On the feature this week, an interview with ARPA’s newest staff member. Lawyer John Sikkema joined the team last week, and in the interview, he talks about his approach to law, and some tentative plans for where he’ll be focussing his legal efforts.
Click here to read more.
In the news:
A judge in Winnipeg heard a case last week involving the rights of a Christian marriage commissioner who was stripped of his job because he refused to perform same-sex ceremonies. Click here to read the story.
ARPA released an update to its policy paper on prostitution. The new document is a pre-emptive tool to help dissuade the government from undoing the improvements made to Canada’s prostitution law two years ago, changes which were largely in line with the recommendations of the first edition of the policy paper. Click here to read the story.
WeNeedaLaw launched a new awareness campaign about Bill C-225, also known as “Cassie and Molly’s Law”. The campaign features the hashtag #WagantallWednesday, and will run every Wednesday until the bill comes to a vote. Click here to read the story.
An update on last week’s story on Quebec euthanasia statistics: they are now available on the Protection of Conscience Project website.
A Baptist school board near Edmonton may lose close to $1.5 million in government funding next week. Education Minister David Eggen has set a deadline of this Friday for the Board to comply with the government’s new policies on LGBTQ and transgender rights. Click here to read the story. We also touch on two stories with respect to Ontario’s sex-education curriculum (click here for the story): one involving the politics of the issue, and the other about a Toronto elementary school that’s been exempted from parts of the curriculum (click here for the story).
Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench heard a case last week centering on the rights of Christian marriage commissioners. Kevin Kisilowsky is a former biker turned Christian. Since his conversion, he’s been involved in ministry to bikers, including performing weddings for them as a licensed marriage commissioner. Now the government of Manitoba has stripped him of his right to do that because he is refusing to perform same-sex civil ceremonies.
The legal case is being brought by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Lawyer John Carpay says the Manitoba government is insisting that every marriage commissioner in the province has to be available for performing same-sex weddings. Carpay says that’s not a reasonable position, because Manitoba has close to a thousand marriage commissioners, and virtually all of them are willing to do same-sex ceremonies. Carpay says the government is being “unreasonable”, and he’s hoping the court case will provide a “win-win” situation for all parties.
The case is based in part on the legal principle of a “duty to accommodate.” Carpay says under that principle, employers have a duty to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees who might be unavailable to work on Saturdays or Sundays because of their religious beliefs, and the same principle should apply to marriage commissioners. Carpay says the Manitoba government “has a duty to accommodate Kisilowsky’s religious beliefs. Their position is that (they) don’t have to accommodate him at all, and the Court is going to have to make a ruling on that.”
The case was heard last Thursday. A decision isn’t expected until December or perhaps early in the new year.
ARPA Canada has updated its policy paper on prostitution. Law and Policy director André Schutten says the original paper was written in 2011, when the government of the day was facing a court challenge to the old law. That challenge was successful when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the old laws in December 2013, and Canada was without a law on this issue for a full year. The recommendations in ARPA’s original report, published before the Supreme Court had even heard the case, were largely incorporated into the new law passed by the Conservative government in November, 2014.
The new government has been talking about re-writing that law, and Schutten says that has prompted an update and an expansion of the policy paper. “It gets all of the facts and the context updated so it’s current, and then it spells out a lot of the research supporting the new law as it’s been passed. It’s expanded from 4 to 6 pages, with a bit more research into how well the law is working.” Read it here.
WeNeedaLaw launched a new campaign last week. You may have seen the hashtag #WagantallWednesday on your social media feed – on Facebook or Twitter. Director Mike Schouten says they were looking for an innovative way to keep the pressure on the government over Bill C-225, Cassie and Molly’s Law. The bill is slated to come back for debate in the next few weeks, and Schouten says they were looking for a way to motivate people to get active on this bill coming out of the summer. “There’s a sense that sometimes people tire (of lobbying), especially if they’ve already communicated with their MP. So we thought ‘OK, how do we get people engaged in a way that’s a bit more fun and active?’, Schouten says.
The campaign includes SimpleMail letters, updated every week, for contact with Members of Parliament.
The campaign will run every Wednesday between now and when the Bill is put to a vote. That vote is tentatively scheduled for mid-October.
The controversy in Alberta over a Baptist School Board which is refusing government demands to write a policy to accommodate LGBTQ and transgender students could come to a head this Friday. That’s the deadline the Education Minister has set for pastor Brian Coldwell’s Baptist Christian Education Society to submit a draft policy in compliance with the government’s guidelines on gender identity and sexual orientation. If the policy isn’t forthcoming, the Society could stand to lose close to $1.5 million dollars in operational funding from the government.
Last week, Coldwell criticized both the opposition Wildrose and PC parties for refusing to stand with his school, saying there is no effective political opposition in Alberta with the courage to stand up for fundamental parental rights.
