Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day

Third reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day

Third reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day

Third reading of Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day


Published on 15 December 2014
Hansard and Statements by Senator Serge Joyal

Hon. Serge Joyal:

Honourable senators, I know it’s getting late, but I committed and pledged to Senator Fortin-Duplessis and Senator Martin that I would speak today. Of course, I want to honour that commitment.

Honourable senators, this bill at first sight seems to be very simple and innocuous, but once I started reading it and reflecting upon it, I came to the conclusion that I could not support it on three counts.

I say that with the greatest of respect for the sponsor of the bill, Senator Fortin-Duplessis, and all the other senators who have spoken in support of the bill, and I certainly respect their principles and the commitment they made to have the bill passed. But, in my humble opinion, I came to the conclusion that, for the three following specific reasons, this bill should not be adopted.

The first is that this bill blurs the principle of separation of church and state, which is a fundamental tenet of the Canadian Constitution, a very serious element.

The second is that this bill legally privileges one religion over the others. That is also a very important point because it challenges section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the freedom of religion.

Finally and not the least important, this bill gives legislative recognition to a system of thought and religious principles that often opposes some of the core fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter and precepts that conflict, at times, with the implementation of the rule of law and the very protection of the lives of citizens.

On those three fundamental elements, honourable senators, I can’t support that bill, but I would be remiss to create the impression that I am anti-clerical or that I don’t recognize the value of Roman Catholic churches in Canada and, singularly, in my province.

Not that I want to defend myself against such an accusation. I will not profess my fundamental personal belief. I will just remind you what I did in the last 45 years of my life to support elements of the history of the Roman Catholic Church that is public. Some of you, especially those who happen to have lived in Quebec or know the history of Quebec, will recognize yourselves in some of the points that I want to remind honourable senators of and that are public knowledge.

In 1971, I intervened to prevent the demolition of the Church of St-Paul-de-Joliette, which Senator Bellemare knows, because the provincial ministry of public works wanted to demolish the cemetery to widen the public road. Of course, that would have affected the survival of the church.

In 1976, I intervened to prevent the demolition of the church Notre-Dame-des-Anges in Montreal, on the site of Place Guy- Favreau, because that church was originally one of the first Protestant churches of Montreal. Because we succeeded in preventing the demolition of the church, it now houses the Chinese community church in the heart of downtown Montreal.

I intervened personally to prevent the demolition of the Grey Nuns’ monastery in downtown Montreal, and I intervened, less than three years ago, to prevent the demolition of Église Saints- Noms-de-Jésus-et-de-Marie in the East End Montreal riding of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve.

It’s public knowledge — and I say this with the greatest humility — that I’m one of the most important Canadian collectors of religious art. I have given to many Canadian museums hundreds and hundreds of works of art of religious origin, be they silver vessels, gilded silver vessels, paintings, sculptures and the like. For any of you coming to visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or the Canadian Centre for Architecture or Musée de la Civilization in Quebec City, it’s for you to go to visit and see.

I have given many lectures and published many articles trying to understand the history of the Roman Catholic Church in my province and in Canada. So I’m certainly not opposed to religion, and I have committed public intervention in support of maintaining what I call the importance of churches in any society.

But, on the basis of this bill, the way it is drafted and the way that the intention of the bill is spelled out in the preamble, honourable senators, I think that we should, as the Leader of the Opposition said earlier on, and as you, Your Honour, have said, reminding us of the words of John A. Macdonald, bring sober second thought to that bill.

Why? Because, as I say, this bill blurs and muddles the principle of the separation of church and state. Read the title of the bill, and it is easy to understand that the bill is to establish a day for Pope John Paul II, a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Honourable senators, this is not a motion to congratulate a Nobel Prize winner or a motion to welcome the Dalai Lama to visit Canada. This is a statute of the two houses of Parliament to put in the statute book of Canada forever that there should be a day in Canada to perpetuate and to honour a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because the Pope is the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the religious leader, and he is, at the same time, a head of state, a state called Vatican City, that has ambassadors around the world, as we have one in Ottawa. He has all of the privileges of a head of state, elected by 122 to 135 cardinals speaking on behalf of 1.2 billion Catholics. So this is not nothing. When you put in the statute book that there will be a day forever in Canada to perpetuate the honour to be given on a specific day for all Canadians, you blur the principle of separation between the church and the state.

It is so important in our Constitution that, honourable senators, when the Queen subscribes her first oath of office — she subscribes three oaths of office — she pledges the following. Archbishop:

Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of United Kingdom of Great Britain . . . Canada, Australia . . . according to their respective laws and customs?

“According to their respective laws and customs of Canada.”

Honourable senators, think twice. When the Queen was sworn in as the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, she was sworn in as a defender of the faith because she is the head of the Church of England. But when she wears the Crown of Canada, when she is the Queen of Canada, she has no such title because in our Constitution, as the oath states, according to the respective laws and customs, we don’t have an established church. This is a fundamental element of our constitutional structure. It doesn’t prevent the Queen of Canada, visiting Canada, from attending a service of the Anglican church of her choice. As a matter of fact, everyone will welcome the Queen in any Anglican church in Canada. When she wears the crown of Canada, as a person, she can go into any Anglican church and pay her respects. But when she wears the crown of Canada, she has no religious commitments. This is fundamental, honourable senators.

