Canadian religion is not going away

Reg Bibby

“What most of us thought was happening isn’t happening,” Canadian sociologist Reg Bibby says in his new book A New Day. “Religion is not going away.”

Bibby has been the foremost researcher into Canadian religious developments over the last four decades, particularly through his massive Project Canada surveys of adults and teens. His research has been systematically presented in 13 books, from The Emerging Generation in 1985 and Fragmented Gods in 1987 to Beyond the Gods & Back in 2011.

A New Day: The Resilience & Restructuring of Religion in Canada is a colourful, easy-to-read, 76-page summary of Bibby’s research. It is available free as an ebook or for $20 as a paper book. The free ebook, Bibby says, is an effort to make the heart of his findings and their implications “widely available” because “This is a critically important story that needs to be heard by everyone who cares about religion, and even some who don’t.” Bibby offers not just academic data but also crucial advice for Christians and others on how they can best respond to the current religious situation in Canada.


Because weekly church attendance in Canada had dropped from 60% of the population in the 1960s to 20% by 2000, it was widely assumed that organized religion in Canada was in “irreversible decline.” But research by Bibby and others has demonstrated that since the 1990s weekly attendance has remained at 20%, another 10% attend monthly and a further 30% attend church at least some of the time.

This interest in religion, Bibby says, is not superficial but rests on a solid and enduring foundation: “For most people, the experience of life – as well as death – leads to questions of meaning, purpose, and what happens when we die “ and “there is almost an innate restlessness for something beyond ourselves.”


This does not mean that everything is staying the same, however. While religion will continue, its form may change, and in fact is changing, very significantly.

Mainline Protestant denominations (such as the Anglican Church and United Church) are in rapid decline; Roman Catholics are holding steady at just over 40% of the Canadian population; and evangelicals have increased from about 8% to 11% of the population, with most of that growth coming in the 21st century. At the same time, other religions, particularly Islam, are also growing rapidly. At the other end of the scale, the proportion of people who say they have no religion has risen from less than 1% in 1961 to around 25% today. In other words, what is happening in Canada is not so much secularization as polarization.

Moreover, there are indications that the staying power of religion in Canada is not going to change soon because of what is happening elsewhere. Looking at the larger picture, Bibby points out that “religion is experiencing something of a global resurgence.” He cites global statistics that show Christians and Muslims are each growing by 70,000 adherents every day, while atheist numbers are growing by only about 1200.

This is significant because two-thirds of Canada’s population growth is due to immigration, and half of Canada’s immigrants are Christian, about 30% belong to other religions, and only 15% have no religion.


So, what are the implications for Christians?

The first thing, Bibby says, is for them to get rid of the pessimistic attitude that secularization is inevitable and the situation is hopeless.

As well, Bibby suggests, faith groups should explore working together with like-minded people to increase their impact. He is not just thinking of evangelicals working with evangelicals but of evangelicals working with Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, and even Christians working together with adherents of other religions.

Further, Biobby’s research shows that religion will remain but specific religious groups may not. Bibby argues that those which survive and prosper will be those that minister well, those that meet the needs of people. This means, first of all, ministering to those who are already members. It also means ministering to that 30% of the population who have some relationship with a church but attend only sporadically. Bibby’s research shows that that these people are unlikely to switch to another religion and many are open to returning to the religion they are affiliated with – but only if they find it worthwhile. As for reaching out even further, Bibby says it is much more unusual for people to switch from one religion to another or from no religion to embracing a religion. However, it is possible, especially when there is “a relational bridge,” a person to person connection.

A Call to Action

Bibby concludes his book with a call to action: “What transpires in Canada as far as the religion-no religion balance will depend largely on the collective performance of its religious groups.”

The research that Bibby has conducted and collected is so significant that it should be studied by the leaders (and many of the members) of every church and ministry in Canada – and the short, inexpensive, highly readable A New Day makes this very easy.

