LAST year Canada designated January 29 National Islamophobia Day. Human rights activists sought an extension to include other religious communities which encounter discrimination. Justin Trudeau’s government refused – only Muslims were to be remembered.
The Canadian government might not want to think of Christians as a discriminated group, because the chief perpetrator of prejudice against Canada’s Christians is the Canadian government itself.
Throughout the pandemic panic, the government have been on a collision course with evangelical churches. Church buildings have been locked and pastors have been arrested, fined and jailed during the Covid crackdowns.
Things have become so blatant that legislators in the Ohio House of Representatives have introduced a resolution urging the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ‘to consider adding Canada to the Special Watch List of countries where the government engages in violations of religious freedom’.
The resolution reads: ‘We, the members of the House of Representatives of the 134th General Assembly of the State of Ohio, have taken note of the abuses of religious liberty that have gone on throughout the Provinces of Canada during the Covid-19 pandemic.’
The resolution specifically refers to pastor Artur Pawlowski, in custody after his arrest on February 7 during the truckers’ protest. This is the pastor’s fifth arrest and third incarceration over the last couple of years. He is being denied bail and held in solitary confinement 23 hours per day.
His lawyer, Sarah Miller, said: ‘It’s extremely frustrating because the charges all stem from public health measures that are all being incrementally withdrawn over the next few weeks.’ According to Miller, Pawlowski will remain in custody until at least tomorrow.
One of his arrests came after he opened his church and welcomed any who wished to worship throughout the Covid-19 lockdown. Pastor Pawlowski and his brother Dawid were found guilty of contempt of court. In order to stop Artur from speaking in public, a travel ban was imposed.
Even more worryingly, the sentence included Soviet-style compelled speech. At the end of every sermon, media interview or Facebook post where he disagreed with the government on the lockdowns, Pawlowski would have been compelled to read a message on Covid and vaccines drafted by the judge. This is clearly a political punishment for someone daring to disagree with government policy. Fortunately, the abusive sentence was ‘stayed’ in an emergency court hearing.
Polish-born Artur never imagined that feeding the homeless, opening the church and praying with protesters at freedom rallies would land him and his brother behind bars in Canada. But in the world of pandemic politics, people daring to speak out or standing by their rights is evidently punishable by imprisonment, especially if you are a Christian.
Pastor Tobias Tissen of Steinbach, Manitoba, was arrested for violating Covid-19 orders. He spent an extra night in jail because he wouldn’t agree to stop preaching in church.
‘They had these conditions that I wasn’t allowed to attend any gatherings that were in contravention of Covid-19,’ he said. ‘And that would automatically prohibit me from going to church and preaching. I could not agree with that.’
It is not only the pandemic which the Canadian government is using to come down hard against Christians. The Ohio resolution also criticised Canada’s Bill C-4, which carries a potential prison term for teaching that does not affirm homosexuality and transgender identity. This legislation is extremely broad in scope and has serious implications for religious liberties. Pastors will be restricted from expressing biblical beliefs on marriage and sexuality.
The controversial Act, which went into effect on January 8 after being fast-tracked through parliament in December without extensive debate, describes as a ‘myth’ the belief that heterosexuality and cisgender identity are to be preferred. Counselling failing to align with a progressive world-view carries a potential five-year jail sentence.
Bill C-4 is so broad that it could even encompass private conversations. Several pastors, including some who have recently been imprisoned for keeping their churches open in defiance of Covid-19 orders, believe the new law opens the door to religious persecution.
Pastor James Coates was the first Canadian clergyman to be imprisoned in the name of public health. For refusing to close his church in Edmonton last year, he spent more than a month in a maximum-security prison. Federal law enforcement later raided his church at dawn, locked it and barricaded it behind three layers of fencing.
Pastor Coates believes that Bill C-4 is ‘anything but loving’ as it intends to ‘shut the LGBT community off from the saving and transforming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ’.
He added: ‘I believe our government is capitalising on a politically expedient segment of its constituency in an effort to further dismantle Western civilisation as we know it. To do this, it must outlaw its very foundation, which is rooted in a Judaeo-Christian world-view. Bill C-4 is another brick laid in this effort and is evidence that our government is under the judgment of God.
‘As governments seek totalitarian authority over every aspect of society, it’s inevitable that they will persecute any and all who refuse to declare allegiance to the state. As such, unless the tide of totalitarianism is stemmed, Christians can expect persecution to increase.’
In June 2021, Tim Stephens, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in south-east Calgary, was arrested for holding services and ‘flouting’ pandemic health orders, despite only 951 reported Covid cases across Canada. Shocking footage was shared online showing Stephens being hauled into a police cruiser as his wife and terrified children looked on, sobbing uncontrollably.
Much of the mainstream church in Canada believes compliance and compromise over Bill C-4 will promote peace and freedom. Stephens has no intention of limiting which parts of scripture he teaches from. He says: ‘This attitude only feeds the beast and will increase persecution and eliminate freedom.’
Stephens and his church intend to speak with clarity regarding what they believe the Bible teaches concerning sexuality and gender, regardless of Bill C-4. ‘This will test the new law and put the ball into the court of our government,’ he said. The day may soon come when pastors are imprisoned for teaching the Bible.
When a government arrogates to itself the right to interpret scripture, we have reached a stage where religious persecution is a fact. A government determined fundamentally to alter society is about to go head to head with Christians determined to preach what the Bible teaches, and willing to pay the price of faithfulness.