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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in Canada:

1991 to 2003: In Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

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Quotations about the banning of a book about same-sex marriage during a recent school conflict in Surrey:

bullet "The family is one of the most fundamental expressions of our humanity, and families in all their myriad forms are entitled to constitutional protection. Children with lesbian or gay family-members are harmed by the deliberate exclusion of their families from the curriculum at a time when all their other classmates are learning about their families." Susan Ursel, lawyer for "Families in Partnership" before the Canadian Supreme Court. 1

bullet "This [book banning] is not about intolerance....parents have a right to teach their own moral code....The intention of the books is proselytizing. I'm not suggesting recruitment, but putting forward a worldview of the morality of this kind of relationship that is inconsistent with many people's moral perspective." John Dives, lawyer for the Surrey School Board. 1

bullet "If any family form of which any religious group disapproves can be excluded from the curriculum, the list of approved families may be quite short." Canadian Civil Liberties Association. 1

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About Surrey, British Columbia (BC):

British Columbia is known for its generous government programs, diverse and tolerant society, beautiful scenery, religious diversity, and for many other spectacular features.

According to the Canadian Jewish News, Surrey is"

"a sprawling, rapidly growing city of 350,000 southeast of Vancouver. Approximately one-half of [its]... residents are members of a racial or ethnic minority." 2

It is close to the Northwest border of Washington State, and is a suburb of Vancouver, BC.

Census records shows that British Columbia is unique in North America in terms of religious affiliation, and lack of affiliation. Comparing federal government census data over the years 2001 to 2011, most religions show rapid growth:

  • Sikh: 49%
  • Hindu 45%
  • Islam: 42%
  • Other religions: 36%
  • Judaism: 9%
  • Buddhism: 6%

In addition, "notas" -- persons who are not affiliated with any formal religion grew by 38%.

Only one major religion was shrinking in size: Christianity experienced a "market share" loss of 9%.


  • The combination of the shrinkage in membership of the most popular religion, Christainity, coupled with

  • The rapid increase in membership of minority religions, plus

  • The rapid increase in "notas" -- those not affiliated with religion at all

produced an atmosphere of conflict, fear and intolerance in Surrey.

The Surrey BC area appeared to have many incidences involving religious and/or racial intolerance during the interval 1991 ro 2003:


1991: Media Awareness Network reported:

"...a number of human rights complaints were filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission" concerning a Surrey-based Canadian Liberty Net (CLN) hot line. "Callers to the phone system were offered a menu of telephone hate messages against Jewish and non-white people.  As a result of the complaints, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered that CLN cease and desist from communicating any hate messages." 12

Tony McAleer of CLN allegedly went on German television to challenge the history of the Holocaust, was arrested and deported. 11

bullet 1996: Trinity Western University, a private conservative Christian liberal arts university in nearby Langley, BC, has a behavior code that requires its students to refrain from "premarital sex, adultery or homosexual behavior." The university's homophobic code of behavior appears to be motivated by their religious beliefs about sexual orientation. The B.C. College of Teachers found the reference to homosexuality to be "discriminating" and "intolerant." The College rejected an application by the University to offer its students the final year of teacher education. 5

bullet 1997: In January, a debate over the use of tables and chairs in the Guru Nanak Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) in Surrey erupted into violence and bloodshed. 3 The author of this essay cannot recall any other fight involving serious injuries within a religious building in Canada in recent decades.

bullet 1997: A famous racist rock band, Odin’s Law, was based in Surrey. They held a concert in a local community hall in 1997-DEC. "...attendees came from as far away as California and New York state." 11

bullet 1997 to 2002: In 2002-DEC-20, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a Surrey civil rights case. The case involved a conflict between:
bullet A minority of teachers, parents, and others in Surrey, BC, who wanted positive images of same-sex committed relationships and parenting to be taught to kindergarten children in the public schools, and

bullet A large majority of Surrey parents and others who, largely for religious reasons, wanted the children in the local public school to insulated from discussion of same-sex family structures in the public schools.