The free ebook is available online. The paper version of this book, as well as Bibby’s other books, are available for sale on The Project Canada website. As well, Bibby is inviting readers to get involved in ongoing online discussions of the research.

Evangelicals urge government to act on human reproduction

Chief Justice McLachlin

“We were known internationally for having the gold standard of reproductive technology laws,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). “Now what do we have? The brass standard? It’s deeply disappointing.”

On July 19, the EFC issued an open letter to the federal Ministers of Justice and Health noting the need to address the December 22, 2010 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down many critical provisions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act.

“The province of Quebec, supported by other provinces, disputed the legitimacy of the federal government to enact legislation criminalizing experimentation with human genetic materials and, as a necessary related matter regulating assisted human reproduction and related genetic research with a consistent national standard,” explains EFC General Legal Counsel, Don Hutchinson. “Quebec argued that such regulation was a health matter, and therefore provincial jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed, in part, in a legally interesting 4-4-1 split decision.”

“Areas of research that raise deep and significant ethical issues, including human embryonic research and the creation of animal-human hybrids, were to be regulated activities,” explains Hutchinson. “The decision resulting from the Court split has created confusion and a virtual open season now exists in regard to certain aspects of human-animal genome experimentation and embryo importing, exporting, research and destruction.”

“The Act was one of the most researched and consulted upon pieces of legislation in Canadian history, and it was considered a thorough, precedent-setting model for legislation the world over,” continues Sonier. “Nearly three decades of consultation, research, hearings and Parliamentary debate went into that law. In one fell swoop, the most essential aspects of the Act were struck down.”

“The Act provided for a strong, national standard across the country,” explains Sonier. “Lack of a national standard is precarious. Problems arising include the proper collection of patient data so that children born of new technological procedures can access information about their genetic and medical history and heritage.”

“As Chief Justice McLachlin noted in her reasons, there are ‘serious health risks’ that could arise from creating ‘human life in clandestine facilities.’ She explains, ‘it would cheapen human life to permit artificially created newborns to die simply because a facility was not equipped to meet their special needs.  These prohibitions speak to our fundamental notions of humanity.’”

After not seeing action following earlier communications, the EFC undertook the research to offer up what is needed. In its report, Recovering what was Lost: Recapturing the Integrity of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, the EFC recommends that the federal government closely examine the Chief Justice’s analysis of the law and the means by which the government can re-establish a national standard for what Chief Justice McLachlin referred to as “the pressing moral concerns raised by the techniques of assisted reproduction.”

“The EFC encourages Parliament to take the necessary action to legislate absolute prohibitions, where appropriate, in order to strengthen the Act; and then to again engage in national consultation with the provinces and territories to ensure a consistent national standard for treatment of the assisted reproduction of human life,” concludes Hutchinson.

More information on the EFC’s position on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act can be found here.


Canadian government appeals assisted suicide ruling

Pro-life groups are welcoming a July 13 announcement that the Canadian government will appeal a court ruling legalizing assisted suicide.

In making the announcement, Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, stated, “The Government is of the view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counselling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid … The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities.”

A number of pro-life groups had been urging the government to appeal the decision. For instance, on July 4, The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) called on Catholics to “enter into the public debate on end-of-life issues” and in particular to “contact their Members of Parliament to ask them to oppose any attempt to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.” The call comes in response to several developments, the most notable of them being the court ruling.

Court Ruling

On June 15, Justice Lynn Smith of the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

The case centres on Gloria Taylor, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2009 and wants help to commit suicide once she has become incapacitated. The case was also brought by The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association; by William Shoichet, a doctor from Victoria, B.C.; and by Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, whose mother and mother-in-law Kay Carter died by assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2009.

The case concerns Section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which says that “Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”

Smith ruled that the section violated Section 15 (Equality Rights) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Her reasoning was that since “the law does not prohibit suicide,” the law against assisted suicide discriminates against people who are physically unable to commit suicide.

