Crunch time on Bill 24

14 Nov 2017 Crunch time on Bill 24

LHN 111417

Parents to be kept in the dark: On the feature today, a grassroots campaign to resist a law in Alberta that would intentionally seek to hide information about children from their parents..

 

In the news..

 

Parliamentary committee agrees, worship services deserving of special protections: The Commons Justice Committee has voted to keep Section 176 of the Criminal Code, the section that expressly protects church services from disruption.

Christians being denied for adoptions? The Alberta Government is being taken to court for denying an adoption application from a couple expressly because of their Christian beliefs.

Protecting the grizzly bear spirit? Some analysis this week from one of the intervenors in that major Supreme Court ruling on religious freedom that we told you about last week.

Parliamentary committee agrees, worship services deserving of special protections

André Schutten, Director of Law and Policy - ARPA Canada
André Schutten, Director of Law and Policy - ARPA Canada

Parliament’s Justice Committee has voted in favour of a measure that will keep section 176 of the Criminal Code.

That’s the section that makes it a crime to disrupt “an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose.” It also forbids anyone from “obstructing a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service.” The government had been arguing that the section was unnecessary and redundant, because there were other elements of the Criminal Code that could be used to prosecute these kinds of crimes. However, ARPA and a host of other religious groups argued that worship services were different “in kind” from other public assemblies that might be disrupted.

Part of the reason cited by committee members in their change of heart was what one of them called “an avalanche” of emails that had arrived on the issue in the days before the vote on this. That “avalanche” included more than 1,200 hundred emails sent through ARPA’s “EasyMail” system, and Law and Policy Director André Schutten says this case is a good illustration of the way things are supposed to work. “I think (this file) has been a great example of the requirement of Christians to do both prayer and work. It’s not enough for us to just pray. Many people might have been tempted to just pray ‘Please, Lord, protect religious worship services, (and) make sure (that) the Committee changes its mind.’ But if we just prayed and we didn’t work, I’m not so sure that God would have been pleased to answer that prayer.” Schutten says the outcome of this case shows that God is pleased to work through His people so that “when they pray and also turn around and work; they do communicate with their MP… then we do see God being pleased to bless our work.”

The Bill now goes back to Parliament with some suggested updates to its language.

Christians being denied for adoptions?

Lawyer John Carpay for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
Lawyer John Carpay for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
WeNeedaLaw.ca Director, Mike Schouten
WeNeedaLaw.ca Director, Mike Schouten

The Alberta government is being taken to court over a decision by the provincial Ministry of Children’s Services to deny a Christian couple’s application to adopt a child. The case is being launched by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary. The Centre’s John Carpay says initially, the home study had approved the couple’s application to adopt an older child. However, he says, the government didn’t like couple’s response to the question of how they would respond if the child was same-sex attracted and wanted to “explore their sexuality.” The couple’s response, Carpay says, was that they believed in the Bible, and that they believed sex is a gift reserved for heterosexual marriage, and that they wouldn’t encourage the child to “explore his (or her) sexuality.”

“I think they would say the same thing whether the child was same-sex attracted or opposite-sex attracted,” Carpay says.  Carpay says irrespective of the child’s sexual orientation, the couple made it clear they would love the child “unconditionally”.  In that sense, he says the response was “kind of what you’d expect from evangelical Christians or, for that matter, Muslims, orthodox Jews, practicing Catholics, Sikhs, or Hindus.”

The rejection was actually delivered by the “Catholic Social Services” agency in Edmonton, and Carpay says while that’s disappointing it’s also not surprising. “Ultimately, Catholic Social Services gets over 90% of its funding from government, and they take their marching orders from government… and it was the involvement of the Child and Family government ministry that really made this determination.”

Meantime, Mike Schouten at We Need a Law has been watching this case, and he says illustrates the inconsistency of those who oppose the pro-life message. “It made me think of all the people who, when we’re advocating… for pre-born human rights, will tell us ‘Oh, you Christians only care about people before they’re born, that’s all you care about, you don’t care about them after they’re born, how come you’re not helping them after they’re born.’ And here we have another example of Christians who, out of the goodness of their heart, want to help born children who need a stable home, and then they get told they can’t because their values, their ideologies don’t line up with those of a particular government at the time.”

The case won’t likely end up in court till late next year.

Protecting the grizzly bear spirit?

Derek Ross, Executive Director of Christian Legal Fellowship
Derek Ross, Executive Director of Christian Legal Fellowship

One of the intervenors in a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on freedom of religion says even though his side lost the case, there are some positives to be drawn from the final ruling. This is about the Ktunaxa decision, which we told you about last week. The case centred on claims that the object of native spirituality for the Ktunaxa Indian band in BC should be protected by the Charter. The object of that faith is the “Grizzly Bear Spirit”, which the band claims lives in a valley that’s scheduled for conversion into a ski resort. In a nutshell, the Supreme Court ruled that while the Ktunaxa were entitled to believe whatever they wanted, and even to act on that belief, the object of their belief – the grizzly bear spirit – wasn’t entitled to Charter protection.

Derek Ross appeared before the Supreme Court as an intervener in the case on behalf of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship, and he says even though the Ktunaxa claim was ultimately rejected, there were some positives in the decision. He says the ruling affirmed that freedom of religion has both private and public dimensions; that Canadians are free not just to “hold” beliefs, but that they’re also free to “act on them and disseminate them.” He says the ruling also made it clear that freedom of religion is something that is practiced “in community with others.”  Ross says that part of the ruling is important because “there was some suggestion in the courts below that religion is understood as primarily private and belonging to the individual”, but he says the ruling has “made it clear that it has public and communal dimensions as well.”

If you’re interested, Mr. Ross has written a detailed analysis of the court decision; you can find that analysis here.

LN Feature: Crunch time on Bill 24

Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta
Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta
ARPA Canada lawyer, John Sikkema
ARPA Canada lawyer, John Sikkema
WeNeedaLaw.ca Director, Mike Schouten
WeNeedaLaw.ca Director, Mike Schouten

Alberta’s Bill 24 is the topic for our feature today. The Alberta Legislature is set to resume committee hearings today on Bill 24, called an “Act to Protect Gay Straight Alliances“. ARPA has launched a major initiative to oppose this bill, including phone calls and EasyMails.

On the feature today, ARPA lawyer John Sikkema and Mike Schouten. They’ve both been doing a lot of work on this file in the past week.

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LN: John, I want to start with you… Give us some of the legislative background on this. Bill 24 is kind of an outworking or a strengthening, in a sense of Bill 10. That was the original law that enabled the establishment of GSA’s, and it was then incorporated into the Education Act.

What, exactly, is the difference between what’s on the books in Alberta now and what’s being proposed in Bill 24?

JS: Bill 10 required Gay Straight Alliances, and also enacted a new provision that talks about school policies that need to create a welcoming environment and affirm diversity and those things. But interestingly, Section 45 – that created Section 45 of the Schools Act – and that actually didn’t apply to private schools. So it hasn’t been clear that the Minister has actually had legal authority to require these schools to submit those policies.

So what Bill 24 does is to make it very clear that schools need both policies and that (those) policies have to comply with the Alberta Human Rights Code…

LN: And then there’s also the whole question of parental rights and the fact that parents can’t be notified now – in law – if their kid joins a GSA, right?

JS: That’s right. So one of the things that this Bill does is it actually prohibits notifying parents concerning “any activity intended to promote diversity” – so any activity or any club including a GSA and a child’s participation in that club – you may not tell the parent.  And the principal is responsible for making sure that only the existence of a GSA goes public and is told to parents, but not anything beyond that.

LN: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has done some legal analysis on this thing, and it says there’s definitely possibilities of a constitutional challenge. What do you think that might be based on?

JS: I would say one of the most obvious things is the bill undermines Christian Schools’ freedom of association and equality under law. So it would penalize them for remaining faithful to a Christian sexual ethic, and having that inform their policies and their practices. And if we look at the Loyola Case we see that as unnecessarily interfering with a religious community’s ability to pass on the faith and to teach a certain ethic from a religious perspective.

And it interferes with parental rights, because it interferes with parents’ ability to transmit their faith and ethics to their children. That’s kind of a principle recognized in Alberta law too, that teachers stand “in the place of parents.” And that’s something that the Supreme Court recognizes in the Loyola Case as well; the right of parents to transmit their faith and ethics to children.

