International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among the religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 3,850,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 31 million.

There is no state or dominant religion; however, an estimated 82.1 percent of the population belong to Christian denominations, with Roman Catholics (45.2 percent) forming the largest single group. Other Catholic groups include Eastern Orthodox (1.4 percent) and Ukrainian Catholics (0.5 percent). Protestants constitute an estimated 36.4 percent of the population, consisting of the United Church (11.5 percent), Anglicans (8.1 percent), Presbyterians (2.4 percent), Lutherans (2.4 percent), Baptists (2.5 percent), Pentecostals

(1.6 percent), and other Protestant denominations (7.9 percent). Members of other religions include Jews (1.2 percent), Muslims (0.9 percent), Buddhists (0.6 percent), Hindus (0.6 percent), Sikhs (0.5 percent), groups such as Scientology, Kabalarianism, and Rastafarianism (0.1 percent), and other religions

(0.1 percent). Those professing no religion constitute an estimated 12.5 percent of the population.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Religious groups are not required to register with the Government.

The Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect the rights or privileges possessed by denominational schools at the time of national union in 1867. In practice this protection has meant that some provinces have funded and continue to fund Catholic school education, and some provinces (such as Quebec) have funded some Protestant education. In June 2000, the Quebec Provincial Assembly passed a bill that incorporated the recommendations of the 1999 government-mandated Proulx task force. The recommendations included abolishing Catholic and Protestant status for public schools and creating secular public schools within which religions would be studied from a cultural perspective. The legislation based school commissions and schools on linguistic rather than religious lines; required schools to provide either Catholic, Protestant, or moral education classes; and reduced teaching hours for such classes from 120 to 72 hours per 2-year cycle. The required changes had been implemented by the end of the period covered by this report. All public schools in Quebec are open to all and are not faith-based. In June 2001, the Ontario provincial parliament passed the Equity and Education Tax Credit Legislation that provided tax credits for private school tuition, including for all private religious schools. Previously, the province provided tax credits only for private Roman Catholic schools. Ontario's new provincial premier, who took office in March 2002, has adopted a policy of support for tax credits for all private schools that meet public educational standards. At the end of the period covered by this report, private schools were receiving tax credits. The provincial government reserves the right to refuse the tax credits to any schools that do not meet minimum public school standards.

There is no official government council for interfaith dialog, but the Government provides funding for individual ecumenical projects on a case-by-case basis.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, in May 2001, a Muslim chaplain filed suit in federal court against an Ontario provincial judge who had ejected him from the courtroom in 1993 for wearing a Muslim cap. The chaplain's initial complaints filed with the provincial and federal human rights commissions were dismissed because the law provides for immunity from human rights laws for judges. In November the federal district court dismissed the case, and in May 2002, the chaplain filed an appeal with the federal court of appeals. A hearing date is pending. In February 2002, the principal of a school in Quebec ordered a 12-year-old Sikh boy not to wear his kirpan (4-inch ceremonial dagger) to school. The child's parents complained, but the local school board supported the principal's ruling. The family filed a case in superior court, which issued a temporary injunction allowing the boy to wear the kirpan in school. On May 17, the two sides reached a compromise permitting the boy to wear the kirpan at school in a wooden sheath under his clothing.

In July 2001, approximately 100 members of the Christian fundamentalist Church of God (affiliated with the Mennonites) in Aylmer, Ontario, left the country after the Ontario Provincial Police removed 7 of the group's children from their parents on grounds that the parents were inflicting corporal punishment that constituted child abuse. Church practices advocated the use of belts and sticks in disciplining children. The children were returned to their parents after several weeks and many (but not all) of the families returned to Ontario. The children remained under close provincial supervision at the end of the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Imrovements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In September 2001, the Premier of Quebec issued a strongly worded statement announcing a policy of zero tolerance for all acts of religious intolerance and convened a multi-disciplinary working group of representatives from various ministries to encourage and promote intercultural relations and educational activities.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among the religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, tensions between Jewish and Islamic communities strongly increased during the period covered by this report as violence continued in the Middle East. Representatives of both communities made efforts to promote religious peace and tolerance but were unable to prevent growing strain between them.

The B'nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 286 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2001, an increase of 6 incidents compared with the previous year. Anti-Semitic incidents of harassment and vandalism increased significantly in the first half of 2002. For example, on May 19, a pipe bomb damaged the only Jewish synagogue in Quebec City; a 27-year-old man reported to be mentally unstable was detained. In the spring of 2002, one synagogue in Saskatchewan and one in Ontario were set on fire.

In the fall of 2001, anti-Muslim sentiment rose in communities across the country. Incidents included harassment and vandalism such as beatings, threats, property damage, and attempted firebombing of a mosque. The Government strongly and publicly criticized such sentiments and actions, and urged the population to refrain from prejudice against Muslims or other persons on the basis of their religious beliefs, ethnic heritage, or cultural differences. Police forces across the country actively investigated and discouraged anti-Muslim actions. In addition, in September 2001, a Hindu temple in Ontario was burned to the ground.

In January 2002, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Ernst Zundel contravened the Canadian Human Rights Act by creating a website that could allow hatred to flourish and whose tone and expression of messages were so malevolent in their depiction of Jews that they constituted hate messages. The Toronto Mayor's Committee on Community and Race Relations and a private party originally filed the complaints against Zundel in 1996. More than 50 days of hearings were held over 4 years, ending in February 2001.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

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