International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 3,855,101 square miles, and its population is approximately 31 million. While there is no state or dominant religion, an estimated 74.6 percent of the population belongs to Christian denominations or claims Christianity as its religion. Roman Catholics (43 percent of the population) constitute the largest single religious denomination, followed by Protestant denominations (29 percent). United Church, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and Pentecostal are the largest Protestant denominations. About 1.1 percent of the population is Jewish. According to a 2001 government census, the Muslim population increased to 2 percent, double the number recorded 10 years ago. Other religious groups include Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, each with about 1 percent of the population. Several other religions, such as Scientology, Baha'i, Shinto, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality, each account for less than 1 percent of the population. Sixteen percent claimed no religious affiliation, an increase from 12 percent in the 1996 census.

A 2002 poll on religious attitudes by the Pew Research Center found that about 21 percent of the population attends church on a weekly basis, and 30 percent said that religion is very important to them.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Religious groups are not required to register with the Government.

The Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect the rights or privileges possessed by denominational schools at the time of national union in 1867. In practice this protection has meant that some provinces have funded and continue to fund Catholic school education, and some provinces (such as Quebec) have funded Protestant education. In recent years, the Quebec provincial government abolishedCatholic and Protestant status for public schools; Quebec now has a linguistically based, secular public school system. In 2001 the Ontario Legislature approved the private school tax credit, and it was enacted in 2002. Subsequently, the Ontario provincial government, which previously had allowed tax credits only for tuition paid to Roman Catholic private schools, allowed tax credits for tuition paid to all private schools, provided such schools satisfy certain educational standards.

In October 2003, Muslims in Ontario created an Islamic Court of Civil Justice, and plans are underway for the body to begin adjudicating cases utilizing Shari'a law. The court, which is legal under the 1991 Ontario Arbitration Act, is composed of religious scholars. They expect to begin ruling shortly on civil disputes between Ontario Muslims, including family disagreements, inheritance disputes, and business and divorce issues.

The Government has designated certain Christian holy days as national holidays: Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday. These holidays do not negatively affect any religious group.

There is no official government council for interfaith dialogue, but the Government provides funding for individual ecumenical projects on a case-by-case basis.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. In January the Supreme Court of Canada heard two cases brought by groups in Quebec who claimed that their right to freedom of religion had been restricted unduly by condominium contracts and municipal bylaws. In one case, a condominium association in Montreal barred a group of Orthodox Jewish families from constructing temporary sukkah huts on their balconies to celebrate the fall festival of Sukkot. In the second case, a local municipality refused to rezone land upon which a group of members of Jehovah's Witnesses wished to build a church hall, because the land would then be exempt from property taxes. Decisions in these two cases were expected in the summer of 2004.

In September 2003, a 16-year-old Muslim student was expelled from a Quebec private school after refusing to remove her Islamic headscarf. The Quebec Human Rights Commission condemned the girl's expulsion; however, no legal action was taken against the school.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, tensions continued between some members of the Jewish and Islamic communities. Also, the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased during the reporting period.

The B'nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 584 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, the highest number in the audit's 21-year history. Incidents included general harassment (389 or 66 percent of reported incidents), vandalism of property (180 or 31 percent), and violence (15 or 3 percent). On April 4, the library of a Jewish elementary school in Montreal was firebombed, and anti-Semitic notes were taped to the building. This event occurred after a string of anti-Semitic vandalism incidents in Toronto in March. In addition a synagogue in Oshawa, Ontario was desecrated in April. Largely in response to these incidents, Justice Minister Cotler announced on April 7 that the Government plans to establish a nationwide plan to combat growing intolerance in society.

In September 2002, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Montreal assaulted a number of Jews during a riot on the campus of Concordia University when former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to give a speech. Additionally, authorities accused a young skinhead of the July 2002 murder of an orthodox Jew in Toronto. In January an Ontario Court judge ruled that the skinhead must stand trial for first-degree murder; however, no date for the trial had been set by the end of the period covered by this report.

There were expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment, according to the Canadian chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN). On March 26, a mosque was vandalized in Pickering, Ontario, and anti-Muslim sayings were spray-painted on its walls. According to CAIR-CAN, this incident was the 15th documented act of desecration against an Islamic mosque or institution since September 2001.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.