A new Canada The Churches comment
St. John, N.B. In November 1991, R.C. Bishop Edward Troy wrote premier Frank McKenna deploring the sudden and arbitrary decision to permit Sunday shopping on a temporary basis.
It opens the door to the exploitation of workers and the erosion of family values, he said.
In early December, Bishop Troy wrote an open letter to Dan Cameron, leader of the CoR (Confederation of Regions) party, deploring the anti-Acadian and anti-French sentiments expressed in a press conference where the leader of the opposition blamed New Brunswick’s Acadians for the province’s current economic woes.
In response to the bishop’s letter, Mr. Cameron expressed the view that the Bishop should restrict himself to the sacristy.
London, Ontario. In December 1991, RC Bishop John Sherlock issued a short pastoral letter on euthanasia, asking that active euthanasia be opposed “with all our force in order to maintain a Christian view of the sacredness of all life from conception to natural death.”
Euthanasia, he said, “may become a prime issue on the national agenda of what may well be a collapsing nation.”
“Our lives belong to God and not to ourselves,” the bishop stated. “Therefore, it is never lawful for anyone to take an innocent life.”
At the same time he reiterated the traditional Church view that “human life, extraordinary gift that it is, is not an absolute value” and, therefore, there is no obligation to undergo heroic medical measures. “One may not, however, deliberately take one’s own life…”
Human rights and environment
Ottawa. In the fall of 1991 the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) had requested legal status to challenge the way Canada assesses refugee claims.
On January 23, 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada denied the request.
On the same day, the CCC’s East Timor Alert Network in Vancouver called upon the federal government to condemn a series of “show trials” of survivors of the recent massacre by Indonesian authorities.
Indonesia has ruled the island of Timor, a former Portuguese colony, under a reign of terror since it invaded the island in 1976.
On January 28, the Canadian Council joined its American counter-part in Washington, D.C. in denouncing pollution and global warming through the emission of gases. “The United States is the main culprit,” the Councils say, while Canada has the “highest per-capita rate of any industrialized country” in gas emissions.
The Church leaders were denied a meeting with U.S. President George Bush.
Constitution and values
Ottawa, Ont. In December 1991, the Evangelical Fellowship Canada (EFC) made a presentation to the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada asking that Christian values be enshrined in the constitution.
The brief outlined ten values which should be reflected in the Canadian constitution, all of them of a general nature. They are rooted in Christianity but not partial to any denomination the group pointed out. They are: respect for proper authority, responsible citizenship, integrity as a national goal, caring internationalism, responsible stewardship of the environment, compassion and justice, importance of the family, balanced freedom, justice that does not penalize the victim more than the criminal, peace for all (including natives and distinct societies).
Toronto. In response to an article by Mr. Paul Marshall, “Let’s not make the Canada Clause into a Canadian creed” (Christian Week, December 3, 1991). Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) presented its own stand in an article by Tim Shouls (Christian Week, January 21, 1992).
Mr. Shouls agrees with Marshall that constitutions are legal documents, not confessional statements, and that it is not the task of the state to legislate morality but, rather, to ensure “that all ‘visions’ are treated equitably.”
Principles and rules for public justice, therefore, must be spelled out to ensure equal treatment.
CPJ argues that the Canada Clause’s articulation of principles must include a national commitment to
• Human dignity;
• Mutual responsibility;
• Economic equity;
• Fiscal fairness;
• Social justice;
• Environmental integrity.
Governments committed to these first priority guides may actually make a difference to the lives of the poor, natives, minorities and society as a whole, CPJ states.
Edmonton, Alberta. The RC Bishops of Alberta also mentioned the constitution in their 1991 Christmas message. The five bishops challenged Alberta Catholics to go beyond suspicion and half-heartedness and urged them to help build a united Canada with a place for “a distinct Quebec in Confederation.”
When on January 9, 1992, Alberta Premier Don Getty described bilingualism as “an irritant” and called for the end to bilingualism, the Oblate Missionaries (Grandin Province) declared it to be “a significant setback in the present constitutional debate.”
“Premier Getty’s intervention is very untimely, most disappointing and cannot but be construed as a serious breach of trust by francophones and minority groups throughout the land,” the Oblates said in a January 13 statement.
The Oblates (of Mary Immaculate, O.M.I.) were the early missionaries to the natives of Western Canada. Today they are divided into regional, unilingual “provinces.” The “Grandin group” of Oblates is French speaking, with headquarters in Edmonton.
