On June 15, 2017, the Minister of Justice Introduced Bill C-51 in the House of Commons.
This is a wide-ranging omnibus bill and will alter numerous sections of the Criminal Code by modifying laws regarding sexual assault, removing laws previously deemed unconstitutional by the courts, requiring the government to table charter statements on all government bills, and removing a number of “obsolete or duplicative offences”.
The government claims to be using this bill to remove provisions of the Criminal Code that they see as having no relevance in contemporary society. One of these provisions in particular, Clause 14, causes me great concern.
It proposes to remove the following section of the Criminal Code:
(1) Every one who
(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or
(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a) (i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or (ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
(3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
As someone whose faith is central to my life, I find it disturbing that the government would try to remove these protections.
Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly states that everyone has, among other rights, the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression. Section 176 of the Criminal Code is a crucial part of protecting these rights for Canadians of all faiths and beliefs. By repealing this section, the Government will be removing the only provision in the Criminal Code that directly protects the rights of individuals to freely practice their religion.
The removal of Section 176 (b) is particularly egregious as it would eliminate the specific protection for a member of the clergy (a term which is broadly defined) from being assaulted prior to conducting a religious service.
We live in a world where attacks on religious communities are increasing. Recent news stories indicate that even here in Canada, we are not immune.
In the face of this, I find it absurd that the government is attempting to remove a key part of the legal framework which protects the religious freedoms of Canadians. Canadians must be free to practice their religion without fear of recrimination, violence or disturbance. The removal of these added protections would set a dangerous precedent. The government must not weaken the protections of this fundamental freedom.
I will continue to stand up for the rights of my constituents and all Canadians to practice their religion without fear of recrimination, violence, or disturbance.
I trust you have found this information of interest.