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Protecting Ontario’s Religious Diversity Act Passes Second Reading

Toronto – A Private Member’s Bill protecting religious freedom in Ontario, sponsored by Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, was debated and unanimously passed second reading with all party support in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario today.

The third Private Member’s Bill introduced by MPP Oosterhoff since being elected to office, Bill 89, Protecting Ontario’s Religious Diversity Act, 2022, would amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to specify that every person in Ontario has a right to equal treatment without discrimination because of religious expression, enshrining religious expression as a prohibited grounds for discrimination.

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, hate crimes have been on the rise across the country. Recent tragic and disturbing reports of antisemitic and anti-Muslim sentiment and other religiously motivated acts of hate and discrimination in Ontario underscore the need for action.

“One of the very crucial and foundational rights that we have as Canadians and Ontarians is freedom of religion,” said MPP Oosterhoff.

“Adding religious expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds for discrimination will provide a meaningful tool for those who have been targeted or
discriminated against due to their religious expression in a wide variety of contexts.”

A number of MPPs spoke in support of the Bill, including Robin Martin, MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence; Kaleed Rasheed, MPP for Mississauga East-Cooksville, and Prabmeet Sarkaria, MPP for Brampton South.

“Our province is strengthened by our cultural and religious diversity, and every Ontarian has the right to feel respected and free from discrimination,” said Hon. Parm Gill, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

“Protecting Ontario’s Religious Diversity Act is another step towards building safer communities and a more inclusive Ontario.”

The Private Member’s Bill has received widespread support from a number of religious organizations and faith groups across the province, including members of the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities.

“Adding religious expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds for discrimination will provide a meaningful tool for people of faith across Ontario who have been targeted or discriminated against due to their religious expression,” said MPP Oosterhoff.

“The Bill would provide additional protections in a wide variety of contexts, including workplaces, membership in vocational associations, colleges and universities and the public square. The Bill reflects an understanding of religious creed as more than private identity and supports the importance of public expression of faith without fear. As cited in the executive summary of the Human Rights and Creed Research and Consultation Report, published by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2013, the duty to accommodate creed beliefs and practices is well established in Ontario human rights law, and this Bill will build on that work.”

Organizations governed by the Ontario Human Rights Code have a responsibility to provide services, programs and employment systems inclusively so that all Ontarians can equally benefit and take part in them.

Supportive Quotes

“The expression of religious freedom benefits all Ontarians and forms a cornerstone value of our society, a beacon to the world that all are welcome and belong in Ontario. I appreciate the opportunity to communicate CIJA’s support for MPP Oosterhoff’s Private Members Bill, Protecting Ontario’s Religious Diversity Act.”

  • Noah Shack, Vice-President, GTA, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)

“Unfortunately, Islamophobia is on the rise in our country and province. Muslim women being attacked for wearing the headscarf, mosques being attacked and Canadian Muslims being killed for their faith are all manifestations of hate motivated by religious expression. We welcome the confirmation of religious expression as a protected ground against discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code. This is an important step forward in recognizing the diversity of our province and the various faith communities that have chosen to make it their home.”

  • Sharaf Sharafeldin, Executive Director, Muslim Association of Canada

“I would like to offer my support of MPP Oosterhoff’s Private Members Bill, Protecting Ontario’s Religious Diversity Act. As the spiritual shepherd for the Archdiocese of Toronto’s two million Catholics, I believe that it is critical to make every effort to ensure our province is free from discrimination or harassment due to religious expression. I have often said that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. The deeply held rich religious traditions and beliefs of so many Ontarians must be preserved and respected.”

  • Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto