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Do worship services deserve special protection in law?

ARPA’s Director of Law and Policy, André Schutten, appeared before Parliament’s Justice Committee last week, arguing against a change to the Criminal Code.

As part of a new law called Bill C-51, the government wants to remove a section of the Criminal Code that expressly prohibits anyone from interfering with a religious service that’s in progress, and also protects members of the clergy from being harassed or interfered with on their way to or from a religious service.  The government argues that this kind of behaviour is already forbidden in other sections of the Code -the sections prohibiting mischief and harassment, for example – and that disrupting a religious service is really no different than a protest against a public rally at a park. But in his appearance before the Committee, André Schutten argued that disrupting a religious service is substantially different “in kind” from other kinds of protests. An example, he said, would be if someone were to suggest other amendments to the Criminal Code, like simplifying the law against assault.  “We already have assaults prohibited in Section 265; (why don’t we) get rid of sexual assault (as) prohibited in Sections 271, 272, and 273?”  Schutten said he expected the Committee would disagree with that because there’s “something different ‘in kind’ with sexual assault… therefore we need both provisions to be in the Criminal Code, because we’re deterring two different things.”  While he acknowledged his hypothetical situation wasn’t a perfect analogy, he insisted the example is analogous to the notion that disruptions to “religious services are different ‘in kind’ from (disruptions to) a university lecture or a rally in a public park.”

The Committee is considering whether to take that section out of Bill C-51 this week; you can send your MP and Committee members an EasyMail on this subject at this link.

Bill C-51: Disrupting a Worship Service, Church, Freedom of Religion Email Us 

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