OTTAWA (CCN)—Conservative MP Tom Kmiec has launched an e-petition to urge the Liberal government to keep legal sanctions against disrupting worship services or obstructing clergy.
“I think it’s wrong that the Liberals are pushing ahead with eliminating the only protection offered in the Criminal Code for religious services,” said Kmiec in an interview from his Calgary Shepard riding in Alberta.
Kmiec said many constituents he spoke to during a meet-and-greet in June shared his concerns about Bill C-51, an omnibus bill designed to repeal parts of the Criminal Code the government deems redundant or unconstitutional.
The Liberal government proposes to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code that makes it an indictable offence to use threats or force to obstruct clergy or ministers from celebrating services or conducting other activities related to their work.
Kmiec said there’s a big difference between going into a theatre or cinema to disrupt a show and “going into a Catholic Mass, yelling and hollering and interrupting the priest.”
There’s something sacred about religious worship, whatever the faith is.
“There’s something sacred about religious worship, whatever the faith is,” he said.
As for the more serious offences regarding threatening, obstructing and assaulting clergy, Kmiec noted the “difference between a brawl in a pub and someone entering into an evangelical church and assaulting the pastor while they’re giving a sermon from the pulpit.”
A spokesman for the Justice Minister said Bill C-51 aims to “modernize” the Criminal Code by “repealing obsolete or redundant offences.” The Criminal Code already covers causing a disturbance, assault, uttering threats and inciting hatred, he said.
Kmiec said removing the section means four separate charges need to be laid rather than one.
“It’s a lot easier for a prosecutor to move ahead with one charge rather than four,” he said. “What you could do one way, now you have to lay four different charges to attain the same goal.”
The MP has launched an e-petition that can be accessed through ourcommons.ca.
“The government is only beginning to hear from their constituents on this issue,” he said. “The government is sending the wrong message, in undervaluing the need for specific protection in law on religious services.”
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is also tracking Bill C-51.
“The EFC is particularly concerned that this change will reduce protection for worshippers and places of worship at a time when hate crimes against religious communities in Canada are on the rise,” said the EFC on its website.
The umbrella group representing evangelical churches and institutions said it will be consulting with interfaith partners before the bill comes before the House of Commons Justice Committee in the fall, raise concerns with the Justice Minister and committee members, and prepare resources to help Canadians respond to the bill.
Conservative MP David Anderson, the Opposition critic for religious freedom and human rights, is urging people to sign the petition, write their MPs and the Justice Minister.
“According to Statistics Canada, over a third of reported hate crimes in Canada were motivated by hatred of a religion,” said Anderson in a release. “Repealing Section 176 would remove valuable protection for faith leaders and assemblies. It would set a dangerous precedent for something so important to Canadians.”