Canada

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register, but some registered groups may receive tax-exempt status.  Provincial governments continued to impose societal-wide restrictions on assembly, including for all faith groups, to limit the transmission of COVID-19.  Some religious communities said provincial orders and additional measures were discriminatory against religious groups because mass gatherings for sports events and other functions were permitted.  There were multiple reports across the country of clergy opposing or refusing to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions on the grounds that the restrictions infringed on religious freedom.  In October, a Manitoba judge ruled provincial restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 were reasonable and did not violate constitutional rights to worship and to assemble for religious practice and dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by seven churches in Manitoba in June, according to press reports.  In the suit, the plaintiffs stated that public health orders that restricted in-person church services to 10 persons or 25 percent of capacity infringed on their religious freedom and caused a “crisis of conscience.”  The Quebec government filed an appeal in June of an April legal ruling that allowed limited exemptions to a 2019 provincial law prohibiting certain provincial government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions.  The ruling exempted English-language schools in the majority French-speaking province and elected members of the provincial legislature but upheld the law for other categories of provincial employees.  In April, an Alberta school requested a judge overturn a decision by the Alberta Human Rights Commission ordering the school to allow two Muslim students to pray on school property and to pay compensation of 18,000 Canadian dollars ($14,100) to each of them, plus interest.  In July, a federal judge ruled that the federal government had denied Redeemer University in Ontario procedural fairness in its application for funding under the federal Canada Summer Jobs Program because it was a faith-based institution.  The judge ordered the government of Canada to pay the university’s legal fees.

Reports continued of anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents, including cases of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism.  In July, Statistics Canada reported 515 incidents of police-reported, religiously motivated hate crimes in 2020, 16 percent fewer than in 2019.  According to B’nai B’rith Canada, more antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in May than in all of 2020, 2019, and 2018 combined.  The increase occurred at the same time protests were taking place across the country in response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  The group also stated that incidents of antisemitism tended to increase during federal or provincial election campaigns.  The B’nai B’rith Canada League for Human Rights recorded 2,610 reports of antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 2,207 in 2019.  According to press reports, in June, a man driving a truck in London, Ontario struck five members of a Muslim family, killing four of them.  Police said the driver targeted the family because they were Muslim and charged the driver with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of terrorism.  The trial remained pending at year’s end.   In June, an unidentified man attacked two Muslim women in Alberta, grabbing one of the women by her hijab, pushing her to the ground, and knocking her unconscious, according to media reports.  In January, police charged a man with threatening to set fire to a place of worship and possession of incendiary materials after he painted swastikas on Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, one of Montreal’s largest synagogues, and brought a canister of gasoline to the site.  In July, unidentified individuals vandalized 11 churches, some Catholic and some Protestant, in Calgary, Alberta with red and orange paint.  In June and July, unidentified individuals set fire to several Roman Catholic churches in indigenous communities across the country after the discovery of unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children on or near sites of former Indian residential schools.  Catholic and Protestant religious groups operated most of the schools and, according to media, the government funded them to force the assimilation of indigenous children into the dominant Canadian culture and strip them of their native culture, language, and religion.

Embassy, consulate, and other U.S. government officials emphasized the need for respect for religious freedom and diversity with national and provincial governments.  They likewise reaffirmed U.S. government commitment to addressing discrimination and exclusion through the U.S.-Canada Roadmap for Renewed Partnership.  The roadmap is a strategic document of shared policy priorities.  Embassy and other U.S. government officials met with representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss issues of religious freedom in the country, including religious expression, inclusion, and tolerance.  Throughout the year, the embassy and consulates used social media to amplify religious freedom messaging from senior Department of State officials.  In August, the consulate general in Calgary hosted a virtual panel on the intersection of identity and religion.  The event featured spokespersons from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths.  In July, a senior embassy official and in October, the Charge d’Affaires held roundtables with religious and secular leaders in Quebec City to discuss the relationship between religious freedom and secularism in Quebec.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 37.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census, which has the most recent data available on religion, approximately 67 percent of the population self-identifies as Christian.  Roman Catholics constitute the largest Christian group (38 percent of the total population), followed by the United Church of Canada (6 percent), Anglicans (5 percent), Baptists (1.9 percent), and Christian Orthodox (1.7 percent).  Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Pentecostal groups each constitute less than 2 percent of the population.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimates its membership at 199,000.  The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS Church) estimates its membership at 1,000.  The Hutterites, or Hutterite Brethren, which number approximately 35,000, are an Anabaptist ethnoreligious group living primarily in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan Provinces.  Approximately 3 percent of the population is Muslim, and 1 percent Jewish.  Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Baha’is, and adherents of Shintoism, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Approximately 24 percent of the population list no religious affiliation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of physical violence, vandalism, hate speech, and harassment directed at religious groups, particularly against Jews and Muslims.  In July, Statistics Canada released statistics for 2020 that showed a 16 percent decline in the number of police-reported, religiously motivated hate crimes from 613 in 2019 to 515 in 2020.