As well, Smith ruled that Section 241 violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” In addition to restricting Taylor’s freedom to commit suicide, Smith said the law “may shorten her life … if she concludes that she needs to take her own life while she is still physically able to do so.” Smith further concluded that the law could take away the liberty of those who assist in a suicide by putting them in prison.


Smith’s 394-page ruling includes some background information which qualifies her statement that “the law does not prohibit suicide.” Under English common law, suicide was illegal until 1823, although prosecutions were rare; punishments consisted of confiscating the person’s estate and displaying the body publicly.  Smith noted in her ruling, “Given the practical difficulties of prosecuting a successful suicide, most prosecutions centred on attempted suicide.”

Attempted suicide remained illegal in Canada until 1972, when it was removed from the Criminal Code. The change does not appear to have been intended to give approval to suicide; the Minister of Justice at the time, Otto Lang, stated that there were better solutions to attempted suicide than putting the person in prison.

In a 2009 blog, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada stated, “There is no right to commit suicide that can be found in human rights or constitutional law. While many claim such a right does or should exist, it would fly in the face of the life affirming principles of section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which seeks to guarantee the protection of life, liberty and security of the person. What we have in Canada is a compassionate response to those who have attempted suicide by no criminalization of their efforts.”

In her ruling, Smith agreed that the Supreme Court has recognized that the intent of Parliament’s decision was not “that the autonomy interest of those who might wish to kill themselves is paramount to the state interest in protecting the lives of citizens; rather, it was to recognize that attempted suicide did not mandate a legal remedy.”

Smith has issued a “stay,” meaning that her ruling does not become effective for a year. This gives the Canadian government time to appeal the ruling or change the law. However, she granted an exception to Taylor, so she can seek assisted suicide immediately if she chooses.

In its July 13 announcement, the Canadian government announced that it is also objecting to this exception. It also stated that, “In April 2010, a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic.”

Since 1991, nine private member’s bills have been introduced in the House of Commons to make assisted suicide legal. The most recent, Bill C-384, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity), was defeated by a vote of 228 to 59 on April 21, 2010. However, Smith also considered “Dying with Dignity,” the March 2012 report of a Select Committee of the Assemblée Nationale of Québec, which recommended that assisted suicide be allowed in Quebec even if it is forbidden by the Canadian Criminal Code.

Pro-life Statements

Smith’s ruling has been denounced by a number of pro-life agencies.

In expressing his opposition to the ruling, Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the issue boils down to two options: “Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or through deliberating killing them by euthanasia? Or, instead, do we fashion a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?”

In a blog posted by the Christian think tank Cardus, Peter Stockland described Justice Smith’s decision as “morally horrifying, intellectually fraudulent, and politically destructive of Canadians as a self-governing people. Its transformation of our much vaunted public health care system into an instrument for delivering suicide should chill the blood of all who feel moral revulsion at the very thought of the State arranging and systematizing the deaths of citizens … Once we have taken the step from thinking of killing as unthinkable to considering it a normal part of medical routine, we have crossed the barrier from civilization to savagery.”

Cecilia Forsyth, national president of REAL Women of Canada, pointed out in a press release that Smith’s decision was not surprising since “She formerly held the position of President of the legal arm of the feminist organization, The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)” and has a history of opposing “the protection of the lives of vulnerable patients.”

Life Site News reported that in 1991, Smith was the lead attorney for LEAF on behalf of two midwives who were convicted in a lower court of “criminal negligence” for their part in the death of a baby that died during delivery. Smith successfully argued that a “foetus is not a person.” Life Site News commented that this is consistent with the feminist refrain “my body, my choice.”

The Sanctity of Life

Behind the legal question lies a philosophical issue: who ultimately has jurisdiction over a human being?

Smith noted in her ruling that in the past, “The common law considered suicide to be a form of homicide that offended against both God and the King’s interest in the life of his citizens.”

In his statement on behalf of the Canadian government, Nicholson recognized that the state has an interest in the lives of its citizens: “The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993).”

