February 11, 2011
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA — Whether it is marriage, conscience rights, parental rights to educate their children or hot button issues like prostitution, the real battles are taking place in the courts say those on the front lines.

“Courts have become the forum for decisions on public policy,” said constitutional lawyer Gerald Chipeur, who is representing the Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) in the polygamy reference now before the B.C. Supreme Court.

“If the Christian voice is not there in court, then it will not be heard at all.”

Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) president Phil Horgan said changes to social policy are no longer coming from the legislative framework where politicians persuade their fellow citizens in elections, and then get the support of other legislators to pass changes into law.

When the state does enter into areas of social policy — like Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture course and the recent related prohibition on religious instruction, prayers or songs in daycares — it has become almost impossible to combat that kind of secularism in legislatures.

“Now it is required for the citizen to go to court to seek an exemption or relief from these mandates,” Horgan said.

DICTATION, NOT DIALOGUE

When Horgan was in law school in the early days of the Charter, they were taught there is a dialogue between the courts and legislatures. That has changed, he said. It is “less of a dialogue and more of a dictation.”

The CCRL is often the only Catholic group intervening in court cases, said League executive director Joanne McGarry.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has intervened in the past and recently jointly intervened with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in Quebec’s challenge to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, McGarry said.

In a split decision in December, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down sections of the Act, leaving Canada open to genetic experimentation combining animal and human genes and a lack of regulation concerning the transport, storage and disposal of human embryos.

Chipeur said he was disappointed the CCCB did not intervene in the polygamy case. If the court decides the prohibition against polygamy is unconstitutional on religious freedom grounds, “Canada will become a destination for polygamous communities around the world.”