In 2020, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai B’rith Canada League for Human Rights reported nine cases of antisemitic violence, compared with 14 in 2019; there were 118 reports of vandalism, including the painting of swastikas and threatening messages on buildings, and 2,483 reports of harassment, compared with 182 and 2,011, respectively, in 2019.  The league received 2,610 reports of antisemitic cases in 2020, compared with 2,207 in 2019 and 2,041 in 2018.  More than 95 percent of the occurrences (2,483) involved harassment.  Seventy-one percent of all incidents reported in 2020 occurred online or had an online component; the physical location and identities of those posting the online messages were unknown.  Occurrences of in-person versus online harassment increased to one in four incidents in 2020.  In 2020, while overall incidents increased across the country, there were significant reductions in all provinces except for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, which include New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Ontario reported more than 1,000 incidents of antisemitism in 2020, a 44 percent increase over the span of a single year and which accounted for 43 percent of all antisemitic incidents in Canada.  Atlantic Canada, which historically was the region with the lowest recorded incidents of antisemitism, recorded a rise of more than 226 percent in antisemitic incidents.  All incidents in Atlantic Canada were either harassment or vandalism.  According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, police-reported hate crime data for 2019 indicated that Jews, although only approximately 1 percent of the population, were the targets of 15 percent of all hate crimes in the country and remained the country’s most targeted group.

In June, Nathaniel Veltman struck five members of a Muslim family with his truck, killing four of them, in London, Ontario.  Police stated the driver fitted his truck bumper with a ram bar and targeted the family because they were Muslim.  Authorities arrested Veltman and charged him with one count of terrorism, four counts of first degree murder, and one count of attempted murder.  Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the attack as “brutal, cowardly, and brazen” and said the “killing was no accident.  This was a terrorist attack.”  The Prime Minister said he would redouble the government’s efforts to dismantle “far-right hate groups” and groups that threatened public safety, adding the government would continue to fund programs to help community centers, religious schools, and places of worship protect themselves.

A preliminary hearing was held in January for Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, who was charged with first degree murder in the 2020 killing of a congregant in the parking lot of the International Muslim Organization Mosque in Rexdale, a suburb of Toronto.  Von Neutegem remained in custody at year’s end.

In June, an unidentified man attacked two Muslim women in Alberta, grabbing one of the women by her hijab, pushing her to the ground, and knocking her unconscious, according to media reports.  The man reportedly knocked the second woman to the ground and threatened her with a knife.  Police opened an investigation and released a sketch of the suspect but made no arrest by year’s end.

In March, a woman verbally harassed two Muslim girls, then physically assaulted one of them in Prince’s Island Park in Calgary, according to media reports.  The assailant reportedly punched one of the victims in the face and kicked her in the stomach.  Calgary police charged the assailant with assault, mischief, and causing a disturbance.  Dr. Mukarram Zaidi of the Canadian Muslim Research Think Tank said Muslim women and young girls told him, “These kinds of incidents occurred on a daily basis.”

According to B’nai B’rith Canada, more antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in May than in all of 2020, 2019, and 2018 combined.  The increase occurred at the same time protests were taking place across the country in response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  B’nai B’rith Canada stated that incidents of antisemitism also “tend to increase during election campaigns in Canada, whether federal or provincial.”  In August, B’nai B’rith Canada reported unidentified persons vandalized the Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto, Ontario with swastikas and other graffiti.  A sign drawing attention to antisemitism in Toronto was vandalized with antisemitic rhetoric, and a school in a Jewish neighborhood in Thornhill, Ontario, was painted with swastikas and obscene graffiti.  Police opened investigations.  Also in August, unknown individuals in Montreal defaced the election signs of two Jewish candidates for the federal parliament with swastikas.  Montreal police opened an investigation.  In November, unknown vandals defaced the provincial courthouse and neighboring city hall in Ottawa with swastika graffiti and the letters “SS.”  Ottawa police opened a hate crime investigation but had made no arrests at year’s end.