Vancouver, B.C. On December 17, 1991, five British Columbia church leaders (Lutheran, Presbyterian, United, Anglican and Catholic) issued a joint statement on “the Canadian Constitutional Crisis,” after meeting with one another on November 26.
They noted the widespread frustration of Canadians on this issue, as well as their own lack of expertise. However, “we believe that people of faith have an important contribution to make to discussions about our future,” they stated.
The five leaders then called for
• an examination of Canada’s future in a global context based on biblical justice;
• a harmonious living together of various communities in Canada held together by mutual respect and affection (a distinct Quebec and self-governing aboriginal communities);
• a vision of Canada “as a society built upon foundations of love, compassion, mercy, freedom, mutuality and justice for all people(s) within the framework of a constitution that fairly protects all and discriminates against none.”
The authors based themselves on Mutual Responsibility: The Tie that Binds, issued in October 1991 by the “Ad Hoc Interfaith Working Group on Canada’s Future” (chairman: Anglican Archbishop Ted Scott).
It is available from the Jubilee Committee, 3821 Lister St., Burnaby, B.C., V5G 2B9, Telephone 433-6749.
Summoned to reconstitute a nation
Toronto. On New Year’s Day, the Ontario Catholic Bishops issued an 18-page pastoral letter, entitled For the Good of All, with suggestions of what should be done about the creation of a new constitution.
The Ontario bishops point to the existence of a “profound consensus” in Canada about the common good: “Canadians value social justice, community and human rights.”
The purpose of the pastoral letter is to explore and deepen this consensus.
The letter, therefore, discusses, in turn, social justice, community and human rights.
After explaining certain challenges to the common good (individualism, relativism and resistance to pluralism), the bishops conclude with the statement that, if a national vision is not totally clear to any of us, the desire for a good society is. This requires patience, tolerance, kindness and a reliance on God.
“Social justice is demanded by our fundamental respect for human dignity,” the letter points out. Our social rights may not be bargained away. On the contrary, they should be more clearly expressed in the Constitution. Consequently the bishops support the idea of a Charter of Social Rights and Responsibilities.
With respect to Canada as a community, the bishops recall the historical roots of the many communities which have gone into the Canadian mosaic. In the past they have been protected by means of provinces, regions and municipalities, native rights, language rights and denominational educational rights.
This should be maintained, they argue.
The letter also discusses separately three significant communities: the aboriginal people, the Franco-Ontario community and Quebec. The Bishops support self-government for natives, an idea expressed earlier in the 1987 Pastoral Statement by the leaders of the Christian churches on aboriginal rights and the Canadian Constitution entitled A New Covenant.
As in the case of the aboriginal peoples, the bishops recognize the linguistic duality of English and French as “a fundamental characteristic,” both “of Ontario and of Canada.” They request that this duality be recognized in the constitution and that Quebec be recognized in word and in practice as a distinct society.
While Canadians have committed themselves to a large array of human rights, much remains to be done, the letter states. Human rights are sometimes taken for granted, as in the case of refugees or immigrants. Human rights “are enfeebled when they are defined only as individual rights and ignore the social aspect and the need for mutual responsibility.”
Here the bishops state: “The right to life is protected but it is not defined to include life from conception to death.” They follow this up with the following, in bold face:
“As we have done so often in the past, we reaffirm that human life is sacred and the right to life from conception until natural death must be protected.”
Of all the public statements by church leaders so far, only the Ontario Bishops mention this most deadly attack upon human rights today and ask for legal and practical redress against it. For the Good of All can be obtained from OCCB, 67 Bond St., Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1X5. Tel: (416) 368-1804
Right to life
Toronto, Ont. The churches’ laity, too, have drawn attention to the anomaly of legalized, government-approved violence. On January 20, Campaign Life Coalition forwarded a two-paragraph “brief” to Ottawa noting parliament’s legalization of violence in its abortion legislation of May 14, 1969.
While this legislation is no longer in existence, Campaign Life Coalition renewed its demand that the new constitution correct this situation. The text is as follows:
“In our contemporary world the recognition of human rights is both a remarkable achievement and a goal which we are still seeking. Unfortunately, in our country the most basic of all human rights, the right to protection of human life, is not presented in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms nor in any other constitutional document.
“Consequently we insist that the clause ‘Right to Life From Conception Until Natural Death’ be included in all basic documents such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or in the proposed social charter.”