The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which wields broad quasi-judicial powers, argued that a day off on Christmas is 'discriminatory'.
“Discrimination against religious minorities in Canada is grounded in Canada’s history of colonialism,” reads a Discussion Paper on Religious Intolerance published last month by the agency.
“An obvious example is statutory holidays in Canada,” it adds, noting that the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter get days off, while non-Christians have to “request special accommodations to observe their holy days.”
The thrust of the paper, first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter, is that Canada is replete with religious intolerance and always has been. “In order to move forward towards sustainable change, all Canadians must first acknowledge Canada’s history of religious intolerance,” it reads.
This is despite the fact that the free exercise of religion has been Canadian law since before Confederation — a state of affairs that would have been conspicuously rare in the world of the 19th century.
In 1851, the colonial Province of Canada even enacted the Freedom of Worship Act, which protected “free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference.”
This early tolerance of religious pluralism is partially reflected in the fact that almost all of Canada’s predominant non-Christian religions have roots in the country stretching back nearly 100 years.
Canada’s first mosque, the Al-Rashid Mosque in Alberta, was constructed in 1938 from contributions disproportionately donated by the region’s non-Muslims.
Canada’s first Sikh temple opened in 1908 in Vancouver, and according to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation was an “inter-religious space where non-Sikhs also held executive positions.” The country’s oldest Jewish congregation dates back to 1768 in Montreal.
None of this is mentioned in the discussion paper. Rather, it focuses primarily on the one glaring exception to Canada’s record on religious tolerance: The decades-long state push to eradicate traditional Indigenous spirituality in favour of Christianity, mostly through the Indian Residential School system.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission cites this not as an anomaly, but as emblematic of Canada’s “identity as a settler colonial state.”
The Canadian Human Rights Commission was created in 1977 to enforce the Canadian Human Rights Act — which it does most notably through the quasi-judicial Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It operates thanks to $32 million per year in federal funding.
In recent years the commission has leaned hard into the doctrine of “anti-racism” — an ideology holding that mere legal equality is not sufficient, as any outcome that disproportionately affects one group over another must inherently be a product of “systemic racism.”
“Systemic racism is a persistent problem in Canada. No organization and no government is immune,” reads an anti-racism declaration by the commission.
On an “anti-racism timeline,” the agency adds that its “Human Rights Officers” have been empowered to suss out the “subtle scent” of racism, and that they have specifically been ordered to prioritize cases relating to “race, colour or national or ethnic origin.”
The discussion paper citing the statutory Christmas holidays as a form of “religious intolerance” is contained in a section arguing that all this constitutes a “form of discrimination.”
And it’s not a new idea. Lengthy position papers drafted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission also refer to Canada’s statutory celebration of Christmas as an example of “systemic faithism.”
A statutory holiday on Dec. 25 “may adversely affect non-Christians, some of whom may therefore need to seek out special accommodations to observe their own faith holy days,” it reads.
These stances are not without potential judicial ramifications, as both commissions retain the power to enforce sanctions and penalties against employers that it deems to have engaged in “discrimination.”
Despite the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s assertion that a day off on Christmas constitutes religious intolerance, polls show that non-Christian Canadians almost universally have no problem with the holiday.
A Leger poll from last year asked Canadians who grew up non-Christian whether they were offended by the greeting “Merry Christmas.” Of respondents, 92 per cent said “no.” That same poll also asked Canadians of all religions whether Christmas and other “religious” holidays should be struck from the country’s official statutory holidays. Only six per cent said “yes.”
This is likely why — at least at the Parliamentary level — politicians have largely abandoned any prior reticence to mentioning the word “Christmas” in favour of neutral terms like “Winter” or “Holidays.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — currently the only non-Christian major party leader — even included a “keep Christ in Christmas” aside in his official 2018 Christmas message. “For Christians around the world, this is a time to celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus Christ — and his message of compassion, courage and empathy,” he wrote.