LN: Mike, you’ve been working on some grassroots lobbying stuff against this bill alongside ARPA’s Grassroots Manager, Colin Postma. The government moved this bill through the system really quickly.

Two readings in just a few days; committee hearings started the day after that last week, the hearing is expected to wrap up later today. That means we could have Third Reading and Royal Assent by the end of the week.  What’s the big urgency here from the government’s perspective, do you think?

MS: I suspect that a big part of the urgency is because of not only the response of (the) grassroots, but also the response of the other parties in the Alberta Legislature. This was dubbed by some people on Social Media as “Kenney’s Law”, because it was seen as an attempt by the Notley government to really use this as a wedge issue and make life – essentially – very miserable for Jason Kenney, who is a social conservative and has always voted socially conservative when it comes to these type(s) of issues.

Jason Kenney’s response has been very strategic; very smart, and it’s I think scared Rachel Notley into thinking “We better just pass this quickly before it all of a sudden turns on us and makes our life more miserable.”

LN: This past weekend, hundreds of ARPA supporters – and other people – sent EasyMails to their MLA’s in Alberta. The count – last I heard – was up and over 15-hundred, close to two-thousand. (There was) also a radio ad campaign trying to motivate the general public on this; some up-take there.

Given all that public pressure, is there any chance, do you think, (that) the government might hit “pause” on all this?

MS: Humanly speaking, when we look at this, it doesn’t seem like it. The Notley government in Alberta has a majority, and they are able to pass this. They have the votes to do so, and for them to back away now… I don’t see that happening. But even if it seems humanly impossible that Bill 24 will be stopped, we still have a duty as Christians to warn them that what they’re doing is wrong. That the way that they’re interfering between that sacrosanct relationship between parents and children – the way that they’re doing that – is incorrect. It’s not only unconstitutional – as John aptly pointed out – but it also violates morals and ethics that we hold very dear.

I mean, we’re not talking here about a government who is proposing, you know, infrastructure investment or something. We’re talking about a government whose intent is to come between that very sacred relationship between parents and their children and the responsibilities parents have for their children.

So I think that the response has been incredible from our supporters in Alberta, as well as the work that we’ve been doing with the radio ads and some of the Social Media advertising. It’s very clear that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are willing to get motivated – and are motivated – on Bill 24 to actually have their say and ensure that the government doesn’t pass this thinking that they have the full support of the people that they govern over.

LN: So what lessons can ARPA learn from this whole issue? I mean, I was talking to somebody on the weekend who said “We should have…” (and hindsight is 20-20), but “we should have taken a firmer stand when Bill 10 was first introduced, and then we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Is that legitimate? (Like I said, hindsight’s 20-20…)

MS: Hm-hm. I’ll let John speak a few thoughts if he has any, but I think one of the things that we can learn from this is that we need to – as an organization and all of the people who are working alongside of ARPA Canada – we need to start working on the relationships we have with public office-holders well in advance of these kind of bills coming forward.

Up till this point often it’s “a Bill comes forward and then we’re either in favour of it or opposed to it.” We should be having relationships with these public office-holders in advance so that – God willing – they wouldn’t even think of putting these kind of things forward because we’ve been working alongside them up till this point.

And I just want to put a plug in for our 12-Step Action Plan that ARPA’s been promoting, ’cause that is the sole intent of that.

LN: John, any closing thoughts?

JS: Yeah, I agree of course with what Mike said about building relationships. I mean ARPA has been doing work on this since Bill 10 was introduced, and (been) trying to provide resources for schools to say “Look, this is the direction the government’s taking; we want to equip you to take a principled stand on your school’s beliefs to say (that) we agree with a welcoming school environment – we want to do that.”

You know, as Christians, of course we want to do that, and the commandment to love each other makes… you know, we cannot permit bullying and all that. How do you do that in a Christian way, and not just reacting to governments? So trying to get schools to be proactive I think has been a priority for ARPA in the interim between Bill 10 and this bill.

But in order for those resources to be used not only by schools but also considered by MLA’s, I think those relationships are important.

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