Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says Canada is under attack by populists bent on silencing views contrary to theirs, and calls on Parliament to resist the pressure and defend the country’s freedom of speech, association, and religion protected in the Charter before it’s too late.
“I have worked extensively on international human rights issues, but nowadays, I see many stories from Canada suggesting that we are a country in need of intervention,” Genuis said in the House of Commons Tuesday.
He cited a recent case of 16-year-old student Timothy Que at Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver, who was barred from forming a club that seeks to share the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“Timothy tried to start a Catholic club, a voluntary association of students who get together to discuss Catholic ideas,” he said. “But administrators forbade him from sharing Catholic teaching at the club, even with students who chose to attend the meetings.”
“This is a shameful violation of freedom of association, but it is one small drop in a growing sea,” he added.
The restrictions imposed by the school in December came shortly after B.C. Catholic, an online publication, reported on Que’s initiative on Nov. 15.
Que said he learned that members of the public had contacted the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to complain about the club.
“People were really mad,” said Que in an interview, reported B.C. Catholic on Dec. 2. “Someone on Twitter posted about it—negative stuff.”
On Nov. 17, former VSB chair Patti Bacchus posted a tweet in response to the Nov. 15 article, commenting, “I’m pretty sure this does not comply with the B.C. School Act or district policy.”
Section 76 of the B.C. School Act states that “schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles,” and that “no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school.”
During his speech in Parliament Tuesday, Genuis stressed how COVID-19 restrictions are applied differently between religious services and other organizations.
“Religious services have faced pandemic-related restrictions that have not been applied to casinos,” he said.
One example is in the Toronto reopening guide, which states that “there are no capacity restrictions” for casinos, though patrons are required to show their proof of vaccination.
Religious services, on the other hand, where there are social gatherings, are “limited to 25 or fewer people indoors or 100 or fewer people outdoors subject to some exceptions (e.g. meeting/event spaces).”
Genuis added that the federal government also “promised another ideological values test imposed on charities.”
During the election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran on a platform pledge to deny charitable status to anti-abortion organizations such as Crisis Pregnancy Centres that provide “dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”
Genuis says any charity that does not support abortion may be at risk of losing its charitable status with the proposed policy.
“Many good organizations and charities would not be able to survive without this status, and this could mean that your local homeless shelter, church, or health centre would face serious financial hardship,” he wrote in a petition posted on his website.
The Conservative MP also brought up the issue of churches being vandalized or burned down in Canada during the summer.
“Dozens of churches were destroyed or vandalized this summer with virtually no comment from political leaders. If these events were happening in another country, I know that Canada would not be silent,” he said.
“I hope more members of Parliament resist the populist pressure to clamp down on minority opinions and instead defend freedom of speech, association, and religion as they are protected in our charter.”