Cold Canadian front

"Cold Canadian front" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," July 27, 2013

Crandall announced in November that it would no longer seek funds from the city, but activists then took aim at the policy itself. “If we removed the policy, the next thing could be our statement faith,” Fawcett told me. He said the dispute only died down after the two sides met in early June over dinner, aired their differences, and agreed to disagree. “You may not agree on everything, but you can still arrive at a place of peace and understanding based on mutual respect,” he said.

Fawcett and other evangelical leaders believe a chief problem in Canada—and the United States—is that most Christians don’t know how to speak about biblical sexual ethics to a secular audience, and that only exacerbates existing tensions with the homosexual community.

“Jesus said to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, not vicious as snakes and stupid as pigeons,” said Don Hutchinson, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada—the Canadian equivalent of the National Association of Evangelicals. Hutchinson cited as evidence a recent Supreme Court decision, Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott, where the high court ruled a radical protestor (think Westboro Baptist Church) was guilty of hate speech for comparing homosexuals to child molesters in literature he distributed. At the same time, the court also said part of Whatcott’s activities were not hate speech, because they expressed a valid opinion on an issue of public importance without vilifying a group of people.

Kevin Boonstra, a constitutional lawyer who defended Trinity Western in its 2001 court victory, said the Whatcott decision is more about free speech than religious freedom, but it could cause confusion for religious leaders who want to oppose publicly same-sex marriage. “The difference between the permissible communication of religious doctrine, and impermissibly cloaking hate-speech in religious guise, remains problematically ill-defined,” Boonstra wrote after the decision. He told me he doesn’t think Canada has seen exactly where religious freedom will land as a result of the government’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister since 2006, is a Christian and a conservative who has made advancements for religious liberty, such as creating an Office of Religious Freedom in February. Andrew Bennett, tapped to lead the office as its first ambassador of religious freedom, has no domestic mandate, but evangelical leaders are hopeful his appointment will elevate the issue’s importance in his home country. 

Handout photo
Photo by Colin McConnell/Toronto Star/Getty Images
NORTHERN AGGRESSION: A rally in support of gay marriage at the Parliament in Ottawa
Associated Press/Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/Ottawa Sun
NORTHERN AGGRESSION: A rally in support of gay marriage at the Parliament in Ottawa
Photo by Dave Chan

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Bennett, speaking at a June luncheon in New York, said there is no need for him to have a domestic mandate, since religious freedom is written into Canadian law and protected in Parliament and the courts. “But we have to be vigilant that we guard that [fundamental freedom],” he said.

For Conservatives in Parliament, vigilance means repealing hate crimes legislation. The House of Commons voted last year to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which banned ill-defined “hate speech” via phone or internet communication. The law had allowed Canada’s human rights commission to provide selective enforcement, an arrangement opponents say has led to infringements upon free speech and religious liberty. 

The repeal bill gained Senate approval on June 27 and won’t legalize hate speech—but it will strip the human rights commission of its enforcement power. (Truth is no defense in the commission’s secret “courts,” which have been accused of planting evidence in hate speech investigations. In one case, a Christian printer was ordered to pay $5,000 for refusing to produce cards and letterhead for a homosexual group that also promoted pedophilia.)

It’s unclear what impact Harper-led reforms will have in the coming years: Some call them “dramatic” advancements for religious liberty, while others use the word “tweaks” to describe moves that could be overshadowed by future judicial decisions. Two ongoing court battles may be the next front: marriage commissioners who are forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, and Catholic schools that are required to start gay/straight alliance clubs. 

The Christian leaders I spoke with know that religious freedom in Canada is still far better than in many countries around the world, but they’re also aware of the slow ebb of infringement upon liberties once enjoyed. Several stressed the need for Christians to affirm what they support, instead of stating what they are against, to help alleviate the tension.

But Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom Global, told me that alone won’t stem the tide: “They sound very much like the cautious Jews in Germany in 1935, who said, ‘Let’s just keep our heads down and be good citizens and all of this will blow over.’ I’m not equating the Holocaust to what’s happening, but it’s extraordinarily dangerous not to confront [the growing threat].”


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