MP David Anderson calls on faith leaders to defend their rights

24 October 2017

Ottawa, ON – David Anderson, Member of Parliament for Cypress Hills—Grasslands and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Human Rights and Religious Freedom, today expressed concern in Question Period with comments made by the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding bill C-51 and the removal of Section 176 from the Criminal Code.

“The Minister is either clueless or destructive,” said Anderson. “She is removing the only specific Criminal Code protection for religious leaders and places of worship. Although they qualify as clergy, she has said the Jewish and Muslim leaders are not clergy. Did she do this deliberately to drive wedges between faith communities or is she so ignorant that she does not know that CRA, Border Services, Statistics Canada and Canadians all include them in their definition of ‘clergy’?”

Anderson was referring to comments the Minister made at an October 18th meeting of the Justice Committee, when she excluded Rabbis and Imams as part of her definition of ‘clergy’ – and then used her definition to say that the term is too “narrow” and she would like to remove it from the Criminal Code.

“C-51 strips away protections for religious communities and their leaders – of all faiths,” said Anderson. “At a time when violent attacks and vandalism directed towards people of faith are increasing, we want to know why.”

“Rabbis and Imams have been part of the clergy for decades. Is the Minister ignorant of that or is she deliberately excluding them from the conversation?” he added.

Bill C-51 proposes to remove the only safeguards in the Criminal Code that specifically protect the religious freedom of faith leaders and faith communities from violence and disturbance.

“We call on clergy to step forward to defend the rights that they currently have,” said Anderson. “Faith communities need to know that these Liberals are attacking their right to worship in peace.”

For more information on bill C-51, read the backgrounder below or click here.

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Bill C-51, Clause 14 would remove Section 176 from the Criminal Code of Canada – the only provision that specifically protects the right of freedom of religion from violence or disturbance.

Section 176 reads:

176 (1) Every one who

(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or

(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a) (i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or (ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

(3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

According to Statistics Canada, over one third of reported hate crimes in Canada were motivated by hatred of a religion. Repealing Section 176 would remove valuable protection for faith leaders and assemblies. It would set a dangerous precedent for something so important to Canadians.

In a climate where attacks on religious communities are increasing, explicit protections are necessary.

As we have seen far too many times in recent months, religious freedom is increasingly under threat in Canada. It is too fundamental a right to be swept under the rug by any other generic provision in the Criminal Code. In fact, Section 176 has been used – as recently as June – to charge Katherine Spero for “disturbing religious worship” before evening Mass at Ottawa’s St. Patrick’s Basilica.