INTERACTIONS OF CANADIAN GOVERNMENTS WITH RELIGION
In Canada, the federal and provincial governments interface with
religious groups in many different ways. For example, governments:
Set rules that must be met for a couple to marry in a
secular or religious setting.
Decide which religious leaders may perform marriages.
Decide which religious groups can issue income tax
certificates to their financial donors.
Indirectly control prayer in public schools.
Generally give exemption to municipal taxes to religious
institutions, with the exception of certain services like garbage
Rules restricting marriage:
Marriage consists of both civil and religious components. Most
people in Canada are married by clergypersons. In order to obtain government
recognition and benefits, they must register their marriages with their
Marriage in Quebec is controlled by the Quebec Civil Code, which was historically
derived from French laws. Marriage in the remaining provinces of Canada is
administered by the provinces, under a
Federal law which historically evolved from British law. All of the laws
are tightly linked to the traditions of the Christian religion.
To paraphrase a United Church of Canada marriage
ceremony, marriage is a state so intimate that it deeply affects all aspects of
one's life. It can be argued that the most intrusive action a government could
take into a person's life would be to deny them the ability to marry
the one individual that they love and to whom they have made a lifetime commitment.
Marriage has historically been limited to a legal
contract and (usually) religious ritual among the state, one woman and one man.
Same-sex marriage in Canada was prohibited
until a remarkable court decision in
2003-JUN. Faced with a conflict between a law and the constitution of
Canada, the judges unanimously opted to uphold the constitution:
Marriage Act specifically restricts marriage to one man and one woman.
It does not allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
and territorial marriage acts follow the federal act.
of Rights and Freedoms states that a person cannot be discriminated
against because of their gender. To deny an adult lesbian in a loving
committed relationship the right to marry would be to discriminate against her partner on the basis of
heterosexuals are considerably more lenient. For example, an excommunicated
Mormon group settled in a rural area of British Columbia where they continued to
practice polygyny. When their lifestyle was recently challenged, the Attorney General decided to not
prosecute the couples for the crime of bigamy. He felt that the province would
probably lose any case based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
guarantees individual religious freedom. The practice of polygyny was an integral part
of the early Mormon religion; it remains so today within various excommunicated
branches of the church.
Becoming certified to perform marriages:
The regulations in Ontario are believed to be typical of
provinces across Canada. Marriages in the province can only be performed by:
Members of the clergy who have a certificate of registration
from the Office of the Registrar General for the Province of
Justices of the Peace.
Clergypersons set their own fees for performing marriages. Civil
marriages by Judges and Justices of the Peace cost $75.00 (as of 2001-MAR). In
addition, there is the cost of the license which is $75.00 plus an optional fee
by the municipality.
In order for a religious leader (minister, pastor, priest,
priestess, rabbi, imam, etc.) to perform marriages in Ontario, she or he must:
File an application form with the government.
Include a document proving that they have been ordained or
appointed as a clergyperson.
Include a letter from their faith group authorizing them to
Include a statement that discusses the name and location of
their "church," the numbers of its members, the
congregation's growth rate,
However, the faith group itself must first be be registered by the Office
of the Registrar General. That office requires detailed information from any
faith group seeking registration. This includes:
How clergy are appointed and dismissed.
A copy of the marriage ceremony.
A copy of the group's form of worship "namely
actions or practices of displaying reverence or veneration paid to a being
or power regarded as supernatural or divine displayed by appropriate acts,
rites and ceremonies."
A letter stating who in the group will keep track of clergy
A copy of the group's incorporation papers.
A copy of the group's registration as a charity by Canada
Customs and Revenue Agency.
A description of the organizational structure of the group.
Signatures of at least 25 group members, not including
clergy and their families. 1
This Memorandum is obviously based on a fairly rigid,
Christian model of what a religious group should be.
It refers to a "church," rather than a
generic term, like "meeting place."
It assumes that the group owns or rents a building. That
might make it difficult for Aboriginal, Wiccan and other
Neopagan groups to register. Some don't always meet in a building, preferring to assemble in a
forest or other area away from asphalt and close to nature.
Some groups may not have a standard marriage ceremony. Some
Unitarian Universalist groups, for example, expect the future spouses to
write their own ritual and vows.
The memorandum appears to assume that each faith group is a denomination of some
larger religion. A small new religious movement may not have denominations
or individual congregations.
It seems to imply that only theistic religious groups can be
registered. If rigidly applied, this would eliminate entire religions from
consideration. Buddhists do not generally worship or recognize a deity.
Unitarian Universalist congregations do not generally worship a deity.
Members of the Church of Satan are generally Agnostics.
The office appears to be quite concerned that a "denomination"
prove its existence over a period of time in the province and elsewhere. We have
heard a rumor that a group must have been established in excess of 15 years
before it can become registered. This would discriminate against new religious
groups, regardless of their sincerity or stability. We suspect that a constitutional lawyer
would have a field-day with regulations such as these.
