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Religious Tolerance logo

Religion in Canada, eh?

Canadian map

Its importance; attendance; denominational
reaction; religious trends; comments...

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2002-DEC: Importance of religion to Canadians:

The Pew Research Center has conducted a series of studies called "The Pew Global Attitudes Project." They is measuring the "impact of globalization, modernization, rapid technological and cultural change and the Sept. 11 terrorist events on the values and attitudes of more than 38,000 people in 44 countries..."  A poll released on 2002-DEC-19 revealed whether people around the world consider religion to be personally important. 1

Results from the 41 countries sampled showed that the percentage of the public who consider religion important ranged from 97% in Senegal to 11% in both France and the Czech Republic . They found that the percentage was:

bullet59% in the United States
bullet57% in Mexico
bullet33% in Great Britain
bullet30% in Canada.
bulletInformation on other countries

We have been unable to locate a more recent survey on the Pew Research web site. We have Emailed them asking if one is available.

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Attendance at houses of worship:

Surveys by the Angus Reid group, a widely respected Canadian public polling organization, agree with the census data. They show that about 21% of Canadian adults say that they currently attend a religious meeting place weekly. The number appears to be dropping gradually, about 1 percentage point per year. However, this data is based upon self-disclosure. Attempts have been made to count the actual number of adults who attend religious services weekly within a county. The true number is about half the reported number; on the order of 10% at this time.

These numbers are about half of the equivalent numbers collected in the U.S.: Numerous surveys have indicated that about 40% of American adults say they attend religious services; about 20% actually do.

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Membership decline in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC):

2005-DEC: Keith McKerracher, created a study for the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). It analyzed religious data from 1961 to 2001. During this interval, membership in the ACC dropped from 1.36 million to 642,000 -- a reduction of 53% 3 By itself, this is distressing news for the denomination. However the full picture of the decline is only evident when the rise in the total population of Canada is factored in. The population rose from 18,238,247 to 27,296,856 -- an increase of 50%. 4 Out of every 1,000 Canadians, the number of Anglicans dropped from 75 in 1961 to 23 in 2001 -- a drop of 69%.

McKerracher concluded that the ACC was losing about 13,000 members a year -- a little over 2% yearly -- and " facing extinction by the middle of this century." 3

2010: A report was prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. It describes Canada a post-Christian society in which the ACC is declining faster than any other major denomination. It concludes that the ACC has "... moved to the far margins of pubic life." The report notes that in the mid 20th century, 40% of the population of Vancouver Island were Anglicans. Now, it is 1.2%.

David Seljak, professor of religious studies at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, ON describes both the ACC and the Presbyterian Church as "tribal churches." The ACC has traditionally been the religious home to Canadians of Anglo-Saxon descent, while the Presbyterian Church was populated largely by ex-Scots. Both groups are declining as a percentage of the total population. Further, families who have lived in Canada for three generations or more increasingly identify themselves as Canadian and not formerly British or Scottish.

The report indicates that "The status quo is not an option." However, their main recommendation is to close churches that cannot economically survive.

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2005-DEC: Membership decline in the United and Presbyterian Churches:

He also reported on the membership of the United Church of Canada (UCC), which is now approximately equal in size to the ACC. The UCC membership dropped from 1.04 million to 638,000 -- a reduction of 39%. Out of every 1,000 Canadians, the number of United Church members dropped from 57 in 1961 to 23 in 2001 -- a drop of 60%. The Rev. Harry Oussoren, executive minister of the UCC Support to Local Ministries, told Ecumenical News International: "Generally, not only across Canada but the entire Western world, we're aware of a trend that says that institutionalized religion is not central to peoples' lives, as is individualized religion." 3

McKerracher also reported data for the Presbyterian Church of Canada (membership loss 35%), and the Baptist Church (7%) and the Lutheran Church (4%).

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2007-SEP: Comments by Fr. Richard John Newhuas:

Fr. Newhaus is a Canadian by birth and is the editor of First Things magazine, a conservative Roman Catholic publication. He was interviewed by the National Post, a conservative Canadian newspaper in 2007-SEP. He said:

"It is true to say that, in most aspects of public life [in Canada], Christianity has been not only disestablished but also banished."

He blames the erosion of Christianity in Canada on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's Constitution -- introduced by the late Liberal party Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Newhaus said that it is a:

"thoroughly American" [document] riddled through and through with the radically individual notion of the unencumbered self and equality enforced by state power. ... I think Canada has suffered from it grievously. All of Canada is a fascinating case study in terms of the meaning of modernity relative to religion generally and Christianity in particular. When I'm up there and I speak with clergy they seem very much in a state of defensiveness and a deep sense of malaise."

Canada's constitution has gone much further than has the American equivalent. The Charter has the equivalent of an "equal rights amendment" built in to give equality to men and women. It grants equal protection to persons of all sexual orientations. However, it does allow for censorship of some hate speech. Religious institutions have asked for and been granted exemption from hate speech laws. However, even churches cannot advocate genocide in Canada as they can in the U.S.

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Bias alert: Off-the-cuff comments:

It is important to realize that many adults will identify themselves as being members of a specific religious organization even if they have never darkened the door of a church, circle, gurdwara, mosque, synagogue, or temple in years. It costs nothing to say "Christian" to a census taker. What costs money and effort is to donate to a faith group, to attend weekly services, to follow religious rituals and requirements, and to volunteer effort. We have not seen any data on religious contributions. However, attendance is down and has been slipping for decades.