There’s a growing controversy in Ontario over Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown’s position on that province’s sex-ed curriculum. During a recent by-election in a highly ethnic Toronto riding, Brown’s party distributed literature in which he promised to “scrap” the curriculum. The literature was distributed in both Chinese and English. But within days, Brown had recanted, blaming the literature on an over-enthusiastic local campaign volunteer, and saying the flyers didn’t actually reflect his position.
But critics say all of that back-tracking was done exclusively in English, and they say that’s why the PC party ended up winning the by-election – the first time in a generation the Scarborough-Rouge River constituency didn’t go to the Ontario Liberals.
Even the Toronto Star has published a piece which infers that Brown knew all about the original flyer well before it was distributed.
A public school in suburban Toronto, in a neighbourhood with a lot of immigrants, has been given permission by the Ontario government to modify the sex education curriculum for primary grade students. The modifications aren’t major, but they do eliminate some of the more graphic language in the curriculum for first grade students. The decision came after almost half of the parents pulled their kids out of Thorncliffe Park Public School at the start of the last school year.
The school is located in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s riding of Don Valley West.
It’s not clear yet what the enrolment numbers look like for the new school year.
ARPA has added another staff member. Twenty-six year old John Sikkema graduated from Queen’s University Law School two years ago.
Last week, he joined ARPA’s Ottawa office as the second lawyer on the team, alongside Law and Policy director André Schutten.
Just a few days into his new position, Lighthouse News had a chance to connect with John and ask him a few questions.
LN: First of all, John, welcome to the program.
JS: Thank you.
LN: Let’s talk a little bit about your legal background. ARPA subscribers and supporters will know your name because you had written a pretty interesting legal opinion on the euthanasia thing over the course of this past summer, sort of outlining a “third way” the government could approach this. They chose not to take that approach, but that’s where your name first came up in the context of some of the legal work that ARPA has been doing.
What’s your legal background? What do you bring to the table that André doesn’t have in terms of legal specialties or interests or things that ARPA can do now that we couldn’t do when we didn’t have you on board?
JS: Well, I’m a second lawyer. They had one – now they have two. I guess that’s a good addition just in terms of numbers and the amount of work that ARPA’s trying to tackle. In articling I did get exposed to the area of education law a bit which is an interesting area; that and administrative law… human right law as well. So hopefully that experience is helpful. I’m a relatively new lawyer, continuing to learn some of these issues.
I did try to focus in law school a bit on Constitutional Law and Human Rights Law, and also, as a Political Science student and a Law student on the role of different government branches; the relationship between Parliament and the courts. That kind of thing I think is very relevant to ARPA’s work.
LN: Talk to me about the way we apply Christianity to legal principles. People do it in different aspects. ARPA tries to do that in the broad “political” spectrum, hence the name “Political Action”. What’s your approach to applying the faith to that kind of work?
JS: I think it’s something I continue to learn about as I read different authors. It’s not something that we are really taught in law school, although as you read some old cases you certainly find glimpses of it in certain judges more than others. But it’s interesting to try to read a bit more about – and learn a bit more about – the historic influence of Biblical thought and Christianity on the development of our system of government and even the content of our laws. So that’s something I continue to explore and hope to apply here.
…. ‘Charter values’ may sometimes contradict Christianity, which we would understand to be the real foundation for human rights in a fixed sense.
LN: Are we losing that Christian heritage within our legal system? A lot of people think there’s an actual effort underway to try to erase that history and secularize everything.
JS: I find that a really interesting topic in the idea of human rights (as) something that is a transcendent standard that we kind of hold government to account; that we judge laws to be good or bad based on some kind of standard. We find that people have intrinsic rights. That comes from somewhere. That certainly comes from a worldview I think that’s informed by Christianity, but you know without ditching some of those concepts we continue to speak about them while perhaps undermining the foundation for those, and it becomes a bit of a secular faith in those rights. And that’s why you hear people talk about “Charter values” and things like that, which may sometimes contradict Christianity which we would understand to be the real foundation for human rights in a fixed sense.
LN: There’s a lot of stuff on the horizon. Bill 10 in Alberta; everybody I’m talking to says that whole thing will likely end up in court. You say one of your specialties is education law. I know it’s early in the piece, you’re only – as we do this interview – on day 4 of your employment with ARPA, but can we expect John Sikkema to sort of take the lead on some of those cases, and André to step back on some of that stuff? Have we strategized those things out yet?
JS: André and I have talked about that a little bit. I’m really just getting up to speed on that issue. The one file that I’ve started to dig into more specifically is the Freedom of Information issue here in Ontario where the government slid in an amendment to the Access to Information legislation to basically say you can’t have access to information that’s related to abortion. There seems to be a blanket exclusion there, and that’s something that ARPA is litigating with the Ontario government. That’s a file I’m getting involved in right away. The others are just something for me to really get caught up on, probably in the next few weeks. So I don’t know to what extent I’ll be involved there, or how André and I will divide up that work, but I look forward to finding out.
LN: Sir, I’m sure you and I will have many conversations over the comings months. I talk to André a lot on legal cases, and now we’ve got somebody else to talk about these things with. Welcome aboard.
JS: Thank you very much.
LN: Thank you.
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