Becoming eligible to issue income tax receipts:
Some non-profit groups can be registered by Canada Customs and
Revenue Agency (formerly called Revenue Canada) for income tax purposes. They
are then authorized to issue receipts for donations, so that their supporters can
obtain a deduction from
their personal income taxes. 2
Unfortunately, the regulations controlling the eligibility of
such groups has evolved over centuries from British common law. As long as a
non-profit group fits into one of the specific pigeon-holes defined in the
regulations, it can become registered. Otherwise, it is out of luck. 3
A Christian church typically holds regular services that
their members attend; they also might provide free meals for people in
poverty and other services for the needy in their community. They can
probably be registered. A service club or fraternal organization may also
hold regular events that their members attend; they also might provide
services for the needy. But they cannot be registered as charities because
they "devote their resources to a mix of charitable and
An organization may be founded to fight a specific disease,
and be registered as a charity. Another organization might may be founded to
raise money to finance medical treatment for a specific individual
suffering from the same disease. The latter could not be registered "since
it lacks the necessary element of public benefit."
There is some evidence that the Federal Government is planning
to overhaul these regulations in order to bring them into line with the public's
views of the nature of charitable organizations. But this will not likely happen soon.
One of the existing pigeon-holes is "the advancement of religion."
The government's information sheet states that: "
"This category refers to promoting the spiritual
teachings of a religious body, and maintaining the doctrines and spiritual
observances on which those teachings are based. There has to be an element of
theistic worship, which means the worship of a deity or deities in the
spiritual sense. To foster a belief in proper morals or ethics alone is not
enough to qualify as a charity under this category. A religious body is
considered charitable when its activities serve religious purposes for the
This would seem to eliminate the possibility of any
temple obtaining registration as a charity, because Buddhists generally do not
recognize the "worship of a deity or deities in the spiritual sense."
One would think that Unitarian Universalist congregations would be
similarly out of luck. They have little or no doctrine towhich they require
their members to adhere; they do not teach the
existence of a deity or deities. Such decisions are left up to the individual
members of the congregation. However, both Buddhist temples and Unitarian
Universalist congregations are routinely registered by the government. The agency that sponsors
this web site would probably be excluded from registration. It explains the full
range of beliefs in deity promoted by all of the world's religions. But it
teaches none as dogma; it holds no spiritual observances. Similarly, para-church
organizations would be excluded from this pigeon-hole, and would have to qualify
under some other classification.
This section of the Government's information sheet concludes
"The beliefs and practices cannot be what the courts
consider subversive or immoral."
Counter-cult and anti-cult
groups regularly attack some new religious movements, accusing them of mind
control techniques, unethical recruitment policies, etc. This would seem to
imply that if a court has accepted the beliefs of a counter or anti-cult group about a new faith group, that the latter might be refused charitable status.
In 1988, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down Subsection 28 (1) of
Regulation 262 of the Education Act. It defined the structure of religious
exercises in public elementary schools. The court decided that a single
religion, Christianity, must not be given a position of primacy in the schools.
Rather, opening and closing exercises must reflect the multiculturalism and
traditions of the people of Ontario. The Ministry of Education altered its
regulations so that public school boards have three options:
|It can opt out of exercises entirely, except for the singing of the
National Anthem. |
|If can include some "readings that impart social, moral, or
spiritual values...that are representative of our multicultural society."
Readings are chosen by the school board "from both scriptural
writings, including prayers, and secular writings...Since the social, moral,
and spiritual development of Canadians has roots in many religious and
philosophical traditions, readings must be drawn from a variety of
scriptural and secular sources representative of our multicultural society.
Prayers, including the 'Lord's Prayer', may be included, but only as
|The school board can institute a period of silence for "personal
reflection or individual silent prayer." 4 |
As is normal in other jurisdictions, parents can ask that their children be
excluded from opening or closing exercises. The student can ask
to be excused, but only if they are an adult.
The situation in Ontario is quite different from that in
the U.S. where a strict principle of separation of
church and state is enforced.
- "Memorandum of requirements for registering a new denomination,"
Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, Registration Division, Office
of the Registrar General, Marriage Office. Telephone: 1-800-461-2156. The
organization of this document is rather scrambled: part refers to the
process of registering clergy; the rest deals with registering a faith
- "Gifts and official donation receipts, IT-110R3,"
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, 1997-JUN-20. See: http://www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca/E/pub/tp/i110r3em/it110r3e.htm
This bulletin discusses gifts to registered charities, and official donation
- "Registering a charity for income tax purposes, T4063(E) (00),"
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, 2000-JAN-21. See: http://www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/t4063em/t4063-e.htm
- "Opening and closing exercises in public elementary and secondary schools,"
Policy/Program Memorandum #108,
Ministry of Education, Government of Ontario. See: http://mettowas21.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/108.html
- "Regulation to amend Regulation 262 of Revised Regulations of
Ontario, 1980 made under the Education Act," at: http://mettowas21.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/108a.html
Copyright © 2001 and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-MAR-23
Latest update: 2004-JUL-21
Author: B.A. Robinson