Hon. Michael Coteau
Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services
cc. Ontario MPPs on the Standing Committee on Justice Policy
We are gravely concerned about the approach of Bill 89, Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017, concerning issues of religious faith and freedom. As the Committee on Justice Policy concludes its review of Bill 89 and conducts its clause-by-clause consideration, we urge you to give serious thought to the following considerations.
Bill 89 replaces the consideration of “religious faith, if any, in which the child is being raised” with the list of protected grounds of discrimination listed in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The religious faith the child has been raised in should continue to be a consideration, especially when placing a young child.
The protected grounds of discrimination from the Human Rights Code are included in Bill 89 without the statutory context in the Human Rights Code which includes protections for freedom of conscience and religion. The Human Rights Code applies to the provision of goods and services to the public and already applies to children’s aid societies and adoption agencies. The Code was never intended to apply to entities like families, and personal and familial relationships have never been captured by it. Bill 89 would extend these protected grounds from the Code to parents and caregivers, but without the Code’s protection of conscience and religion.
It is crucial to include protection for freedom of religion and conscience in Bill 89, in the preamble and in the purposes of the act. This could take the form of simple amendments. The Preamble could be amended to read “The Government of Ontario is committed to the following principles: freedom of religion and conscience for all in Ontario.” A statement could be added to the purposes of Bill 89, in section 1, clarifying that this act does not interfere with the freedom of religion, conscience and expression, and in particular, the right of parents to hold and to teach their children according to their conscientious or religious beliefs.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is the national association of evangelical Christians, with affiliates including 42 denominations, 65 ministry organizations, and 38 post-secondary educational institutions. It is estimated that there are at least 3500 congregations in Ontario that belong to our affiliate denominations. Established in 1964, the EFC provides a national forum for Canada’s four million Evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society.
Adoption is a key concept in our faith. The EFC supports and encourages those involved in parenting and in the adoption and fostering of children, as an outworking of our belief the inherent worth of each person. We also believe that religious freedom is critical.
Freedom of religion and conscience are the first fundamental freedoms in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the Ontario Human Rights Commission stated in its Human rights and creed research and consultation report, “Canadian law has long recognized a degree of religious pluralism and religious freedom in Canada, and the compromises this inevitably requires.”
We urge you to amend Bill 89 to include protections for freedom of religion and conscience.
Director, Public Policy
Author: Julia Beazley