CLF, EFC and ACBO Form Coalition in Physicians’ Conscience Case

News Release

For immediate release

Christian Legal Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario

The Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF), The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) have filed a joint factum with the Ontario Divisional Court in the physicians’ conscience case: Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).

The CPSO has adopted (1) a Human Rights Policy mandating effective referrals and obligatory emergency care even if it conflicts with conscience or religious beliefs; and (2) a Medical Assistance in Dying Policy that specifically requires effective referrals for euthanasia and assisted suicide. The “effective referral” requirement imposed by the CPSO mandates referral for all procedures and pharmaceuticals including euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion, despite any conscientious or religious objection the physician may have.

The joint interveners support the CMDS in its position that, among other things, these policies violate religious freedom, freedom of conscience and equality, are not in the public interest, limit patient choice and undermine the principle of state neutrality. Derek Ross, CLF’s Executive Director & General Counsel (co-counsel to the joint interveners along with CLF Legal Counsel Deina Warren), explains:

Forcing physicians to participate in the purposeful and premature ending of a patient’s life contrary to their convictions is truly unconscionable. The Supreme Court’s decision in Carter allows room for conscientious objectors in the practice of medicine, and their freedoms must be robustly protected. In the same way, patients should be free to seek health care from professionals whose ethical framework reflects their own convictions, including those related to the value of human life. It is difficult to comprehend how it could possibly be in the ‘public interest’ to expect patients to receive health care from professionals who have been required by their regulatory body to abandon their core ethical convictions.

The interveners’ joint factum points to a comprehensive definition of religious freedom that informs the very understanding of human life, its beginning and end, the inherent value and dignity of each person and the moral considerations involved in ending another’s life. Religion cannot be compartmentalized or restricted to the performance of sacred rituals but includes outward expression and impacts all aspects of a believer’s life. Bishop Ronald Fabbro, President of the ACBO and Bishop of London, explains:

For Christians, adherence to Biblical teaching is not an optional exercise but a necessary, inescapable requirement of their faith. If one holds sincere religious beliefs which inform one’s view about human nature, morality and eternity, one is not free to temporarily disregard or suspend those beliefs in order to act contrary to them. The state cannot demand physicians or other healthcare professionals set aside the moral framework that guides their conduct, just as it cannot coerce believers to renounce their faith.

The joint submission explains that physicians’ Charter rights to religious belief, conscience and equality are not erased simply because they practice in a regulated profession. These rights exist to protect physicians against the power of the state, in this case the CPSO. Protecting physicians’ Charter rights allows patients to choose medical professionals whose ethical framework aligns with their own, and enhances patients’ interests by protecting physicians’ professional judgment, which is an inseparable combination of ethical and clinical assessments.

The submission also explains that there is no competing patient Charter right to health care, let alone euthanasia or assisted suicide. Decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide does not create a “right to euthanasia or assisted suicide”. Even if such a right existed, there is nothing to demonstrate that protecting conscience inhibits access.

The policies violate physicians’ equality rights and violate the principle of state neutrality, which means welcoming and accepting religious individuals in the public sphere. The Charter ought to protect diversity, not enforce conformity. Bruce Clemenger, EFC President explains:

Physicians, like all Canadians, ought not to be excluded from the public sphere or their vocation because of their religious beliefs and practices. The state in a religiously diverse and secular society has the obligation to welcome and accept religious individuals in the public sphere. It must respect religious differences, not seek to extinguish them. Requiring individuals to renounce, deny or hide their beliefs is not state neutrality, but coerced conformity. This is contrary to the principles we value in a free and democratic society.

The CLF-EFC-ACBO factum can be read in full here.

The joint interveners will present oral arguments before the court during the three-day hearing, which is scheduled for June 13-15, 2017.


For additional information or an interview, please contact:

Rick Hiemstra, Director of Media Relations
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
613-233-9868 x332

Ruth A.M. Ross, Special Advisor
Christian Legal Fellowship

Neil MacCarthy
Director, Public Relations & Communications
Archdiocese of Toronto
416-934-3400 x552

Conscience rights protection amendments voted down

Catholic Register

Michael Swan

The majority Liberal government at Queen’s Park has crushed an opposition attempt to incorporate conscience protections for doctors in its legislation on assisted suicide.

The government majority on the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs voted down two versions of a Progressive Conservative amendment to Bill-84 that would have removed the threat of license suspensions and other disciplinary actions against doctors who refuse to make an “effective referral” for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

New Democratic Party representatives on the committee abstained on the issue. . . [Full text]


Groups make effort to protect physicians’ conscience rights

 The Catholic Register

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA – Doctors’ conscience rights are threatened by a proposed policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) that may force them to refer patients for morally problematic procedures, warn some physicians’ organizations.

The CPSO has given a Feb. 20 deadline for input into the policy that would force physicians to refer patients for procedures such as abortion and assisted suicide (the Supreme Court on Feb. 6 struck down prohibitions against assisted suicide) against their consciences. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan is also considering similar changes to its policy, with a deadline of March 6 for public input.

The Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) Canada has been working closely with the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies in rallying opposition to the proposed changes.