According to B’nai Brith, in July, a customer assaulted an elderly Jewish liquor store employee in Toronto after another employee had asked to see the customer’s identification and the customer refused to comply.  The customer called the Jewish employee a “dirty [expletive] Jew,” struck him in the back with a wine bottle, and punched him in the face.  The victim required stitches and had to take medical leave from work.  Authorities arrested a suspect three weeks after the incident and charged him with seven criminal counts.  According to B’nai Brith Canada, Toronto police considered it a hate crime.

In May, Jewish and Palestinian groups held parallel demonstrations in central Montreal, and a group of men bearing Palestinian flags attacked a group of Jewish individuals.  The men threw stones at the Jewish demonstrators and physically assaulted some of them, according to media reports.  Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

A June, an Angus Reid Institute poll on racism and diversity found 25 percent of Canadians said they felt “cold” towards Muslims, the highest negative sentiment toward any other religious group described in the survey.  A November 2020 submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief reported 52 percent of Canadians said they trusted Muslims “a little” or “not at all.”

According to press reports, in January, police charged Adam Riga with threatening to set fire to a place of worship and possession of incendiary materials after one of Montreal’s largest synagogues, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, was vandalized with antisemitic symbols.  Large swastikas were painted on the doors of the synagogue and the man brought a canister of gasoline to the site.  In February, the judge hearing Riga’s case determined Riga was mentally unfit and could not be held criminally accountable for his actions and ordered that he be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

According to media reports in Vancouver in February, Susan Standfield, characterized as an anti-vaccine conspiracist, promoted a t-shirt online that depicted a yellow Star of David marked with the words “Covid Caust.”  B’nai B’rith’s CEO Michael Mostyn condemned Standfield “in the strongest terms” for what he called “trafficking in Holocaust imagery in order to promote COVID-19 conspiracy theories.”  He stated, “There can be no comparison between masks and vaccines, which are intended to save lives, and the cruel murder of six million Jews and millions of others by the Nazis and their collaborators.”

In June, unidentified individuals burned four Catholic churches in indigenous communities in suspected arson fires in British Columbia, with two fires set on National Indigenous People’s Day.  Police investigated the four incidents.  A Catholic church in Nova Scotia was also set on fire in a First Nations (indigenous) community north of Halifax.  In July, unknown persons vandalized 11 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, in Calgary, Alberta with red and orange paint, according to media reports.  Most of the targeted churches were Catholic, and the vandalism included a smashed window with paint thrown inside, splattered paint over a statue of Jesus Christ, painted handprints on doors, and texts that read “Charge the priest,” “Our lives matter,” and “215.”  The paint colors and the number 215 were symbolically linked to protests over the discovery of unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children compelled to attend Indian Residential Schools.  One of the vandalized churches was an African Evangelical Church.  According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who condemned the vandalism, many of the church’s congregants had arrived in the country as refugees.  Police in Alberta opened an investigation.

An indigenous Manitoba man was arrested in June for setting fire to a Catholic church on Easter Sunday on the territory of the St. Theresa Point First Nation.  Several days later, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Ontario was set ablaze, and police opened an investigation.  Police said they believed the church fires were likely set as protests after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children at the sites of former Indian residential schools.  Catholic and Protestant religious groups operated most of the schools between 1831 and 1998, and according to media, the government funded them to force the assimilation of Indigenous children into dominant Canadian culture and away from their own native culture and religion.  Prime Minister Trudeau commented, “The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and it must stop.  We must work together to right past wrongs.”

In April, an individual shot an air rifle at the Assahaba Islamic Community Centre in Montreal, according to media reports.  Surveillance video showed a hooded individual taking 11 shots at the community center and then running away.  The Montreal police hate crimes unit opened an investigation.

In August, an unknown individual vandalized the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver.  The memorial is dedicated to the 376 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu passengers aboard the ship Komagata Maru that in 1914 was denied entry to Canada under exclusion laws and forced to return to India.  Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said, “This is disgusting and whoever did this is a coward.  This memorial is about the perseverance of a community that has helped to build and shape our city.”  Vancouver police opened a hate crime investigation that remained pending at year’s end.

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