Religious Freedom in Canada: Individual vs. Community of Faith


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 was implemented in 1984, replacing the Bill of Rights of 1960. The Charter entrenched citizens’ rights within the Constitution. It has more power than a regular law due to its application to both federal and provincial laws and actions. Freedom of religion is one of the entrenched rights. Under Section 2 of the Charter, everyone has freedom of conscience and religion. Section 2(a) states that everyone is free to hold their own religious beliefs, meaning an individual has a right to practice one’s own religion. The question that is challenging is how does the Charter view freedom of religion? Is it viewed within a cultural view, which involves groups with individual members who live within the group, or is it viewed as an individual experience and an individual choice?

The Charter of 1982 caused the change from a cultural view of freedom of religion to a more individualistic view of religion. Some may argue that the Constitution does recognize the cultural aspect of freedom of religion, but in fact, religion is viewed as only an individual choice. Therefore, the court makes judgements based on an individual view of religion. According to the Charter, religion is an individual choice and a private matter of an individual, and not a community and cultural view.

Benjamin Berger.

According to law professor Benjamin Berger, today’s common view is that human rights are individual rights. The Charter addresses possible harms that may happen to an individual, such as unreasonable laws leading to imprisonment or affecting physical safety. It also protects individual rights. Therefore, since the Charter is focused on the rights of the individual, then cases that consider freedom of religion are decided based on individual freedom rather than a cultural understanding of freedom of religion.

In the Supreme Court case Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem 2004, religious beliefs are seen as “personal convictions.” It challenged the cultural and community aspects of religion. People of the Jewish faith who lived in a condo building in Montreal wanted to construct Sukkahs on their balconies. These are small dwellings where Jewish people live during the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Justice Lacobucci, in his ruling, wrote, “religion is about freely and deeply held personal convictions or beliefs connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to one’s self-definition and spiritual fulfillment.” This signals the court’s real change in view from the 1982 Charter.

According to Berger, religious experiences do not just have a basis on an individual and their own beliefs. Many faith groups have set doctrines that serve as guides for their members to follow. To judge a member of a faith community, separating him from these guidelines would be incorrect and unfair to the individual and community due to how crucial being a part of the group is to those involved. Hence, if the court only sees religion from an individual view, then it is flawed.

Richard Moon.

According to University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, religion does have an individual side, but it also has a cultural side. Further, religious freedom has cultural and member-based factors. Religion is not a choice like any other. The Charter does not always see the important meaning that religion has played in the culture of Canada. As such, the Charter often overlooks the cultural importance of religion in favour of individual rights. In reducing religion to personal choice, the courts often fail to see that members of a faith community act out of a belief in that faith community.

Canada is changing as a country due to the Charter of Rights. The state no longer recognizes religious groups in the same way: individual rights are seen as more important than religious freedoms by groups. As time goes on, this Charter is affecting religious groups more and more. At first, although the law was changed, many things stayed the same due to tradition. For example, the “Lord’s Day of Rest” continued to be practiced until individuals started challenging this tradition and were allowed to open their businesses on Sundays because, in accordance with the Charter, religious-cultural beliefs are not as important as individual rights. Religious groups have done, and are doing, a lot of good for Canadians. However, since the 1982 Charter, religious groups are only important in light of the individual’s right to belong to that group.

Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

Politicians Connecting with Voters in a New Way

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at The Royal St. John’s Regatta 2019.

There is a long history of politicians using new, innovative ways to connect with voters. One of the most powerful media technologies that changed politics forever is Television. During the first Kennedy-Nixon United States Presidential Debate in 1960, the televised debate helped push Kennedy over in public opinion.

It made appearance matter: not only could you listen to presidential candidates debate on the radio or see their pictures in newspapers, but you could also now watch them on TV. Those who listened to the debate on the radio called it a draw, but those who watched on TV felt that Kennedy won. This new form of media caused image projection to be important in securing votes. A more recent example of the importance of appearance in an election in Canada is when Justin Trudeau swept the country in 2015; his wavy hair, good looks, and connection with youth secured him many votes.

