After three days of argumentation, our constitutional challenge wrapped up today. We challenged the constitutionality of our government’s capacity restrictions on churches here in Ontario. There have been various restrictions over the past two years that have drastically limited the amount of people allowed to participate in church services. On several occasions, these restrictions effectively banned corporate worship gatherings altogether. Not only do capacity restrictions unjustifiably violate our fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, more significantly they also violate Christ’s own requirement that churches gather together as the body of Christ for corporate worship! We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), for God is supreme over all, including Caesar. The preamble to the Charter itself even recognizes this important truth: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the SUPREMACY of God and the rule of law.”
The judge’s decision is forthcoming. It will likely take some time for her to render it given the sheer amount of material she needs to consider. We are trusting the Lord with whatever the outcome might be. Our hope is in Christ whether we win or lose. He has been so good to us over the past two years in so many ways. And we know that whatever the future holds, he will continue to build his church (Matthew 16:18) and use all things for our good (Romans 8:28). All glory to him.
One of the more powerful and touching moments in the proceedings over the past few days were the concluding remarks given by our lawyer from the JCCF, Rob Kittredge, at the end of our side’s initial oral arguments. He has given us permission to share his closing words below. I’d encourage you to read them.
I’m not a religious person. To me, this case is about overreach in general terms, what sort of country Canada wants to be going forward. Whether we want to throw democracy and our charter of rights out the window in the name of panic and political expediency. Whether we want to live in a country where worry and worst-case-scenario modelling is sufficient reason to abrogate every right that people have fought and died for over centuries. And whether our courts will be willing to do the work that people have entrusted them to do.
But for my clients, this is a very different matter. Ontario has gone to lengths to portray them as villains who shout and spit in their handkerchiefs as they willfully flout the law of the land. But in fact, they’re very nice people, who, at the outset of the pandemic, put in significant – and voluntary – efforts to mitigate risk of transmission at their religious gatherings.
The messages I’ve received from them over the past couple of days have been very appreciative of the work we have done on their behalf. But, frankly, they trust in their God far more than they trust in me, and they’re much more focused on judgement from a higher power than judgement from you or from this court.
I can’t pretend to understand that.
But it is informative. For them, right from the start, this has been about their obligation to their God. And Ontario has put them in a position where they had to choose between doing what Doug Ford told them to do, and what their God requires of them. While I’ve never been inclined to religious belief, I can certainly understand the bind that put them in.
On a “personal growth” note, it’s been interesting to me to see that while most of Canada has been quick to place panic over principle, and quietly accept encroachment on fundamental freedoms, here it is religious people who are standing for what they believe in, at great personal and financial cost. Their faith drives them and enables them to do that.
By standing up and taking these risks, they are doing a service to all Canadians.
I respect that.
But this case is not about anything my clients have done or have not done. It is about about the future of the Charter and the future of Canada.
I’ve had the opportunity to do some interesting stuff since being called to the bar, but this is by far the most important file I’ve ever touched.
Over the past two years, Ontario has told us not to leave our homes, not to see our families, not to run our businesses, and perhaps worst of all, our charter right to play “pickleball” – whatever that is – has been abrogated.
Canada has imposed discriminatory conditions on our constitutional mobility rights, has torn away at the fundamental right of Canadian citizens to freely leave and return to their own country, and is flirting with destroying the bodily autonomy rights of Canadians.
Clearly, somewhere amongst all that, there has been overreach. Equally clearly, the courts have work to do in the coming months and years identifying and remedying that overreach.
In our submission, that work begins here. It’s a big ask, for sure, but if we’re ever going to dismantle the structures of authoritarianism that have emerged over the past two years, that work has to start somewhere.
And with that, unless Your Honor has any questions, we yield the floor to Ontario.