Response to Church, State and Religious Freedom, Henry Morgentaler

I’m still living in Montreal, Canada. In Canada we don’t have the official separation of church and state which you’ve enjoyed for about 200 years.  I listened yesterday with great interest to the beginnings of the Constitution, and the great constitutional fathers Jefferson and Madison. We don’t have that. Canada has followed a different evolution from the United States. It did not have a revolution, and those people who fled from the American revolution came over to Canada and became very traditional people, faithful to the Anglican church and the Anglican crown. So that Canada’s church-state relations are completely different from the United States.

Basically what happened is that as a result going back to the American revolution, King George III in order to insure that the French Canadian Roman Catholics will not rebel and throw in their lot with the American colonists who were in the process of preparing insurrection, assured them by an official act that their Roman Catholic religion would be respected and that their schools and their right to school their children in the Roman Catholic religion would be respected. What has dominated Canada for about 200 years is the fact that in the Province of Quebec, Roman Catholic rights were guaranteed and they were made guaranteed from 1867 when the British-North America Act was created. Therefore, the Province of Quebec was a Roman Catholic province with rights for Protestants, whereas the rest of Canada in a sense became a Protestant enclave.

In the Province of Quebec in which I live now, we still have a public school system which is denominational Roman Catholic and Protestant.  That is, the public taxes go to this public school system, with only two schools available. One is a Protestant school system and the other one is a Catholic school system. Because of the tension between French Canadians and English Canadians, which has dominated Canadian politics and the Canadian political scene, the rights to education have always been left to the provinces, which are like the states in the United States. So we do not have official separation of church and state. What we have now, since about a year or so ago, is we have a new constitution. As you probably know our past Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, who has been in power for the past sixteen years, just stepped down recently. I think his greatest achievement has been to bring back the Constitution from England and to insert a Bill of Rights, a Charter of Human Rights, in the Constitution of Canada.

This Charter of Human Rights is patterned on the American Bill of Rights. So we do have a new constitution, we have a Charter of Rights now, and this charter guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. But there is no mention of separation of church and state. Hopefully this will eventually come about.