Justin Trudeau’s election is a prime example of social media changing the landscape of politics and a new way to build a politician’s brand. Trudeau took thousands of selfies, often in crowds of people, which were shared on social media and allowed voters to feel connected to him.

One of the most recent examples of the impact of social media on how people vote happened during the 2019 federal election. About a month before the election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) looked to social media for a campaign boost because they were strapped for cash. The NDP had to get creative to reach voters and focused their digital budget on targeted ads. The Leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, and his campaign team captured raw moments that went viral. Social media has become the new way that politicians reach people and connect with them.

From the beginning, the NDP had significantly less money than what the other two main parties had in their war chests. The NDP was also down in the polls, with some people even wondering if they would keep official party status after the election or maybe even come close to being wiped out completely.

At a campaign event, Rupi Kaur, a famous Canadian poet and Instagrammer, shared her story regarding feeling lonely in her youth, and the only person who did not write her off was Jagmeet Singh. Endorsements such as these are becoming more common in political campaigns; it is a modern approach that candidates have used to reach people and gain more support. Celebrities have millions of followers on social media, especially on Instagram.

Jagmeet Singh on TikTok.

The NDP’s most shared post was the video of Singh’s response to Trudeau’s blackface photos, with over one million views. It struck an emotional chord with the Canadian population, especially those who are directly affected by racism. The NDP’s most viewed post was a video Singh posted on the lip-syncing app, TikTok, of him singing along to the song “Choices” by E-40; this video got over two million views.

Connecting with voters on an emotional level is essential to secure their votes. Despite politicians’ best efforts, people will only vote for them if they feel a strong personal connection and have potent emotions regarding their consideration in voting.

When Singh and other party leaders post raw video footage and glimpses into their personal lives to social media platforms, it attempts to make the voters feel like they know the candidate. This strategy is vital as the Leaders cannot meet everyone in the country. Most people never meet them.

New media technology has indeed changed the way political campaigns are run. While the future of politics is quickly changing, it is exciting to see what innovative tactics campaign teams will use.

Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

The Right to Die should be extended to all Canadians

Photo by Pixabay on

Canadians should have the option to receive all forms of medical care, including assisted dying. In this case, the taboo nature of death could be overcome. As a society, we have become disconnected from the process of dying.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that, “the prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes upon the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.” People who live with terminal illness and unbearable pain should be allowed the right to die.

In June 2016, Canadian legislation (Bill C-14) established criteria and procedures for the provision of medical assistance in dying (MAID) under certain specified conditions. In doing so, Canada joined Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Colombia in allowing medical assistance in dying. Furthermore, in the United States, the District of Columbia along with six other states allow some forms of medical assistance in dying.

Over 4,000 Canadians have chosen medical assistance to end their lives since the practice became legal in Canada three years ago.

The right to die has changed over the years, as society’s views about death have changed. In the first half of the 20th century, many people died in their home where they were cared for by family members. Death was also a community event. After people died, they were often laid to rest in their homes. Loved ones prepared the body. As the deceased lay in rest, family, friends, and neighbours would visit to support one another and to pay their respects. In many communities, especially in rural areas, family members would build a wooden coffin, and at other times, a local cabinet maker would craft the box. After a period of visiting the body, it would be moved to a place of worship, depending on the family’s religious background. After the ceremony, the person would then be buried in a cemetery.

As death was a local experience that happened within a family’s home, family members and friends were very involved. This meant that death was a part of everyday life, not a mystery. As society became industrialized, concerns grew about public health, specifically about the spreading of disease. As a result, final care of family members was then moved to other places and death would happen elsewhere, such as in a hospital. In addition, the preparation of the dead body and the visitation was also removed from the home due to the increase of funeral parlours in towns and cities across Canada.

