Freedom of Religion Threatened in Ontario Law

A new law in Ontario could create legal jeopardy for parents who do not support their child’s gender expression or sexual orientation.

Bill 89, the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act 2017, replaced the former Child and Family Services Act on June 1 by a vote of 63-23.

Bill 89 states that despite the changes in the law, “the paramount purpose of the Act—to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children—remains unchanged.” However, some Canadians would argue that Bill 89 no longer serves the best interests of children, and would violate parental rights.

“While the new Act includes the child’s race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” as classes to be protected, the former Act also included the “religious faith in which the child is being raised,” Bill 89 states.

Many fear a child could be removed from his or her home if the government determines that the parents’ religious beliefs are forced upon the child. Under the former law, parents had the right “to direct the child’s education and religious upbringing.” However, Bill 89 has no mention of religious direction, merely stating that parents can “direct the child’s or young person’s education and upbringing, in accordance with the child’s or young person’s creed, community identity and cultural identity.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said in a letter to the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services that they hope Bill 89 will be amended for clarification, so it will “not interfere with the freedom of religion, conscience and expression, and in particular, the right of parents to hold and to teach their children according to their conscientious or religious beliefs.”