Features

Canadian cold front

International | Government initiatives against Christianity on the rise

Issue: "The persecuted church," Nov. 1, 1997

Last spring, in an interview with Canada's largest newspaper, the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Michael Enright, a well-known commentator with the government-run Canadian Broadcasting Company, created a storm of protest when he called the Catholic Church "the largest criminal organization in the world after the Mafia." Canadian observers say Mr. Enright's statement generated such strong reactions because it was only one more item in a growing list of attacks on Christianity in Canada, some of which have been sponsored by various government institutions. Consider the following:

This past spring British Columbia "streamlined" its state-run hospital system by eliminating elected boards and replacing them with half as many regional boards staffed by government appointees. Joy MacPhail, Health Minister for the ruling socialist New Democratic Party, has claimed that the regionalization was necessary "to keep medicare affordable and sustainable into the 21st century."

But Ted Gerk of the Pro-Life Society of B.C. accused the government of trying to wrest control of all Christian hospitals away from their boards because they included too many pro-lifers. In recent years pro-lifers had elected about 200 hospital board trustees, and Mr. Gerk accused the pro-abortion NDP of fearing what might happen. "We got involved in the political process," he said, "as had been demanded. And now [the government] has come up with a way to shut us out, because they are nervous about our success."

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In August, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission once again denied evangelicals the right to have their own radio and television stations or cable channels.

This month, a provincial board of inquiry in Ontario found Dianne Haskett, mayor of London, Ontario, guilty of violating the provincial human rights code because she cited her Christian convictions when she refused to proclaim a "gay pride" weekend in 1995.

But the two most conspicuous and potentially far-reaching attacks on Christianity have been aimed at Christian educational institutions located at opposite ends of the country.

Newfoundland, Canada's easternmost province, made constitutional protection for government-supported, church-run denominational schools a condition of confederation when it entered Canada in 1949. Until this year the province's schools were run by three church committees representing the three largest denominations. In 1995 the provincial government tried to eliminate the 27 denominational school boards and replace them with 10 interdenominational boards (see story, next page).

On the west coast, Trinity Western University (TWU), one of the few privately funded Christian institutions in Canada, is embroiled in what one of its professors calls "a deliberate attempt to marginalize evangelical Christians." Based in the Vancouver suburb of Langley, TWU lost its accreditation with the B.C. College of Teachers (BCCT) because the university makes its students sign a code of conduct barring all premarital and homosexual sex. The BCCT maintained that the school would produce teachers who are insensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian youth. In court, it argued this was so because not hiring homosexuals automatically rendered TWU guilty of institutional discrimination.

But lawyers for TWU successfully argued that the BCCT was discriminating against its students on the basis of their religious beliefs. They made the point that the BCCT was essentially arguing that Christian universities cannot or should not train students for non-Christian jobs, a clear infringement on religious freedom. The BCCT arguments were so weak that even the left-wing B.C. Civil Liberties Association weighed in on TWU's side. Last month a judge with B.C.'s Supreme Court found no evidence that TWU students were homophobic and ordered the BCCT to restore accreditation. Instead, the accrediting agency has appealed the decision. And although the university has already spent $200,000 defending its stand, school officials are determined not to quit. "We see this as very critical," says Guy Saffold, TWU's executive vice president. "We are testing the freedom of people to maintain religious beliefs without fear of government reprisal."

Jason Kenney, one of the Reform Party's new young guns in Parliament, says that "creeping secularism" has allowed "deliberate attempts by a political elite to undermine any religious influence in Canadian civil society." As well, he says, Canadian Christians have been "too acquiescent" in the face of a push for pluralism.

Mr. Kenney sees the recent rapid rise of the Reform Party to become Canada's second largest political party as significant. "Not only are many members of our party Christians," he says. "We're the first political party in Canada to support traditional families and traditional morality in our platform." Given the climate, the Reformers have their work cut out for them.

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