“A City Council Should Not Play Big Brother”
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN CANADA
THE Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the liberties of all citizens of Canada. Freedoms of speech, press, and worship are constitutionally established and enforceable by the courts.
Thus, when the town of Blainville, a community northwest of Montreal, introduced an amendment to their bylaws in order to prohibit door-to-door ‘visits of a religious nature’ without a permit, it aroused the attention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The proposed amendment would directly affect their house-to-house ministry. (Acts 20:20, 21) But why was the amendment introduced? Town officials claimed that there were many complaints about door-to-door calls by Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, according to police department records, in the previous five years, there had not been a single complaint regarding the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Nevertheless, the amendment became law in 1996. Lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Blainville subsequently notified the town that because of the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty, it would be illegal for the town to use the law to interfere with the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Town officials disregarded this notice and proceeded to issue 17 summonses. Lawyers for the Witnesses responded by filing a court action to prevent Blainville from restricting religious liberty and freedom of expression—rights of all Canadian citizens.
The case was heard in the Quebec Superior Court before the Honorable Justice Jean Crépeau on October 3 and 4, 2000. After deliberation, the judge gave his decision in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Justice Crépeau accepted “that the petitioners are following in the footsteps of the first Christian congregation in making door-to-door visits of homes in their neighbourhood to encourage people to maintain a high level of morality and spirituality. . . . Visits to people’s homes constitute a Christian community service. The Jehovah’s Witnesses visit the citizens of Blainville on average, once every four months to invite them to exchange ideas on subjects that are positive and of common interest.” In his judgment Justice Crépeau stated: “[The Court] declares the Jehovah’s Witnesses exempt from the requirement of obtaining a permit in order to carry out their ministry.”
Blainville appealed Justice Crépeau’s decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal. The appeal was argued on June 17, 2003, and a judgment was rendered on August 27, 2003, upholding the decision of the trial judge. Citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of religion and includes the right to manifest religious beliefs by teaching and dissemination, the Court issued a statement saying: “The impugned by-law severely restricts the freedom of religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression of the citizens of Blainville . . . The evidence shows that the residents of Blainville were not complaining of abusive solicitation by Jehovah’s Witnesses but by numerous peddlers and itinerant merchants. There was no pressing and substantial need to regulate door-to-door canvassing for religious purposes. Moreover the measures enacted were negligently drafted and adopted in a hurry without prior consultation, and are irrational and disproportionate in their effects to the stated goal of protecting the privacy of the citizens. . . . In a free and democratic society, a city council should not play Big Brother in trying to decide who the residents may receive at their home during the evening or the weekend. The trial judge was right to declare the impugned by-law of no force or effect towards Jehovah’s Witnesses.”*
Jehovah’s Witnesses rejoice that the courts of Quebec have applied the Charter of Rights in this case to protect the religious liberty of all Quebec citizens from petty oppression.
“Big Brother” is a reference to the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-four in which a fictional totalitarian state exercises control over its citizens by means of the omnipresent leader of the party, Big Brother, who is aware of all that is said and done in the state.
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The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the liberties of all citizens of Canada
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Witnesses can now freely engage in the public ministry in Blainville. Inset: Meeting at their Kingdom Hall