You might recall “Bob,” the Calgary Police Service (CPS) sergeant who has had his complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission officially recognized (see the June and August Critical Links). While we wait for his case to be heard, CFIC learned from Global News that “On Oct. 19, members of the [Calgary Police Service] honour guard escorted keynote speaker Nigel Hannaford to his seat at the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast, as part of the opening ceremonies.”
There are several things problematic about this decision by CPS. Last month was the 55th year of the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast (CLPB). There has been no demonstrated safety or security need for a police presence at any previous event. The purpose of the CPS Honour Guard is to represent the service. Some events — such as the Stampede parade and Remembrance Day — always have an Honour Guard. Other events are at the discretion of the Honour Guard Executive and the Chief.
CPS leadership’s implicit endorsement of an organization that “affirms our faith in God through prayer, testimony, scripture reading, and fellowship” lends credence to Bob’s claim that the CPS favours Christianity over other faiths. The police service must remain neutral in such matters of religion, as the Supreme Court ruled in the Saguenay case in 2015 and affirmed in the Trinity Western University decision in 2018 (read my analysis of the TWU ruling here). CLPB has every right to endorse Biblical teachings and exhort government to follow Christian precepts. CPS providing an Honour Guard to the CLPB, however, is a violation of state neutrality and should not recur.
The content of this year’s keynote address, by Nigel Hannaford, addresses issues that make many CPS officers uncomfortable. Hannaford rails against many Canadian laws. He describes medical assistance in dying as “doctors killing people,” in violation of the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” He pities the “Christian doctors [who] find themselves up against the government” about abortion. He even takes aim at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, lamenting that “The Bible-based morality that you grew up with, that once informed Canadian law, was quietly but explicitly rejected in 1982 [when the Charter was adopted].” CPS officers are sworn to uphold the law. Why would they endorse someone who is asking his audience to reject it?
He claims that there is “No proof that Christians murdered indigenous children” in residential schools. While there is much to be learned about the extent of abuse, there are thousands of documented deaths at residential schools (see the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). And while he does call for “these sites to be examined,” referring to unmarked graves, notably absent was a call for the release of records from the Catholic Church, which continues to refuse to allow access to its voluminous documentation relating to Canada’s residential schools. First Nations members of the Calgary Police Service (among others) doubtless would not approve of Hannaford’s remarks.
Hannaford calls for Canada to become (or return to) a theocracy. He says, “Once, Canada’s laws reflected a Biblical understanding of truth. […] Then Canada adopted the Charter. Their [nine Supreme Court justices] job now is to interpret the law with the Canadian consensus, not the Bible.” Later, Hannaford regrets that “We are now finding that Canadian law is often, and increasingly, at variance with our Bible-based worldview.” Again, while individual Calgary officers are welcome to attend such an address as private citizens on their own time, why did the CPS endorse the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast, and by extension its keynote speaker’s call for Bible-based law in Canada?
The decision to provide an honour guard to Nigel Hannaford at the Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast shows tremendous disrespect to the diverse community CPS is tasked with protecting, as well as its own members. Bob’s human rights complaint against CPS continues to wind its way through the system. If you know an Alberta lawyer with human rights experience, please contact Leslie Rosenblood, CFIC Secular Chair, here.