When the Fathers of Confederation were debating amongst themselves in terms of how to recognize minority rights in relation to religion, section 93 of the Constitution and section 29 of the Charter, the education rights for Protestants and Catholics, they did so to protect minority rights, not to recognize the structure of government being committed to one church or the other.

So it is very important that when we legislate, we question ourselves on the impact that this bill will have on that fundamental tenet of the Canadian structure.

The second point that I think is of equal fundamental importance is the fact that this bill legally privileges one religion over the other. This is very dangerous because it runs counter to the intention behind section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Freedom of religion. Everyone in Canada is entitled to freedom of religion, which means that all religions are on an equal footing. You choose whichever religion you want to follow. You may choose no religion. It is equally protected under the Charter.

What we’re doing here is undermining in our legal system the objective of that very freedom by recognizing in our statute books that for all Canadians, on April 2 of each year, you will be reminded about something very specific. What will you be reminded of? You will find it in the intention of the bill. Where is the intention of the bill? It is enshrined in the preamble. You will be reminded to honour, on April 2, a leading figure in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. That is the second preamble.

Secondly, you will be encouraged to live out the teachings of Christ. Which teaching of Christ? The teachings of Christ interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because the Pope, according to the doctrine, is infallible. When he pronounces on the teachings of Christ, he can’t make any mistakes, a principle that is not recognized by most other Christian faiths, be it

Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Lutheran or Orthodox. All the other religions of the Christian faith don’t recognize the principle of the infallibility of the Pope interpreting the teachings of Christ. That is the intention of the bill, honourable senators. Read it. It’s the third preamble.

When we ask ourselves what we are doing with this bill, what is the precedent we enshrine in this bill? There is no question that we take a stand on the recognition of one religion over the others. That’s the perception created, one rooted in the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that there is one religion that has, to a point, a higher level of truth than the others in the Christian faith because it’s the oldest one and all the other ones are dangerous. You know very well that according to a principle of the Roman Catholic Church, you are barred from marrying a Protestant. Why? Because if you marry a Protestant, you run the risk of endangering your faith, and you have to commit that you will educate your child or children under the Roman Catholic faith.

There is something innocuous in this bill, honourable senators, which I personally cannot support because I think it is a disservice to the Roman Catholic Church to instill in Canada the perception that one religion is of a different, better level than the others. It’s not stated like that, but when you read it and question yourself on the impact of this bill, that’s what, in fact, is put into the minds of people.

But the third most important element in relation to this bill, honourable senators, is that it gives legislative recognition to a system of thought and religious precepts that often opposes some of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter. To me, honourable senators, this has another very serious impact.

Think of the equality of men and women. Is there an element present in Canada, all through the land, not more in the public mind these days — and forever will reach parity — than the equality of men and women? In the history of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II, honourable senators, this has no bearing. I don’t want to be too negative in relation to that, but the doctrine of the church is simple: Women should defer to men as church defers to God. Hence, women in the Roman Catholic Church are not able to have any responsibility to the altar, no ordinance and no capacity to manage at the upper level. It is a man’s world. And there is the undercurrent, when you read the teachings, that sin entered the world through women.

Today, of course, in a lay society such as ours, if you vindicate the teachings of Christ as they are interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church, you run into conflict with that principle. As I said, each day we are concerned with the recognition of that principle.

The other principle of the Charter that you know as well as I do — we debated this in the chamber some years ago — is section 15. We are equal under the law, and we have the same benefit of the law. Hence, we have civil marriage. Hence, homosexuality is not a mental disorder.

Well, under Pope John Paul II, according to an amendment of the catechism in 1986, homosexuality is an objective disorder. If you are homosexual, you are a lesser person because you are objectively disordered.

You all know that we opened the doors of the public service to gays. Governments have gays; police have gays; armies have gays; institutions have gays; and fortunately in Canada we can live gay with pride and freedom, and we can marry. But in the church, this runs counter to the very principle that marriage is essentially the union of a man and woman for the purpose of procreation. You can’t separate procreation from marriage. Hence, a gay marriage is not a marriage because it cannot procreate. Hence, assisted procreation, which we adopted and voted for here 10 years ago, is barred from the church. Hence, the use of condoms by a married couple, a man and woman, cannot be used because you prevent procreation. This is the present doctrine of the church, validated by Pope John Paul II.

Hence, euthanasia. We have a bill here promoted by Senator Nancy Ruth, supported by Senator Larry Campbell, on physician-assisted death. Well, in the Roman Catholic doctrine, you should suffer your death as Christ suffered on the cross. This is a precept. Well, that precept runs counter to legislation we will be debating sometime in the next months.

Honourable senators, I have other elements I wanted to bring to your attention, but considering those arguments, I will move the following amendment.

Motion in Amendment

Hon. Serge Joyal: Therefore, honourable senators, I move that:

Bill C-266 be not now read a third time but that it be read a third time this day six months hence.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!