It has become a scary time to be a Christian professional in Canada.
In 2014, lawyers and doctors were targeted by their own professional associations for direct attack because of their religious beliefs.
For Christian lawyers, the first salvo was fired at Trinity Western University’s law school. TWU, which exists to “develop godly Christian leaders” in a variety of marketplaces, requires its students and staff to sign a Community Covenant. This pledge, based on religious beliefs, to abstain from certain activities and behaviours during their time at TWU, includes the use of alcohol on campus, viewing pornography, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
For some, TWU’s biblically based principle of marriage is abhorrent. As a result, a concerted effort to block TWU’s law school was engaged by lawyers’ professional associations deciding to disapprove of its graduates. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, the (Ontario) Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of British Columbia each decided to refuse admission to TWU graduates to the practice of law because of TWU’s adherence to the biblical view of marriage. To do so, these law societies chose to disregard the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision, which ruled that a professional body could not refuse to accredit students from a TWU program because of TWU’s Community Covenant. This implies Christian lawyers are no longer welcome in the law profession. TWU is just the first step.
I did not attend TWU, but I share its biblical view of marriage. I have appeared before the Superior Court of Ontario, the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, the Tax Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada for a variety of clients. Do my religious beliefs, particularly about marriage, somehow disqualify me from ably practicing law? That is the inevitable conclusion and consequence if we endorse barring TWU law graduates from practicing law.
With the TWU battle raging, another overt campaign to drive out or silence Christians in the legal community was commenced. The Legal Leaders for Diversity (LLD) and is made up of the heads of the legal departments from more than 70 major corporations. The campaign involves its own form of community covenant by these 70+ corporations (including BMO, Ford, The Globe and Mail and the Edmonton Oilers) to restrict hiring of law firms for their legal work to those who have a commitment to “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” The LLD’s definition of these words requires approval of same-sex marriage and excludes Christians or others who might have a different opinion.
The LLD publicly opposed TWU’s proposed law school on the basis that TWU’s Community Covenant is not “inclusive.”
This direct attack on Christian lawyers is meant to create a chilling effect in the legal profession. Lawyers who work for law firms seeking to do business with these corporations will hesitate, and perhaps even be barred from voicing their religious and moral beliefs, or for acting for religious clients in human rights cases dealing with these issues. It’s a scary time to be a Christian lawyer in Canada.
For Christian physicians, the most recent attack was triggered by a series of media stories about doctors in an Ottawa clinic who do not prescribe contraceptives because of their religious beliefs.
In the wake of this coverage, the College of Physicians and Surgeon’s of Ontario (CPSO) decided to revise its policy which sets out physicians’ obligations and expectations vis-à-vis the Ontario Human Rights Code. Despite several submissions from various lawyers and organizations—including myself on behalf of two groups of Christian physicians—that set out the legal basis for which the CPSO was required to protect the religious and conscience rights of physicians, the CPSO has released a draft policy which specifically requires physicians to provide referrals for procedures, treatments, or pharmaceuticals they object to on religious or moral grounds.
For some, such referrals are as morally problematic as doing the procedure itself. If a physician has the moral or religious conviction that abortion or euthanasia is the taking of an innocent human life, then the physician who formally refers a patient to the abortionist or euthanist has contributed to the taking of that life and, therefore, the doing of harm.
If the CPSO policy is finalized as currently worded, Christian physicians are no longer welcome in the medical profession unless they are willing to compromise their religious and moral beliefs. Dr. Marc Gabel, who chairs the group which produced the draft policy, has publicly stated that physicians who refuse to refer for procedures or pharmaceuticals they object to should leave family medicine. It’s a scary time to be a Christian doctor in Canada.
Where do we go from here? As a litigator, my immediate reaction is to take these battles to court. While the law societies and the CPSO may disregard Supreme Court jurisprudence, I hope that the courts will follow it. All Canadians, lawyers and doctors included, have constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and religion.
Beyond this faith in our legal system, my instinct to fight these battles in court is founded in an awareness that for some time, many in the Christian community have been passive and unwilling to stand up for our constitutional rights. That passivity has contributed to the current state of affairs. TWU has not been passive. Physicians have also fought back. It’s time that Christians stand with other Canadians in securing our constitutional rights.
By defending ourselves when attacked, we accomplish three goals. Taking these issues to court and fighting these battles will ensure protection of our rights. Sending the message that we will no longer be bullied or intimidated will reduce the attacks. And we will be better positioned to fulfill our spiritual obligation to remain faithful to God’s Word.
You may not be a lawyer or a physician, but if you are a person of faith or conscience, then you have a stake in this fight. It’s a scary time to be a Christian professional in Canada, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Albertos Polizogopoulos is a Partner with the firm Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. in Ottawa, Ontario. He regularly appears before courts and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of Canada to advocate for his clients’ rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and other civil liberties. He also frequently appears in media interviews and on panels to discuss constitutional law. Follow him on Twitter at: @CharterLaw