On the feature interview this week, Alberta MP Garnett Genuis, with some perspectives on what does – and does not – constitute legitimate criticism of religious speech. Click here to read the transcript of the interview.
In the news:
Independent school funding – There’s a push underway in BC to de-fund independent schools in the run-up to a provincial election there. Click here for insight from ARPA’s education policy consultant.
FIPPA arguments – We take a look at some of the specifics of ARPA’s legal arguments in the Ontario FIPPA case. Click here for more from the lawyer who argued the case in court.
C-277 and M-47 – Updates on two motions of interest to ARPA supporters, and how they are now working their way through the system. Click here for the encouraging updates out of Parliament!
Court Challenges Program – Trudeau government expands the program that led to the Supreme Court ruling on gay “marriage”. Click here for more on what the government hopes this will accomplish.
With a provincial election looming in BC in a few months, the BC Teacher’s Federation is making a push to put the funding of Christian and independent schools on the radar for voters. The Federation issued a call last week for the government to phase out all funding to those schools over the next four years, and re-direct the money to the public education system.
ARPA education policy consultant Harry Moes says the BCTF is being true to its core position on this issue. “The BCTF has always had the position that they do not believe in choice (in) education. They believe that there should only be one education system around the province.” He says the federation has never approved of funding for independent schools, and this latest effort is “consistent with their over-riding policy.”
However, Moes says it’s important to remember that the BCTF is a union and not a political party.
“You never know what will happen tomorrow,” he says, “but the track record has been that all political parties – be that the NDP, the Liberals, and even the Green Party – have gone on record that they will support school choice.” Moes says in the past, the Federation of Independent Schools Association has received those assurances in writing from each party at election time, and he’s confident that will happen again in the campaign coming up in May.
ARPA has completed its legal arguments before an Ontario judge in a challenge of that province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; specifically, a provision in that Act which allows the government to withhold all statistics related to abortions done in the province. ARPA lawyer John Sikkema argued the case early this month, and he admits the arguments he put to the Court were, in a sense, breaking new legal ground. The case makes some arguments that haven’t explicitly been put forward before, in the context of the “freedom of expression” guarantees in the Charter of Rights. “We know the government can’t censor people’s expression unless it has a very good reason to,” Sikkema says. While he concedes the government isn’t censoring ARPA or We Need a Law by “shutting down their websites”, they are censoring information that pro-life organizations need to carry out their activism. “And so by censoring information, they’re preventing people from saying things about what the government is doing.” Sikkema says it’s kind of an “indirect form” of censorship. He says the courts have historically recognized that there’s “some kind of connection there, but in order for that to amount to something that’s unconstitutional, it needs to be fairly severe, and I think this is because of how broad the censorship of abortion statistics is.”
A ruling in the case is expected later this year.
A Private Member’s bill calling on the government to establish a national Palliative Care strategy has passed second reading in Parliament, and is now off for Committee study. Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu’s Bill C-277 passed the second reading hurdle a few weeks ago. During Commons debate on the issue, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie spoke in favour of the bill, saying it will ensure that “all Canadians have a real choice in regards to their end of life plans.” He says a national palliative care strategy is “extremely important now that physician-assisted dying is legal.” Carrie referenced the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, which said that “a request for physician-assisted death cannot be truly voluntary if the option of proper palliative care is not available to alleviate a person’s suffering.”
The Health Committee will now take up discussion of the bill.
The Health Committee started its first round of discussion earlier this month on Arnold Viersen’s Motion 47. That’s the one calling for a study on the mental health effects of violent online porn – particularly on young people. Viersen presented some shocking statistics to the Committee in introducing the issue. “In Canada, the average first age of exposure to sexually explicit material for boys is 12 years old. Sexually explicit websites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Thirty-five percent of all Internet downloads are sexually explicit, and globally, sexually explicit material represents a $97-billion dollar industry.” He also told the Committee that the vast majority of online pornography features violence and degradation of women.
It has been more than 30 years since Parliament has looked at the issue; the last time it was discussed, the Internet never even existed.
You can see Viersen’s full presentation to the Committee here.
The federal government is moving ahead with an election pledge to re-instate the Court Challenges Program. This is the program which funds groups which want to launch constitutional challenges of various laws – groups that might otherwise not have the money to do so. Among other things, it was this program which funded the EGALE Canada case that ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage. And now, the program is being expanded to include more Charter arguments including matters of religion and freedom of expression, democratic participation and the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told reporters the expansion will “make justice more accessible for Canadians, (and) help clarify and safeguard an even broader range of Constitutional and quasi-Constitutional rights and freedoms.”
On the feature this week, an interview with Edmonton-area MP Garnett Genuis. Earlier this month, Mr. Genuis wrote a letter to the CBC Ombudsman about an op-ed piece presented by the network’s Neil Macdonald. It had to do with unfounded criticism that tied Canadian mass shootings in Canada explicitly to “white, Christian males.” You can read it here. We talked to Mr. Genuis about his letter, and also about an upcoming Private Member’s Motion in Parliament on the issue of Islamophobia.
LN: First of all Mr. Genuis, what was the basis of the CBC opinion piece you objected to, and what the basis of your complaint? What’s underlying all of this?
GG: Well the opinion piece basically said that most people involved in mass shootings in Canada were Christians; most of the shooters were Christian. That was the claim. And the fact of the matter is the research shows that that’s not at all the case. I don’t know that very many generalizations can be made about mass shooters in general; there seem to be some underlying sort of challenges in all of their backgrounds – some real diversity in terms of what those actually represent – but the claim was made that most of these people were Christians. The article cited nine different mass shooters, and in all nine case in fact there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that these people had any recognizable Christian belief or even identified as Christians. In one case, the person’s mother confirmed afterward that this person was an avowed atheist. There were – of the nine, I think two who had some kind of familial connection to Christianity; as in their parents went to church, but if you look through the evidence – and we presented that evidence in our letter to the Ombudsman – it’s just very clear that this isn’t correct. None of these shooters cited had any kind of recognizable Christian belief. So there’s obviously a problem when you spread these kinds of stereotypes period to try and suggest that this is sort of the responsibility of one particular group. There wasn’t even a factual basis to it.
LN: Just to play devil’s advocate though, isn’t Neil Macdonald entitled to his opinion even if he’s wrong? He gets paid to express that opinion, right?
GG: Sure, he’s entitled to his opinion, but the public broadcaster has a certain responsibility when it comes to accuracy and when it comes to not sort of inciting stereotypes about particular groups. I think they would probably understand and accept that with regard to the vast majority of groups. It’s just that, for some reason, it was felt that it was acceptable to make these kinds of generalizations about Christians. And again, not at all reflective of the facts, but also inappropriate, come from that source. If someone as a private citizen were to make these same comments, or on private media, I would still disagree with it; perhaps raise the issue of the problems with that presentation. I mean you’re entitled to your opinion, but not to your own facts in some sense. But there is a special status that the CBC has which is part of the question here.
LN: Have you had any response from the Ombudsman yet?
GG: The immediate response we got back was to acknowledge that they’ve gotten the letter, and to try to explain the process to us. They did that in a very sort of polite and fair way, so we appreciate that, and we look forward to seeing where this goes and making whatever follow-up is required later on.
LN: Okay, this isn’t happening in a sociological or political vacuum. Later this month, Parliament will be looking at Motion 103 from Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid. It’s a motion that basically condemns “Islamophobia”. Now why is it okay to condemn that – and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with condemning it – but why is okay to condemn that, but it’s equally okay to identify Canada’s mass shooters as “white Christian men”? That was the tweet from the CBC’s “The National”. What’s actually going on here?
GG: Well, with respect to the Motion, I think it’s an important one to study, and to get an understanding of what it’s actually saying and what the impacts of it will be. And we’re looking at that in kind of an ongoing way. It is a Motion and not a Bill, and so it doesn’t carry the force of law, but any motion expresses – in a general sense – the perspective of the House. To be fair, I mean we’re talking about two different people, so there may be many people that are concerned about discrimination against Muslims and are concerned about discrimination against Christians. I would actually count myself in that camp. I mean, I think it’s a reality that Muslims in certain situations can face bigotry and discrimination. I think the same is true of Christians, the same is true of Jews, of Sikhs, of people from a range of different backgrounds. I guess my message would just be that bigotry and discrimination against anyone – that that’s not acceptable. At the same time, it’s okay to disagree with, to criticize the theological or even the social or political claims of a particular religion. It’s okay to say that I don’t agree with Christians, or I think Christianity is correct or incorrect for x-y-z reason. That’s all part of debate that’s legitimate within a democratic society and that kind of debate is not bigotry. But we can and we should say in an even-handed way that discrimination and bigotry are not things that we should accept. I do think there is this dynamic where some people perceive “Hey, Christians have this historically dominant position in our country, and they’re a majority so it’s okay to say things about Christians that we wouldn’t say about minority groups.” That’s a perspective that some people have. Again, it’s not one that I agree with. I think that if you believe that people should be treated fairly and with respect, then that should go for everyone. And your listeners, I think, would appreciate the fact that practicing Christians are a minority in Canada as well, so it’s not really sensible to say “Well, we can criticize them in a different way because they’re part of a majority”, when ostensibly if you think about religious practice, they probably aren’t.
LN: Well, Barbara Kay asked the question in the National Post last week: “How long until honest criticism of Islamism constitutes a speech crime?” That’s the concern. You’re right, this is a Motion, not a Private Member’s Bill, so it carries less weight, but it does call for “a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.” What exactly does that mean?
GG: Well again, if it’s about saying that discrimination and racism are not acceptable – that discrimination towards Muslims in unacceptable – I think you’d see wide agreement. I don’t know that anybody out there is in favour of discrimination against people on the basis of their background or their religious views, at least not as part of our mainstream political discourse in Canada. But I think it is important that we be able to have real and open debates and religion. I’m a Christian. I don’t have any problem with someone having the freedom to forcefully disagree with the claims of Christianity; even to argue that the social implications of Christianity have been negative, if that’s someone’s view, they’re welcome to express that. So I think we need to just be clear about what we talking about. That discrimination is always and everywhere unacceptable, but it’s also important to be able to have substantive discussion and debate about religious ideas.