Nicholson was referring to a 1993 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which denied another British Columbia woman, Sue Rodriquez, the right to commit suicide. The Supreme Court ruled that the “security of the person” in section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had to be balanced with the “sanctity of life” inherent in the same section.

However, Smith also cited a Supreme Court decision regarding abortionist Henry Morgentaler in 1988. That decision stated that “security of the person” involves “personal autonomy involving, at the very least, control over one’s bodily integrity free from state interference.” That is, Smith applied to assisted suicide the “my body, my choice” philosophy that was earlier used to justify abortion.

This view of the absolute autonomy of the individual human being is quite different from the Christian view. Archbishop Richard Smith stated, “The Catholic position on this question is clear. Human life is a gift from God. Therefore, as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2280, ‘We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.’”

In a separate statement Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, J. Michael Miller, said the decision “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life.”

What seems at odds with this insistence on personal autonomy is the application that suicide be assisted by the state-run medical system.

Vulnerable Persons

The other issue raised by pro-life groups is the impact on vulnerable groups (the disabled and the elderly), who may face pressure to accept death. The pressure may come from relatives who may want freedom from the responsibility of caring for a family member or who may even want the vulnerable person’s financial assets. The pressure may also come from the medical community struggling with inadequate health care budgets.

Smith’s ruling addressed this issue at considerable length. She admitted that there is some risk and that “non-voluntary euthanasia continues in both the Netherlands and Belgium,” where physician-assisted suicide is legal. However, she concluded “that the risks inherent in permitting physician-assisted death can be identified and very substantially minimized through a carefully-designed system imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced.”

Pro-life groups argue that such safeguards do not work. Dr. Will Johnston, British Columbia chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, stated, “Most elder abuse is hidden from view – and if we can’t detect the abuse now, how are we going to do it when the stakes are raised? … I have seen how easily influenced older people can be, and how inadequate are our national strategies against suicide.”

An earlier statement by The Catholic Organization for Life and Family noted, “In countries that have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide — even where safeguards and restrictions have been put in place — human life has been further devalued to the point where particularly vulnerable individuals have been pressured to commit suicide in the name of cost efficiency. This danger is real and likely to increase as health care dollars shrink and demand for services swell.”

Archbishop Miller said in the statement issued on June 16, “We have been down this road many times around the world, and all the safeguards initially put in place wind up either disregarded or eventually dispensed with. The result is euthanasia harms not only those whose lives are taken, but those responsible for taking them.”

Push for Change

Joe Roberts, Skid Row CEO

Joe Roberts, also known as the “Skidrow CEO”, is planning to push a shopping cart across Canada in 2013. As a warm-up, he is pushing a cart from Calgary to Vancouver this summer. He left Calgary July 1 and expects to finish his trek in Vancouver on August 25.

The idea is for communities and individuals to help Roberts push the cart, generating funds and getting people involved in programs which help homeless youth and/or keep them from becoming homeless in the first place. After becoming a drug addict at a young age, Roberts spent seven years on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.

With the help of the Salvation Army, he got into rehab and went on to complete a business marketing program in Ontario. He made the dean’s list and graduated in 1995 with a 3.94 GPA. In 1997 he accepted the position of CEO at Mindware Designs Communications in Vancouver and managed to grow the company’s sales 800 per cent.

Roberts is now a successful businessman, motivational speaker, and author. He developed the idea for Push for Change along with his business partner Dr. Sean Richardson, a sport psychologist. The Salvation Army is partnering with Roberts by providing venues along the way where Roberts can share his story of transformation.

Pastor makes his rounds on the golf course

Jodi Reimerpastor John Burns of Relate Church in Surrey, B.C., and Ryan Schwarz golfed 100 straight holes (more than five and a half rounds) on June 18.

The marathon golf-a-thon took 11 hours and raised $200,000 for Mercy Ministries, which last year opened its first residential home in Canada for girls who face life-controlling issues, such as drug and alcohol addiction, depression, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse and self-harm. This is the third year for the golf-a-thon.