With these changes in Canadian culture and society, death and the dying process has become foreign and frightening for many people. Today, many avoid talking about death and treat it as a taboo topic.

In addition to this, many people now have a reluctance to face aging and death. Most would want to live forever or, at least, longer – however, death is inevitable. Many people today also value control over their own existence, and as such, want to live and die free from pain and in a way of their own choosing. By facing the reality of death, talking about it, and treating it as a natural part of our existence as human beings, we can develop and prepare for our own death and the death of those whom we love.

Many people use constitutional arguments to support medically-assisted dying, however, there are also three main arguments in opposition to physician-assisted dying. Firstly, religious opposition: many religions consider human life to be sacred. Secondly, the slippery-slope theory: physician-assisted dying for terminally ill people can lead us down a ‘slippery slope’ as it might be all too easily extended to those who are disabled, mentally ill, or ‘tired’ of life. Finally, there are medico-ethical arguments: the medical codes of ethics (for example, the Hippocratic Oath) which prohibit taking the life of a patient.

Dying in Canada and our ideas, beliefs, and expectations regarding the end of our lives, have evolved substantially and they continue to evolve today from a communal activity to an institutionalized practice removed from everyday life. Some would argue that the legalization of medical assistance in dying means that Canada has moved beyond denying death itself, and that we are now accepting and facing death. Others would argue that medical assistance in dying might simply be a way of avoiding being present for our own deaths. No matter what stance a person takes on medical assistance in dying, the more we talk about it, and the more supports we make for individuals and families involved with the dying process, the more we will create a culture where both living and dying are valued.

Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge: Where Canada Became a Nation or a Long-Held Myth

VIMY MEMORIAL – Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was first seen by many as a horrific event due to the thousands of soldiers killed, but at the same time, there was also a deep sense of pride for the contribution that Canada made. The day after the battle begun, The Vancouver Sun ran the headline, “Famous Ridge the Scene of Many Gory Battles Was Stormed and Carried by Warriors from Canada.” It was not long until it became seen as the driving force contributing to Canada coming into existence as an independent nation with its own identity. Many Canadians view the Battle of Vimy Ridge as being the turning point that led the allies to win The Great War.

Was Vimy Ridge a core element of Canada’s founding, or is all of what we were taught by the state and academics based on a myth? There have been several works written by historians on the Battle of Vimy Ridge with the patriotic glorification of war narratives, but only a few have published views that differ from the norm by looking at the Battle of Vimy Ridge through a critical lens. Most of us in Canada are aware of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, how the battle unfolded, and what led up to the battle of 1917. The Battle of Vimy Ridge has been taught in schools across the country for many years. What the high school courses do not do is provide an examination of how perceptions of the event have changed and for the most part, it is not challenged: students are not taught alternate ways of thinking and do not learn to critically analyze. There has been a considerable amount of historical discussion and debate in recent years around whether Canada became a nation at Vimy Ridge or if this narrative is a long-held myth.

Throughout history, we have mainly only ever known narratives by so-called “experts”: scholars, governments, elites, etc. Even in our society today, most of our media is heavily influenced by those who have wealth and power. Any ideas that are not in line with the capitalist ideology typically do not get published or produced.

According to J.L. Granatstein, there are several myths around Canada and Vimy Ridge including: only Canadians fought in the battle, Vimy Ridge won the war for the allies, and Canada became a nation at Vimy Ridge.

Canadians did prove themselves at Vimy Ridge, but it would not have been possible without the contribution from the British Army. This gets left out of the narrative about Vimy Ridge told in Canada. The key planners were all British officers, and the commander of the Canadian Corps was from the British Army. Three of the four divisions were led by Canadians but many of them were British immigrants to Canada.

