International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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. While there is no state or dominant religion, an estimated 74.6 percent of the population belongs to Christian denominations or claims Christianity as their religion. Roman Catholics (43 percent of the population) constitute the largest single religious denomination, followed by Protestant denominations (29 percent). United Church, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and Pentecostal are the largest Protestant denominations in Canada. Approximately 1.1 percent of the population is Jewish. According to a recent government census, the percentage of the population who are members of the Muslim faith has increased to 2 percent of the population, which is double the amount recorded in the last census 10 years ago. Other religious groups include Buddhists (approximately 1 percent of the population); Hindus (1 percent); and Sikhs (1 percent). The number of persons professing other religions, such as Scientology, Baha'i, Shinto, Taoism, aboriginal spirituality, and pagan religions, constitutes 0.2 percent of the population. The census also reflected that the percentage claiming no religious affiliation is 16 percent of the total population, an increase from 12 percent in the last census.

A 2002 poll on religious attitudes by the Pew Research Center indicated that approximately 21 percent of the population attend church on a weekly basis, and 30 percent said that religion is very important to them.

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 recent years, the Quebec provincial government took steps to abolish Catholic and Protestant status for public schools; public schools in Quebec are no longer faith-based and are open to all. The Ontario provincial government, which previously had allowed tax credits only for tuition paid to Roman Catholic private schools, began allowing tax credits for tuition paid to all private schools, provided such schools satisfy certain educational standards.

The Government has designated some religious holidays as national holidays, specifically, Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday. These holidays do not negatively impact any religious groups.

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. In April, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear cases brought by groups in Quebec who claim that their right to freedom of religion has been restricted unduly by condominium contracts and municipal bylaws. In one case, a condominium association in Montreal barred a group of Orthodox Jewish families from constructing temporary huts on their balconies to celebrate the fall festival of Sukkot. In the second case, a local municipality refused to rezone land upon which a group of Jehovah's Witnesses wished to build a church hall because the land would then be exempt from property taxes. Decisions in these cases are expected sometime in 2003.

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.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among the religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, tension continued between the Jewish and Islamic communities in Canada. The number of anti-Semitic incidents increased during the reporting period, and there have been expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment as well.

The B'nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 459 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2002, an increase of 173 incidents from 2001. Incidents included general harassment of Jews (282 or 62 percent of the reported incidents), vandalism of property (148 or 32 percent), and violence (29 or 6 percent). On September 9, 2002, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Montreal assaulted a number of Jews during a riot on the campus of Concordia University where former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to give a speech. Additionally, authorities accused a young skinhead of the July 2002 murder of an orthodox Jew in Toronto.

Expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment continued during the reporting period, according to the Canadian chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN). In a survey released in September 2002, 60 percent of Canadian Muslims said they had experienced bias or discrimination after September 2001. The threat of war in Iraq evoked some anti-Muslim sentiments; however, it also resulted in some expressions of compassion and support toward Muslims. Muslims experienced verbal abuse, religious or ethnic profiling, and discrimination in the workplace. According to CAIR-CAN, some Muslims believe the Government has been indifferent to anti-Muslim attitudes and discrimination.

In November 2002, the vandalism of a Raelian information center in Quebec, known as "UFO Land," resulted in more than $60,000 (81,942.47 CAD) in damages. The Raelian Church of Canada, an officially recognized religion in Quebec, had targeted Quebec high schools as part of its ongoing campaign to persuade Roman Catholics to renounce their faith.

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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