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Bill C-51 (2017): Laws on disrupting worship

Theme:

The Justice Committee voted on Nov. 8, 2017, to amend Bill C-51 to retain the specific Criminal Code protection for religious services and officials. The EFC had formally asked for just such a change, and is encouraged that the concerns of religious groups were heard. The bill will now return to the House of Commons for a final vote, and then progress to the Senate to be debated and voted on.

An initial draft of the bill proposed to remove the section that spells out these legal protections.

About Bill C-51

The EFC is concerned over clause 14 in an earlier draft of Bill C-51. Other parts of Bill C-51 would clarify the meaning of consent to sexual activity and update the Criminal Code by removing outdated, redundant or unconstitutional criminal laws. But clause 14 would have removed the offences of interfering with religious leaders and disturbing religious worship meetings, as specified in Section 176 of the Criminal Code:

176 (1) Every one who
(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or
(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)
     (i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or
     (ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process,
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Disturbing religious worship or certain meetings

(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. 

This provision protects the ability of clergy to lead – and individuals to participate in – religious services or gatherings without interference or disruption. Removing this section, as Bill C-51 originally proposed, would reduce protection for worshippers and places of worship at a time when hate crimes against religious communities in Canada are on the rise.