University gets connected

Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg has announced Connect, an $11 million capital expansion. Fundraising is already underway, and construction will begin in 2013. The project will feature a new Library and Learning Commons, including meeting rooms, computer enhancements, a bookstore and a café.

The project will also include a pedestrian bridge over Grant Avenue, connecting two parts of the university campus. CMU was formed by the merger of three Mennonite colleges in 2000 and currently has about 1700 students. A new Science Laboratory was completed in 2010, and donor funding of $6.5 to $7.5 million was announced in 2011 to establish the CMU Redekop School of Business.

Intact Families are different

Children raised in an intact biological family are more likely to do well on a range of issues, according to a study called “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?” The study was done by Mark Regnerus of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas. Regnerus screened over 15,000 Americans age 18-39, of whom 1.7% had a parent who had a same-sex relationship (175 were raised by a lesbian and 73 by a gay father).

The study showed that 12% of those with a lesbian mother and 24% of those with a gay father but only 5% of those raised by an intact biological family had recently contemplated suicide. As well, 28% of those with a lesbian mother, 20% of those with a gay father but only 8% of those raised by an intact biological family were unemployed. Those raised by their biological parents were also less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, watch TV or have a criminal record.

The study also showed that 23% of those with a lesbian mother, 6% of those with a gay father, 10% of those raised by a single parent, but only 2% of those raised in an intact biological family reported having been touched sexually by a parent or adult.  As well, 31% of those with a lesbian mother, 25% of those with a gay father, but only 8% of those raised by biological parents reported being forced to have sex against their will. In addition, 61% of those with a lesbian mother, 71% of those with a gay father and 90% of those raised by an intact biological family reported they were “entirely heterosexual.”

The full study, which will be published in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research, is available online. It has been commented on by Lifesite News and Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.


They are listening

Gai Ecoute a Quebec homosexual activist group, has launched what it calls “the world’s first registry of homophobic acts.” The group says that anyone who is a victim or witness of homophobic acts must report it to the registry. Reports can be made anonymously by phone, email or other means. The group defines homophobic acts as “any negative word or act toward a homosexual or homosexuality in general: physical abuse, verbal abuse, intimidation, harassment, offensive graffiti, abuse, injurious mockery, inappropriate media coverage and discrimination.” The registry was set up with funding from the Office of the Fight against Homophobia in Quebec’s Department of Justice, and Montreal Police Chief Johanne Paquin was present at the news conference announcing the registry.

A difficult choice

Many Christians in Egypt welcomed the June 14 court decision to dissolve Egypt’s parliament due to alleged election irregularities. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties had won 71 percent of the seats in the election, but Egyptians will now have to vote again. The ancient Coptic Church (which represents about 10 percent of the population) and the much smaller evangelical church fear they would face more restrictions and persecution under a Muslim government than they did under the secular, military-backed regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood signed an agreement with Egyptian evangelicals promising religious freedom and equality. However, Christianity Today questioned whether the Brotherhood could be trusted after it reneged on its promise not to field a candidate for the presidency. A winner has not been announced for the June 16-17 run-off presidential election between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and the military-backed Ahmed Shafiq, who had served as Mubarak’s Prime Minister. Some groups had boycotted the presidential election, calling the choice between political Islam and a secular police state “a choice between two wrongs.”



Moral standards not allowed

River of Pride, a homosexual activist group, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) have demanded that public funding be taken away from Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, because the school’s Statement of Moral Standards requires faculty and staff to have Christian faith and “to be sexually pure, reserving sexual intimacy for within a traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and refraining from the use of pornographic materials.” Since 1996, Crandall has received about $24 million in funding from all levels of government, which includes an annual grant of $150,000 from the city of Moncton. A 1983 act of the New Brunswick legislature gave the school, then called Atlantic Baptist College, the right to grant Bachelor’s degrees.