Religious intolerance in Canada
2008: Examples of recent intolerance.
Approximately 77% of Canadians identify themselves as Christians. However, this is often a nominal adherence. Canadian culture is more highly secularized. The percentage of adults who "say" that they
attend regular church, circle, mosque, synagogue or temple services is 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 high ratio of liberal to conservative Christians is probably responsible the
current status of controversial 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
||Private sexual behavior between
any two consenting adults of any gender in private had been decriminalized across Canada in 1969. In 1996, discrimination against the LGBT community was added to human rights legislation.
Of the ten provinces, only one (Alberta) has no plans to expand provincial civil rights
to include persons of all three sexual orientations -- heterosexual, bisexual and
homosexual. Canada restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples, until a federal law legalized same-sex marriageacross 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 had been decriminalized across Canada, including that by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. 9
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 Roman Catholic religious schools have been guaranteed and financially supported by various
provincial governments since Confederation. However the number of supporting governments is decreasing.
Long-term examples of religious intolerance:
||Anti-semitic activities continue at a low but rising frequency.
Economic and physical attacks by individuals against those 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 Neo-Paganism 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 to 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 said that she was told to make no references to Jesus
Christ, and to not use any readings from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). 2
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 Catholic 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 positive development.
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
would 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 later 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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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/
Bruce Campion Smith, "John Baird’s defence of gay rights ‘offensive,’ women’s group says," Toronto Star, 2013-AUG-07, at: http://www.thestar.com/
John A. Lee, "Homosexuality," The Canadian Encyclopedia, undated, at: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/
Copyright © 2002 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002
Latest update: 2013-SEP-26
Author: B.A. Robinson