It's Time to De-Polarize Debates About Religious Freedom in Canada


Both religious freedom advocates and skeptics could approach disagreement better, says think tank


February 9, 2022

OTTAWA, ON – Limiting personal freedoms is always controversial. During a pandemic that’s dragged for almost two years, those controversies have become divisive, bitter disagreements. We’ve seen the results: the truck convoy in Ottawa, ugly social media rhetoric, and defiance of public health orders – even by some houses of worship. While public health orders have affected all areas of society, including education, business, and our social lives, they have also affected religious expression and gatherings. 

This situation raises at least two questions: How well have authorities upheld religious freedom in Canada during the pandemic? How well have religious communities understood and exercised religious freedom? Think tank Cardus is stepping into this polarized debate with a new report, Reasonable Limits: How Far Does Religious Freedom Go in Canada? by Dwight Newman, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan. The report shows how religious freedom is neither absolute nor a dispensable luxury in Canada. Rather, it is a fundamental human right, though it is subject to reasonable limits.  

“The protection of human life and health through appropriate health measures is obviously a sufficiently important objective that could justify some limits on religious services during a pandemic,” according to the report.

At the same time, governments need to develop a better rapport with Canadian religious leaders.

“Decisionmakers should also redouble their efforts to engage with faith communities in order to better understand the issues and pursue policies that have fewer adverse effects on religious freedom,” the report concludes.

Ultimately, the report speaks both to those who ardently support religious freedom and to those who question its relevance to contemporary Canada, says Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, director of Cardus Religious Freedom.

“Religious communities need to know that it is not always right to push for religious freedom beyond all limits,” says Bennett. “It’s equally important for those skeptical of religious freedom to know that everyone benefits from this protection – religious or not.”

Bennett hopes the report will help government and religious leaders, lawyers and judges, and media commentators have less polarized discussions about religious freedom in Canada.

Reasonable Limits: How Far Does Religious Freedom Go in Canada? is freely available online.


Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications


Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society's institutions can work together for the common good.