In 1997, teacher James Chamberlain wanted to use three books as resources in his Kindergarten and Grade One class: "Asha's Mums," 6 "One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads" 7 and "Belinda's Bouquet." 8 In a public opinion poll conducted by Campbell Goodell Traynor Consultants Ltd. on behalf of school board lawyers, 61% of area adults were found to agree that the "three proposed books dealing with same- sex couples should not be used in kindergarten and grade 1 classrooms under any circumstances." 9 The school board banned the books. After a three year court battle, the Supreme Court ruled, 7 to 2, that the need for tolerance and an understanding of diversity outweighed the desires of the parents and school board trustees. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote, in part:

"Parental views, however important, cannot override the imperative placed upon the British Columbia public schools to mirror the diversity of the community and teach tolerance and understanding of difference." 1

bullet 1998: Five males, aged 17 to 25, known as the 'Surrey Skinheads' were found guilty of a 1998-JAN-4 religiously/racially motivated murder of a Sikh Cleric, Nirmal Singh Gill. 4


2003: Riasat Ali Kahn, 69, a resident of Surrey and a prominent member of the local Muslim community, came to Canada more than 40 years ago from Pakistan. According to the Toronto Star newspaper, he had dedicated his life to:

"... bring Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities together and build bridges between all races." 10

He was murdered while in his driveway on Sunday, January 5. Five bullets were pumped into his body by an unknown assailant. The number of bullets was perhaps an indication that the act was motivated out of extreme hatred. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had no immediate suspect or motive. It is possible that Kahn's assassination was religiously motivated. A decade later, the murder remains unsolved.


2014: Trinity Western University, a private conservative Christian liberal arts university near Surrey has been the center of controversy over its community covenant a five-page document that requires students to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman." This would seem to ban sexual activity by unmarried students, and also by same-sex students who have been legally married. More details.

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What is going on?

About 1% of the Canadian population lives in Surrey BC. Yet the city seems to have had an unusually high level of religiously and racially motivated criminal acts and instances of serious discrimination in the past.

We don't know why such a large concentration exists in Surrey. If anyone can shed light on this puzzle, please contact us. In the meantime, we would urge civic minded individuals to consider organizing a group in the city which is dedicated to racial and religious tolerance and understanding.

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References used:

  1. "Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36," Text of the Supreme Court decision, 2002-DEC-20, at: Also, Library News of the British Columbia Teacher-Librarians' Association maintains an extensive list of hyperlinks concerning the Supreme Court of Canada decision at:
  2. Peter Caulfield, "B.C. community condemns murder of Sikh," The Canadian Jewish News, 1998-APR-30, at:
  3. Nrinder Nindy Kaur Nann, "A community divided?," The Peak, 1997-JAN-27, at:
  4. "Denial of Parole to 'Surrey Skinheads' responsible for the murder of a Sikh Cleric: Nirmal Singh Gill," at:
  5. Noel Wright, "Battling the tyrants of the mind" online at: Committee for the Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH), a Holocaust denial group, at:
  6. Rosamund Elwin & Michele Paulse, "Asha's Mums," Women's Press, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  7. Johnny Valentine, "One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads," Alyson Publications (1994). Read reviews or order this book
  8. Leslea Newman, "Belinda's Bouquet," Alyson Publications, (1991). Read reviews or try to obtain this out of print book. Another, more popular, book by Newman is in print and is readily available: "Heather Has Two Mommies," Alyson Publications, (10th anniversary edition, 2000-JUN). Read reviews or order this book
  9. Debra Fieguth , "Surrey school board taken to court over gay-parent books. Five- and six-year-olds don’t need to hear about same-sex parenting in classrooms, board argues." Christian Week, at:
  10. "Killing mystifies Muslim leader's friends," Canadian Press. Published in the Toronto Star, 2003-JAN-8, Page A20.
  11. "FAQ's,", at:
  12. John L. Finlay & Brian Smith, "The Canadian Liberty Net Litigation: A Prototype for the Regulation of Hate Speech on the Internet?," Media Awareness Network at:
  13. Douglas Todd, "B.C. breaks records when it comes to religion and the lack thereof," The Vancouver Sun, 2013-MAY-08, at:

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Copyright © 2002 & 2014 by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-APR-27
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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