**UPDATE: The Justice Committee decided to leave section 176 alone after receiving overwhelming response from the public and our supporters. We are very thankful for this development.**
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently studying Bill C-51. This bill is meant to clean up Canada’s Criminal Code by removing outdated, unconstitutional, and redundant provisions. Much of the discussion of the Committee has been on one particular provision – clause 14 of the Bill proposes to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code. That section prohibits obstructing a religious official or disturbing a worship service. You can see ARPA’s analysis of section 176 here.
ARPA’s Director of Law & Policy, André Schutten, presented ARPA Canada’s concerns to the Standing Committee on October 30th together with articling student Tabitha Ewert. You can listen to the audio here. In his presentation, he explained that what happens in a religious service is different in kind than other gatherings. The preaching of the gospel, praise and worship are deserving of special protections.
He went on to address whether section 176 is redundant by giving an analogy. Our Criminal Code prohibits not only assault, but also different types of assault including sexual assault. The fact that sexual assault could be charged under a general assault provision is no reason to remove it. We recognize that it is different than general assault and worthy of special denunciation. The same is true for disrupting a worship service. We may tolerate demonstrators interrupting a university lecture for a time, but treating a worship service in the same manner would be detrimental to the religious community.
André also mentioned an open letter to the Justice Minister urging Parliament to keep section 176 that has been signed by representatives of various Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Coptic, Catholic and Protestant communities, including representatives of Reformed communities. You can read that letter here. Religious communities across Canada are concerned about losing this explicit protection of their worship services and are unsure that other provisions will suffice.
ARPA also provided a thorough written submission to the Committee. It includes proposed amendments to section 176 to update some of the language and tailor it more closely to the objective of protecting religious worship. On Wednesday, November 8th, the Committee will conduct a clause by clause analysis of the bill at which time they will determine whether to keep section 176, amend the section, or scrap it altogether. Please take the time to send this EasyMail to your Member of Parliament, (it will be automatically copied to members of the committee and to the justice minister) asking them to keep or amend section 176.