MPs vote to protect religious services
Protects against disrupting worshippers
MPs tinkering with Canada’s Criminal Code have been warned: Hands off the law prohibiting the disruption of a religious service.
“I’ve got a pile of letters in my hand right now written to me by children, who obviously feel this is very important to them,” Conservative MP Rob Nicholson told a Commons committee studying Bill C-51.
He said his office received about 900 emails on the subject just over the weekend.
“Most Canadians would agree that if you do anything to disrupt a religious service ... that is more serious than if you cause a disruption at a hockey game or you get into a fistfight in a bar,” he said, urging his colleagues to keep the section.
The Commons j ustice committee has been studying Bill C-51, which includes a cleanup of the Criminal Code to remove sections that are considered outdated, unconstitutional or redundant.
One of the sections on the chopping block was 176, which makes it illegal to use threats or force to obstruct “a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service,” or to wilfully disrupt “an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose.”
On Wednesday MPs voted to save the section, though with updated language so it more clearly captures all forms of religious and spiritual services. The Commons as a whole will now vote on whether to accept the amendments, and then the bill moves to the Senate, where it could be amended again.
The NDP’s Alistair MacGregor said he had hardly taken notice of the section’s removal when he first read Bill C-51, but was soon overwhelmed with calls to keep it.
“It didn’t really cause much of an issue until I started receiving a trickle of correspondence which has now evolved into an absolute avalanche,” he told the committee.
Some of Canada’s major religious organizations, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, B’nai Brith Canada, t he Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and others argued the l aw’s removal would send the wrong message at a time when hate crimes directed against religion are on the rise.
The government’s rationale for removing it was that the section is made redundant by other Criminal Code prohibitions on assault, uttering threats, causing a disturbance and inciting hatred against an identifiable group.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson- Raybould told the committee she felt confident that removing it would “not in any way undermine Canadians’ ability to practise their religious faith, nor do I expect it to lead to an increase in violence in such situations.”
But the MPs decided it holds particular symbolic value to have a Criminal Code section that specifically addresses attacks on religion.