Little Fish in a Giant pond

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Harper continues to flirt with the clergy

Well folks, they're at it again. The Neo-cons have once again begun to resurrect the same-sex marriage issue. It's common knowledge that they have been planning to reopen debate on the issue for some time now, and even to hold another free vote on the subject. Apparently they are also preparing legislation to be enacted just in case that fails.

In an interview with the Globe, justice minister Vic Toews confirmed that the government has been working on the Defense of Religion Act. Apparently this bill would provide "protection" for officials, such as justices of the peace, and ministers, who refuse to perform civil marriages for religious reasons. Evidently this legislation will also provide protection against human rights actions for religious leaders who criticize the gay lifestyle.

This legislation is as poorly thought out as it is redundant. Let's start with the protection of ministers (priests, Rabbis, etc) who refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Section 3 of the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act (the very act that recognizes same-sex marriage) specifically states: "It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs." I don't know why Mr. Toews and Mr. Harper feel that additional legislation is required.

As for the protection of justices of the peace, these people are state officials. They have a duty to perform government services, in accordance with the Charter, which does not permit discrimination against homosexuals. I would imagine that the courts would strike down any such legislation. I would say this is an interesting move by a government that justifies the elimination of the Court Challenges Program, on the basis that it does not intend to violate the charter!

Finally, there is also the matter of protecting religious leaders, who speak out against the gay lifestyle against human rights complaints. While each province has its own code of human rights, the only section of Ontario's Human Rights Code, that I've read that could be remotely interpreted as relevant to religious leaders speech is that of Section 13 (1) which states:

"A right under Part I is infringed by a person who publishes or displays before the public or causes the publication or display before the public of any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, or other similar representation that indicates the intention of the person to infringe a right under Part I or that is intended by the person to incite the infringement of a right under Part I. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 13 (1)."

But then it must also be noted that section 13 (2) states:
"Subsection (1) shall not interfere with freedom of expression of opinion. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 13 (2)."

Simply put, the mere expression of disapproval in public over a certain choice of lifestyle, is unlikely to be interpreted as a human rights violation, unless it is encouraging hatred or discrimination against gays. Which is something that should be illegal. How can we honestly call ourselves a free and tolerant society, if we allow certain individuals to incite fear amongst minority communities?

Sorry Steve, I guess Canada’s minorities may still be in need of the Court Challenges Program after all!


  • The Court Challenges Program (CCP) was a biased program that did not support legal equality at all; it routinely only funded one side of a rights issue being challenged in the courts. It was made a non-profit crown corporation so as to be beyond the scrutiny of Parliament and the Auditor General.
    Groups working for religious freedom have to pay for lobbying and court challenges from their own pockets whereas gays and lesbians get a free ride from the CCP and government funding.
    The idea that gays and lesbians won't have money to fight for their cause is ludicrous; they have jobs just like everyone else. If there is a cause they want to fight then they can all contribute $10 each and have more money than the CCP would provide anyway.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:21 PM  

  • If there is some sort of problem with the inner workings of the CCP, then they should be fixed, rather than destroying the program all together. Don't forget that the CCP also helped SOS Montfort preserve the rights of Franco-Ontarians.

    And I'm sorry, but it should be kept at an arm's length from parliament, so as to minimize the politicization of the dispersal of funds.

    By Blogger Fish, at 8:40 AM  

  • fish,

    First of all I think if we want to have a social program for financially-challenged individuals who need to go to court then that's fine. But to fund only groups, and sometimes fairly well-funded groups like EGALE, who promote specific issues while leaving those opposed to these issues to find their own money is patently unfair.

    I think the CCP could be kept at arms-length from Parliament (as Status of Women is) but still be required to report publicly about which cases it funds and rejects and how much of taxpayers' money it spends on each. Right now that is not happening; the CCP has no accountability for what it does whatsoever.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 PM  

  • Well Annonymous, if I understand you correctly, we can at least agree that it would be better to reform the CCP than to disband it all together.

    However, I think you may be forgetting some important information when you write that groups such as those who are opposed to the positions of EGALE are left to find their own money.

    As you may or may not be aware, the charter only applies to the state, and private organisations that perform state functions (and only within the sphere of such functions). So any Charter based court challenges are going to face opposition from a fairly well funded organization. Any such private parties that you mentioned might have a little difficulty being recognized as concerned parties during court challenges however, if the government is fighting the case, it is probably because these groups have some influence with them anyways, so it is not as though they are being left without representation.

    By Blogger Fish, at 10:03 PM  

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