On June 6, 2017, the federal government introduced Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. This bill seeks to “ensure that Canada’s criminal justice system protects Canadians, upholds offenders to account, shows compassion to victims, and upholds the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Part of this was said to be achieved by removing obsolete or duplicate offences.
Apparently, one such provision is s.176 of the Criminal Code. This section is bifurcated – subsection (1) criminalizes the obstruction or violence against clergymen in the course of their duties and subsection (2) criminalizes the willful disturbance or interpretation of a service, thereby extending protection to participating worshippers. The alleged redundancy of s.176 is debatable – although violent forms of “obstruction” or “willful disturbance” would be covered by assault provisions in the Code, s.176 also protected clergymen and worshippers from non-violent forms of disturbance. Hence, if Bill C-51 passes and s.176 is repealed, there may be a noticeable effect on Canadian places of worship. Christian Legal Fellowship is monitoring the development of this legislation and intends to file a submission in response.