MPs vote to pro­tect re­li­gious ser­vices

Pro­tects against dis­rupt­ing wor­ship­pers

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - Brian Platt

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.

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