CCCB Intervention on Bill C-51

Monday, October 30 2017

Bill C-51 Intervention(CCCB – Ottawa)… The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) intervened on 30 October 2017 before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concerning clause 14 of Bill C-51, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to Make Consequential Amendments to Another Act”. Under clause 14, the Bill proposes the removal of Section 176 (1, 2, 3) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which currently makes it an indictable offence to obstruct or cause violence to an officiating clergyman or minister as well as to disturb religious worship or gatherings. The oral interventions were brought forward by the Most Reverend Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil and President of the CCCB and His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. The two Bishops were accompanied by Mr Bruce F. Simpson, a partner with Barnes Sammon LLP specialized in criminal law.

Further to a written Brief which the CCCB had earlier submitted to the Standing Committee, Bishop Gendron and Cardinal Collins in their oral presentations raised a number of concerns regarding the protection of religious freedom in Canada in connection with the proposal to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code. The Bishops urged that Bill C-51 be amended in order to retain section 176 for the following reasons.

collinsCardinal Collins noted that “This is the only section of the Criminal Code that explicitly references protection for religious communities”, adding “[it] has been referenced in court cases in the past where judges have recognized that freedom of assembly and freedom of association, rights protected in the Charter, could be rendered meaningless without the protection of section 176….” Bishop Gendron went on to point out that “Section 176 emphasizes and reinforces our shared belief in and respect for the freedom of religion and maintains an indispensible link between the Criminal Code and the protection of fundamental human rights.” He reminded the Committee that “The human person understood as a seeker of truth is the basis for religious freedom, for freedom of conscience, and indeed for freedom of speech.” Concerning the protection given to ministers of religion in section 176, Bishop Gendron clarified that “to protect them from being obstructed in the performance of their duties or from assault is not to protect some ostensible elite status; it is to protect the community of faith by ensuring that the exercise of religious freedom is not impeded by acts of violence or threats which are directed against its faith leaders.”

Both Bishop Gendron and Cardinal Collins echoed the concern that “the removal of such protection would send a disturbing message from Parliament to faith communities. Divine worship services of all denominations as well as the important contributions of faith communities should hold a special place in our heritage and our laws.” In 2017 Statistics Canada released a report which confirmed that 35% of hate-motivated crimes reported in 2015 resulted from hatred of religion.

In addition, the President of the CCCB is joining other faith leaders in Canada in signing an interfaith statement also asking the Minister of Justice to retain section 176. Drafted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Association for Reformed Political Action and the CCCB, the interfaith statement will be released in the coming days.

Link to the Brief of the CCCB (PDF)

Link to the intervention of Bishop Gendron (PDF)

Link to the intervention of Cardinal Collins (PDF)