Canadian Council of Churches: Letter to the Federal Government on Gambling

Tuesday, September 15 1998

The Honourable Anne McLellan
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Department of Justice
Building 284
Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario KIA OH8

Dear Minister,

We write to you to seek your leadership in halting the rapid growth of state-sponsored gambling in Canada. Specifically, we ask that your government do two things:

  1. establish a public and independent body to review the social, economic and legal impact of legal and illegal gambling and charitable gaming in Canada and to make recommendations regarding public policy;
  2. ask the provinces to place a moratorium on gambling expansion until such time as a public review has been completed and policy recommendations have been enacted.

We are also seeking an effort by all governments to ban video lottery terminals and to prepare a plan for removing them where they have been introduced.

In the last decade, many of our members have become involved in the effort to stop gambling expansion in their communities. Often, their involvement began as a pastoral concern for individuals whose lives and families had been affected by problem and pathological gambling. However, their efforts have been transformed in the last few years into a concern for entire communities and for non-gambling businesses.

The reason for this change is quite simple. Promotion of state-sponsored gambling is at an all-time high in Canada. The need of provincial governments for revenue is understandable. However, it is difficult to recognize government’s duty to uphold the public interests in provincial plans to increase the number of gamblers and the frequency with which they gamble and lose. In several provinces, this objective relies on making gambling more accessible to local citizens.

Communities all across Canada are being urged to take up casino and VLT gambling as an economic development lever of choice, with little attention to the costs to be paid. Developers of gambling facilities bring their proposals to city and town councils, with promises of jobs and a bright economic future. Most communities, however, are forced to make their decisions on the basis of information provided by the gambling industry, particularly the promise of much needed employment. Few communities have the resources to conduct independent social and economic impact studies.

In the United States, many communities have conducted such studies, as have independent academics. In Canada, however, only a few such studies exist. Local political leaders are being pressed to take decisions without the kind of independent information that would allow a full assessment of the impact on each specific community. It is no wonder that local citizens are concerned. William Thompson, professor of public administration at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, recently summed up the basis for the public concern that is spreading through our communities: “Hell is knowing the truth about gaming after it is too late.”

We have turned to you for your leadership because the federal government has a duty to prevent gambling in Canada from harming the common good. A great deal of anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that the growth of gambling is already undermining the public interest. What is most troubling is the intrusion of the private sector into modern gambling through the aggressive use of the provisions of the Criminal Code.

We are therefore calling for a federal inquiry in order to accomplish several things, including:

  1. stimulating Canadian research needed for the use of local communities;
  2. establishing national standards for the assessment of gambling and charitable gaming proposals, including economic, legal, and social impact assessments;
  3. establishing a single format for disclosure of information on gambling, gaming, and gambling-generated revenues;
  4. establishing standards for effective oversight of the gambling industry and the activities and decision-making processes of provincial gambling/gaming commissions.

Most churches have urged individuals to resist government and industry efforts to persuade them to gamble. Today we face a situation that goes far beyond individual morality to public social responsibility. As Christians, we follow Christ by loving our neighbours, all of whom are precious to God. We must speak out when governments attempt to persuade entire communities to make part of their living by emptying the pockets of some of those men and women at a local gambling establishment.

We recognize that we as churches were not always aware of the dangers of the gambling revolution that is upon us in Canada. We recognize the public uneasiness with the pervasive way state-sponsored gambling is affecting our communities. We do understand that it will be difficult for governments to overcome their dependency on gambling generated revenues. But we do believe it is possible. It is for this reason that we ask, is your government willing to take this first step?


The Venerable Jim Boyles
General Secretary
Anglican Church of Canada

The Reverend Dr. Kenneth W. Bellous
Executive Minister
Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec

Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Rupwate
General Superintendent
British Methodist Episcopal Church

Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, PH
General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian
Canadian Diocese of Armenian Orthodox Church

Ray Elgersma
Canadian Ministries Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada

The Reverend Messale Engeda
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Telmor Sartison
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Rev. Fr. Peter J. Avgeropoulos
Ecumenical Officer
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada)

The Right Reverend Seraphim
Bishop of Ottawa and Canada
Orthodox Church in America

The Reverend Stephen Kendall
Principal Clerk, The General Assembly
The Presbyterian Church in Canada

The Very Reverend Anthony Nikolic
Polish National Catholic Church of Canada

Jim Moerman
Reformed Church in America

Dana Mullen
Clerk, Representative Meeting
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada

Fr. Marcos Marcos
St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church

Commissioner Donald V. Kerr
Territorial Commander
The Salvation Army

Metropolitan Archbishop Wasyly Fedak
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

Dr. Bonnie Greene
Programme Director
Division of Mission in Canada
United Church of Canada