The attack on Vimy Ridge was largely a diversion to keep German troops in Northern France so that the scheduled attack on Aisne River would succeed. All the other British offences on the Arras front resulted in high death tolls and minimum gains which made the Battle of Vimy Ridge stand out as being more successful than it actually was. However, it was still small on the large scale as most people outside of Canada are unaware of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and are only aware of the overall battle of Arras which Vimy Ridge was part of.

In 1914, Canada was a colony, and therefore, if Britain went to war, Canada had to as well. By 1917, Canada had an army of over 400,000 soldiers. The size of Canada’s army, along with the Battle of Vimy Ridge, caused Canadians to have tremendous amounts of pride, and that is what is needed to become an autonomous nation.

One important factor that is often left out is how mandatory enlistment drove wedges between different groups, according to Granatstein, “That issue [conscription] tore Canada apart, pitting French against English, labour against capital, farmers against city dwellers.” There were even riots against conscription in Montreal. While Vimy Ridge may have helped build Anglo-Canadian nationality, very few Francophones enlisted, and they did not think Britain’s imperialist war was of concern to them. It may have helped with strengthening a national identity for Quebec, but the war caused more division between Anglophones and Francophones than it did uniting the country.

According to Inglis (a masters student at Simon Fraser University) the perceived significant victory at Vimy Ridge, and the impact felt because of that, was the moment that the Canadian soldiers who were immigrants from Britain began to feel Canadian. As a result of the success at Vimy Ridge, Canada was given greater military independence, a stronger voice in the Imperial War Cabinet, and a seat at the Paris Peace Conference.

Inglis states that after Confederation, nationalism and imperialism were the two main ideas for the future of Canada. They were loyal to the British Empire, but many did not want to give away Canadian independence.

In the 1880s, Canada had economic problems and “felt the need to create a cohesive national heritage.” Canada’s first contribution to ‘Empire Building’ was in 1812 when they boosted the role of the militia. It gave Canadians the sense that the Empire was as much theirs as it was Britain’s. In the 1890s there was a renewed fear of the United States, which resulted in closer ties with Britain. Closer ties did not necessarily mean reduced autonomy, but instead being able to have Britain’s influence and power when needed.

“In fact, some proponents foresaw a Canada with a greater capacity for growth than Britain and thus and eventual leading role in the Empire.”

Canada’s participation in the Boer War, specifically the victory at Paardeberg, made Canada’s military significant in the Empire. Monuments were created and veterans met on February 27th to remember Paardeberg Day. This created national Canadian patriotism and pride. Historians state that the Boer War brought Canada closer to independence, and Canadian nationhood became recognized by the world. After the Boer War, there was a movement to strengthen the militia which resulted in a renewed pride in Canadian nationhood.

After the outbreak of war in 1914, Canadians started to recognize and celebrate how they were different from Britain. They thought that the debt Britain owed to Canada would give Canada a better status with more leverage after the war.

Luke Harris agrees that World War I contributed to developing a national consciousness but that the Battle of Vimy Ridge was not significant in Canada achieving legislative independence under the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Harris states that the “mythologized narrative obscures the true nature of an imperialist war that led to the death of millions while furthering the revival of a militaristic Canadian nationalism that lays the foundation for future wars.” The Battle of Vimy Ridge resulted in the death of 3,598 Canadian soldiers and 7,004 were wounded.

Many historians argue that the rights and freedoms Canadians have today were a result of Canada’s participation in the First World War. The idea that soldiers fought for the values of democracy, freedom, Christianity, and civilization and that the enemy was autocratic and lawless. Harris states this narrative ignores both the political and economic factors that caused the war and that the root of World War I was due to imperialism and capitalism. Countries wanted more profits beyond what was inside their own country. This resulted in them expanding around the world for new markets and control over resources.

Millions of poor working-class men were recruited to fight in the war to achieve imperialist expansion and capitalist goals according to Harris. The ruling class used propaganda to convince the lower classes that the war was motivated by noble goals such as making the world safe for democracy.

Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

Vimy Ridge Myth #1: Only Canadians fought in the defining battle