The gap between the beliefs of the Canadian public and the teachings of its religious institutions appears to be widening. This is particularly obvious in the case of sexual matters: birth control, pre-marital sex, living together before marriage, divorce and remarriage, equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians including the right to marry, equal rights and protections for transgender persons, abortion access,  beliefs about masturbation, etc. In particular, treatment of homosexuals is seen by most Canadians as an important human rights issue, and by many religious institutions as sinful behavior that should be suppressed or oppressed.

We suspect that many Canadians will continue to abandon mainline religious groups at an steady pace because of what they view as its bigotry, sexism, homophobia, immorality and general irrelevance. As in the U.S., religions are generally known for what they are against and what groups they hate and/or oppress. They are less widely known of what they are in favor. Unless mainline faith groups are able to increase their rate of change on ethical matters and theological interpretations, the membership loss will probably continue.

However, conservative faith groups which tend to change their beliefs and practices very slowly are still relatively small in membership but appear to be growing in market share. We suspect that they serve a specific subset of the population.

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2013-JAN: Federal Government establishes Office of Religious Freedom:

A new Office of Religious Freedom has been created under Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Even though its existence has not been officially announced, the office has already received significant criticism for the secrecy surrounding the unit. Reporter Mike Blanchfield of The Canadian Press suggests that it might lead in the future to an "... uncomfortable mix of religion and politics."

Baird said during an interview:

"Freedom of religion is one of the first things in the Charter, it’s one of the first things in the Bill of Rights, it’s front and center in the UN Declaration of Human Rights — it’s an essential human right; I don’t see any concern about that at all."

Alex Neve leads Amnesty International Canada. He acknowledged that religious freedom is a widespread concern worldwide. He said:

"We’re watching it with interest but also with considerable concern. There is such complete secrecy about it."

Baird met with Vatican officials and other religious groups elsewhere in the world. They held a day of consultations in Ottawa with religious faith groups. However, at the latter meeting, civil rights group like Amnesty International, other religious groups like the sponsors of this web site, and the public were excluded.

His requests for information have received only vague comments such as: "work is under way" or "you’ll be hearing more."

On this web site, we have expressed concern that the term "religious freedom" is gradually shifting in meaning:

  • It once meant freedom of individuals and religious organizations to believe without oppression from outside their faith group, to change their religious beliefs and/or affiliation, to assemble in groups, to engage in religious practices and rituals, to proselytize, etc. During the past six decades, people in Canada have enjoyed a high level of religious freedom, at least in comparison to some of the religiously pariah nations of the world. There have been some restrictions enforced by governments in Canada that victimized Native Americans, Wiccans and other Neopagans, Muslims, etc. However, these actions have been relatively rare and minor when compared to the horrendous experiences in the past, when for example Germany lost one third of its population due to religious wars, or when one in three European Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

  • Recently, the main direction of the oppression has reversed. Religious freedom today often means the freedom of faith groups to oppress, denigrate, and attempt to reduce the civil liberties of other groups -- largely women and sexual minorities.

The victims of the past have become the victimizers of the present.

Mike Blanchfield writes:

"Neve said religious freedom can have a 'contentious relationship' with other crucial human-rights concerns such as women’s equality, the equality rights of gays and lesbians, and freedom of expression."

"It’s an area obviously where governments need to tread carefully. They need to do so in ways where they don’t — either intentionally or unintentionally — convey a message that some religions are preferred over others." 7

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Interpretation of religious trends:

Tom Harpur writes the Ethics column every Sunday in the Toronto Star. He commented on the "extremely positive 'spin' put" on" the rise in NOTAS. This is a term that we created to represent "None Of The Above" persons -- individuals who are not affiliated with a faith group. Sociologists often call them "religious nones." Harpur wrote:

"...the major message seemed to be that of: 'Be of good cheer. They're staying away by the thousands, but never mind they'll all come back one day."

He attributes this belief to Reginald Bibby who is Canada's leading tracker of religious trends. Critical of Bibby's predictions, Harpur makes one of his own. He wrote:

"I am in touch with large numbers of articulate, spiritually minded Canadians and they are increasingly finding church boring, irrelevant, even 'dead.' The current decline is a drop in the bucket compared with what's coming. The Catholic church will not be excepted.

I take no pleasure in it, but, all is far from well in Canada's churches. It's the role of false prophecy to cry otherwise just now." 2

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References used:

  1. "Among Wealthy Nations, U.S. stands alone in its embrace of religion," 2002-DEC-19, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, at:
  2. Tom Harpur, "Positive spin on religion stats unwarranted," The Toronto Star, 2003-JUL-13, Page F7.
  3. Ferdy Baglo, "Canada's churches suffering serious decline. Researcher says membership losses pushing Canadian churches to brink of 'extinction'," Spero News, 2005-DEC-06, at: This report is somewhat confusing because the first part of the article compares 1961 data with 2001; the last paragraph compares 1991 with 2002. The article was derived from one by Ecumenical News International.
  4. StatsCan provides a chart of the total population of Canada over time at: This is probably a temporary listing, because StatsCan seems to delete, add, and replace charts and text frequently, while changing their URL.
  5. Charles Lewis, "Christianity 'banished' from Canadian public life; Influential U.S. Priest,"  National Post, 2007-SEP-29, at:
  6. Michael Valpy, "Anglican Church facing the threat of extinction," The Globe and Mail, 2009-FEB-09, at:
  7. Mike Blanchfield, "John Baird defends religious freedom office," Canadian Press, 2012-JAN-02, at:

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HomeReligious information > Basic info > Religion in Canada > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUL-5
Last update: 2012-JAN-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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