A Victory for Religious Freedom

I frequently hear from constituents who tell me that with Justin Trudeau and his Liberal majority at the helm, sometimes it seems like there’s no good news coming out of Ottawa. While I agree it can be discouraging, our Conservative Opposition is extremely effective at keeping the Liberals’ feet to the fire. Case in point: Last week the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights agreed to maintain protections for religious communities across Canada that were on the Liberal chopping block, but only after Conservatives sounded the alarm.

In June, Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced Bill C-51 in the House of Commons. While for the most part Bill C-51 makes changes that everyone can agree with, one particular clause caught the attention of my Conservative colleagues and I. The Liberals were proposing to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code – the only provision in the Code which provides explicit protections for clergy and parishioners partaking in religious services. This is alarming whether you choose to profess religious faith or not.

As part of the regular process a bill goes through to become law, Bill C-51 was sent to the Justice Committee for study. During these hearings, the Justice Committee heard from numerous witnesses about the importance of ensuring that places of worship and clergy are protected from interference and disturbance. These witness statements were in direct contradiction to Minister Wilson-Raybould’s statements suggesting that section 176 was obsolete – a reason she cited for her decision to remove these protections. When Conservative Justice Shadow Minister Rob Nicholson challenged her on that point, she added: “Section 176 is difficult to prove. The various elements contained therein are limited to clergymen or ministers in the Christian faith, and it’s not inclusive of other religious leaders.” But that’s simply not true – it applies to people of all faiths. But even if it were true, why choose to eliminate the section entirely instead of rewriting it to be both easier to prove and more inclusive? At a time when we regularly hear about attacks on religious communities across Canada, I shared the view expressed by many witnesses that this proposal was a step in the wrong direction.

Conservatives, led by MP Nicholson, engaged with Canadians across the country and asked them to write to the Minister of Justice and members of the Justice Committee if they were concerned about this proposal. And the good news is: it worked! On November 8th, due to the overwhelming response from Canadians on this issue, the Justice Committee decided that the best path forward was to maintain the protections within section 176, with amendments. Liberal committee members noted that they received a great deal of correspondence from Canadians calling on them to preserve section 176, which undoubtedly urged them to rethink this bizarre proposal. This is a big victory for religious freedom in Canada!

I am extremely grateful to the many Canadians who responded to my appeal. Every one of you who raised your voice – whether by making a phone call, writing a letter, or sending an email – made an impact. The collective response was instrumental in causing the Liberals to back down. So thank you! Together we can now celebrate this victory for religious freedom.

Even as we celebrate this win, it’s important to remember that Bill C-51 still must proceed through 3rd reading in the House of Commons before consideration by the Senate. Now is a great time to write your senators to ensure they also understand the value of section 176. Visit sencanada.ca/en/contact-information/ for their contact information.

I hope you’re encouraged by this success and let’s make sure we see it through to the end.