Christianity, the predominant religion in Canada, is undoubtedly woven into the fabric of Canadian society. The presence of religion is not limited to places of worship; it can be found in many
schools, social services, charitable organizations, and even our government. We observe religious holidays throughout the year and many family traditions and celebrations are rooted in religion.
Religion is part of our social environment and generally goes without notice in day-to- day life. This acceptance makes it difficult for individuals to notice and object to practices of religious worship that
infringe on human rights in Canada. It is especially difficult to object to religious practices with long-standing traditions. The omnipresence of religion and acceptance of religious tradition makes effecting positive change seem like an insurmountable challenge. With perseverance, respectful discussion, and thoughtful action, it can be possible to bring about change that upholds the rights of all. One woman’s effort to replace a religion-specific prayer with a moment of silence in a Saskatchewan public elementary school is one such example.
Dusti Hennenfent is a grain farmer just outside Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where she lives with her family. Hennenfent and her husband have two school-aged children who attend Lindale Elementary School in Moose Jaw. One morning in the fall of 2015, Hennenfent arrived at the school during Lindale’s daily broadcast over the school public address system. It was at this moment that she realized prayer
was part of the morning routine at Lindale School.
On January 30, 2017 the federal government tabled a response to an electronic Parliamentary petition (E-382) calling for the repeal of Canada’s blasphemous libel law (Criminal Code Section 296).
Despite the generally accepted view that Canada’s blasphemy law is an outdated and dead law that would never be successful if used today, this is still an historic situation. The federal government has reviewed archaic legislation and repealed obsolete law before, but this is the first time that the blasphemy law has been clearly identified for attention (that we are aware of).
The government’s response to e-382 may be found on the Parliament of Canada website and states:
The government is committed to maintaining a fair, relevant, and accessible justice system for all Canadians.
In her mandate letter, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has been asked to conduct a broad review of our criminal justice system. The Minister’s overarching goal is to ensure our legislation meets the highest standards of equity, fairness, and respect for the rule of law as well as the Constitution of Canada.
The crime of blasphemous libel, although included in the original Criminal Code of 1892, has not been the subject of a reported legal case since 1935. In 1979, a charge of blasphemous libel was laid in Ontario in a case involving the showing of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but the charge was stayed.
Blasphemous libel, along with numerous other provisions of the Criminal Code, are presently under review by the Minister and her officials. The Minister looks forward to addressing these provisions in the course of her mandate.
This is an encouraging situation. Canadian secular humanists, and indeed any Canadian concerned to reduce faith-based tension and victimization in Canada and around the world must encourage our Parliamentarians to finally repeal this bill. Whether the repeal is part of an omnibus bill or a dedicated legislative action – the blasphemy law must go!
Blasphemy laws are an attempt to protect faith-based concepts and ideas from criticism. But this approach underlies much of the tension, victimization and violence throughout the world. When rational discussion of ideas is considered a criminal act, the results often include alienation, isolation, frustration and a desire to strike back.
We must also remember that Canada’s position on human rights issues around the world is greatly respected. When Canada opposes blasphemy laws here in Canada and around the world, an important message of inclusion, stability and good governance is sent.
It seems that the Canadian government, on this issue, is open to taking steps to advance an open Canadian society. CFIC members are encouraged to educate their local Members of Parliament about the importance of this step. Consider using the CFIC website for further information regarding this bad law. Simply type “blasphemy, Canada” into your search engine!
CFIC began our strategies to oppose Canada’s blasphemous libel law in 2014! Change – even on an issue as self-evident as opposition to blasphemy laws is a long term commitment. Please support CFIC with a donation today. We are Canada’s leading secular humanist organization.
“Should women abandon religion?” Four female panelists face-off in a wild, whip-smart public debate about religion and misogyny. With opinions flying from a progressive Muslim lawyer, an Orthodox Jewish spiritual leader, an excommunicated nun and a lesbian atheist pundit, Unholy delivers a hilarious, no-holds-barred look at contemporary women in organized religion.
Join me at Unholy on Friday, February 2nd. I’ll be up on stage, not in the gripping conversation that is the responsibility of four awesome actors, but the one that will take place afterward, the one that will point to where we can go from here, as women, as citizens, as people who are tired of stories that tell us we aren’t good enough.
$20 rush tickets are available Tuesday-Thursday
$15 PWYC tickets are available for Sunday matinees.
We are currently fundraising to pay for a year’s worth of rent for our Kelowna Secular Sobriety Group — a peer support group based on the SMART Recovery program. It is an alternative to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step “higher power” program.