agassiz, B.C., who spent many years as a prison chaplain in the west. In his view, prison chaplains are essential and cost-effective 'midwives' who help offenders give birth to new selves and new lives before they are released back into society.
The cancellation comes after Toews, whose office oversees federal correctional institutions, said last month that he was not convinced part-time minority-faith chaplains were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and ordered a halt to the tendering of new contracts.
Julie Carmichael, a spokesperson for Toews said that while the minister strongly supports freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners, the government 'is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths'." 6
An article about this event in the Globe and Mail received 200 comments -- an unusually high number in Canada. Some gems were:
Vlad The Inhaler: "Isn't this the government that just opened the Office Of Religious Freedom? I guess it only applies to OTHER countries. What hypocrites!"
Tim Bryson: "The meanspiritedness of Toews never ceases to amaze me."
mikes4: "Someone got the idea that they could fly a broom over the wall."
Mannlickher: "From creating an Office of Religious Freedom inside the foreign affairs portfolio to this in only six months. You have freedom of religion, apparently, as long as it's of the approved type.
What a pack o' hypocrites."
Lthoth: "... if the concern is the use of taxpayers' money for this type of Corrections service, as the director of communications stated, why is the funding being withheld for only one religion? I'm afraid that religious bigotry has reared its ugly head. I don't believe that the Canadian people will let this stand."
Tewtree: "In the UK, most prison services have regular visits from Pagan & Wiccan chaplains. I met the local Anglican prison chaplain at an interfaith event recently, and he said that they regularly have visits from a Pagan priestess for their Pagan inmates.
This has been happening for about 20 years, I think. Of course, right-wing papers sound off about it from time to time (and about Pagans in the military, and Paganism being taught in schools - to promote religious tolerance, obviously) but it's getting better."
RobM7: "You're either with the christians or you're with the pedophiles." 6
2013-MAR-19, British Columbia: The West Coast Prison Justice Society, seven Inmates in federal prisons in British Columbia (BC), and one prisoner who was recently transferred from BC to New Brunswick are suing the federal government over its decision to terminate the contracts of part time prison chaplains. The inmates follow the Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim Sikh, and Wiccan faiths. Their lawsuit against federal Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews claims that only two non-Christian chaplains remain in all of Canada as of the beginning of 2013-MAR. There are none in in British Columbia. The lawsuit claims that: "Prisoners do not lose their right to freely express their religious and spiritual beliefs by virtue of their incarceration ..."
Julie Carmichael, a spokesperson for Vic Toews, said in an email:
"I can say that the Government of Canada strongly supports the freedom of religion of all Canadians. The government funds full-time spiritual advisers to provide services of any faith. Additionally, there are over 2,500 individuals who provide spiritual services to prisoners of many faiths on a voluntary basis. This approach supports the freedom of religion of prisoners while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used wisely and appropriately."
The federal Government seems to be assuming that Christian chaplains can adequately counsel inmates of all religions. But many chaplains are from conservative Christian denominations, some of whom regard other religions as being led or influenced by Satan which are guaranteed to have the individual believers spend eternity being tortured in Hell. It is difficult to see how such a chaplain can remain objective about a non-Christian faith. 7
- Canadian Press, "Five fined for preaching," 1997-NOV-9
- Various articles, United News, at: http://www.rockies.net/
- Lana Haight, "Rally hears of woman's tubal ligation fight. Debate over
hospital includes fear-mongering, doctor tells crowd," The Star Phoenix,
- "Catholics won't be allowed to run hospital," The Toronto Star,
2007-MAR-08, Page A8.
- "Federal Safety Minister Toews nixes Wiccan chaplain for B.C. prisoner," The Canadian Press, 2012-SEP-05, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
- Diana Swift, "Ottawa axes non-Christian prison chaplains," Anglican Journal, 2012-OCT-05, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/
- Dene Moore, "B.C. inmates suing over Ottawa’s decision to cut minority faith chaplains," The Globe and Mail, 2013-MAR-19, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
Copyright © 2002 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002
Latest update: 2013-MAR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson