Letter to the Minister of Justice on Protections for Religious Communities

17 October 2017

[Website note: Read more about this issue.]

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice
284 Wellington Street 
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8

Dear Minister,

We are deeply concerned with the removal of specific protections for religious communities from the Criminal Code of Canada, as proposed in clause 14 of Bill C-51.

Religious freedom is known as the first freedom, because where it flourishes, all other freedoms flourish. The authors of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically included religious freedom as the first provision. The meetings of religious communities are a fundamental expression of belief and practice and an outworking of freedom of religion.

Section 176 of the Criminal Code provides specific protection to religious gatherings and religious practice, fulfilling the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion by ensuring religious officials and services are protected.

The Supreme Court of Canada and appellate courts have considered this section of the Criminal Code and have found it to be valid federal legislation. As the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Laskin concurred in a 1985 minority opinion, this section is properly characterized as criminal law “since in substance it is an enactment to prevent breaches of the public peace and to enable citizens to conduct services of worship without fear of disturbance.”

Particularly now, in a time of growing concern about intolerance toward religious minorities in Canada, Parliament’s duty to ensure the protection of religious officials and communities is especially significant.

A religious service or gathering is unique in nature and purpose. A reading from the Torah in a synagogue, a prayer service in a mosque, a song in a Sikh temple, a worship service in a church, each of these are communal events that are encounters with the transcendent. An offence against a people at worship reverberates through the community and touches every member. An offence against one faith at worship has an impact on all religious adherents.

Laws against public disturbance and trespass do not offer the same degree of protection as does section 176. The removal of this section would unnecessarily strip away explicit protection for religious gatherings and officials. Removal of this protection would undermine the assurance of religious practitioners that they may gather safely, thereby undermining the value of religious practice and observance in Canadian society.

Rather than deleting section 176, we ask that you ensure this specific protection be retained, and amend it to make the language inclusive of all faiths. The word clergy could be replaced with a term such as ‘religious official.’ This would ensure that the Criminal Code clearly maintains and extends religious freedom and protection for all.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is the national association of evangelical Christians, with affiliates including 43 denominations, 65 ministry organizations and 33 post-secondary educational institutions. It is estimated that there are 6,500 congregations that belong to our affiliate denominations across Canada. Established in 1964, the EFC provides a national forum for Canada’s four million Evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society. 

Please act to fulfill the Charter’s guarantee of religious freedom, and protect the integrity and security of religious worship.


Julia Beazley
Director, Public Policy

Author: Julia Beazley