“The proposed policy demands that doctors refer for, and in some cases actually perform, procedures like birth control, abortion and even euthanasia,” said CMDS executive director Larry Worthen. “Physicians would have to perform these procedures when the regulator considers them to be ‘urgent or otherwise necessary to prevent imminent harm, suffering and/or deterioration.’  . . . [Full Text]


Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

Christian Legal Fellowship

RE: Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code Consultations

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”) has invited feedback from al 1 stakeholders in regard to its review of Policy Statement #5-08. Physicians and the Ontario Human Rights Code (”the Policy”). In particular, the CPSO has asked if the Policy provides useful guidance, whether the Policy fails to address any issues, and any other ways in which the Policy should be improved. The Christian Legal Fellowship (“CLF”) appreciates the opportunity to participate in this discussion, as we did in the prior CPSO consultation on Human Rights in September of 2008, and makes the following introduction and submissions.

The CLF is a national charitable association that exists to strengthen the spiritual life of its members, and encourage among Christians in the vocation of law the integration of faith with contemporary legal, moral, social and political issues. The CLF’s membership consists of approximately 550 lawyers, law students, professors, and others who support its work; with approximately one third of its members in the Province of Ontario. It has 14 chapters in cities across Canada and student chapters in most Canadian law schools. While having no direct denominational affiliation, CLF’s members represent more than 30 Christian denominations working in association together. As an association of Christian professionals, we welcome the opportunity to address the issues which the CPSO have raised in this consultation process.

The CLF has intervened in numerous legal cases relating to matters of conscience and religious freedom at the appellate and Supreme Court level. The organization also engages in policy consultations raising issues that impact, among other things, religious freedom and human rights. CLF is therefore knowledgeable and well-positioned to comment on this CPSO policy.

In reviewing the Policy, there are three broad areas of concern for CLF. First, we submit that the Policy fails to recognize that physicians have the right to freedom of religion and conscience. Second, the Policy fails to recognize that the law protects physicians with religious beliefs from engaging in activities that violate their religious beliefs, their moral beliefs and their conscience. Third, the Policy obligates physicians, in “some circumstances” to actively refer a patient for services which violate the beliefs or conscience of the physician.

(l)        Physicians have the right to freedom or religion and conscience.

In its current format, the Policy mentions “personal beliefs and values and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of physicians and their patients”. This description fails to acknowledge the legal status of beliefs and religion. In fact, conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression are protected as fundamental freedoms by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.Further, the Human Rights Code2 upon which the Policy is based, protects from discrimination on the basis of creed.3

The Policy also precludes physicians from sharing their religious beliefs with patients: “physicians should not promote their own religious beliefs when interacting with patients, nor should they seek to convert existing patients or individuals who wish to become patients to their own religion”. While this conduct may not be appropriate in all circumstances, a blanket prohibition is problematic and a clear violation of freedom of religion and expression.

Religion as a protected freedom is more than the right to privately think or believe certain ideas and principles. It is broadly defined and demands robust protection. Freedom of religion encompasses the right to entertain religious beliefs of one’s own choosing, the right to declare religious belief openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, the right to manifest those beliefs by worship and practice, by teaching and dissemination.4It precludes forcing an individual to act [lacuna] conscience. Under the law, physicians must be afforded the ability to align their practices with their conscience in these controversial areas and others, and that right must be made clear in the CPSO Policy.

CLF therefore urges the CPSO to modify its Policy to reflect the principles outlined above, ensuring it accurately reflects physicians’ rights pursuant to the Charter and the Human Rights Code.

Please note the endorsements that follow. CLF would be pleased to provide further assistance in any way the CPSO believes would be appropriate. Thank you for your consideration of our submissions.

Christian Legal Fellowship

1. The Constitution Act1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.

2. Ontario Human Rights Code,R.S.O. 1990, e. H .19.

3. Ontario Human Rights Commission: Policy 011 Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, October 20, 1996. While creed is not a defined term in the Code, the OHRC has adopted the following definition of creed in its Policy: “Creed is interpreted to mean “religious creed” or “religion.” Tt is defined as a professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship. A belief in a God or gods, or a single supreme being or deity is not a requisite … The existence of religious beliefs and practices are both necessary and sufficient to the meaning of creed, if the beliefs and practices are sincerely held and/or observed. “Creed” is defined subjectively. The Code protects personal religious beliefs, practices or observances, even if they are not essential elements of tne creed provided they are sincerely held.” Policy page 4-5. ” In the case of discrimination in the workplace, both management and the union have a duty to accommodate. In Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud the Court noted that although the principle of equal liability applies, the employer has charge of the workplace and will be in a better position to formulate measures of accommodation. The employer, therefore, can be expected to initiate the process of taking measures to accommodate an employee. Nevenhelcss, the Court also noted that they will not absolve a union of its duty if it fails to put forward alternative measures that are available. In short, when a union is a co-discriminator with an employer it shares the obligation to remove or alleviate the source of the discriminatory effect.” Policy page 9. “Conclusion: Religious pluralism poses a challenge in any multicultural society, especially one as diverse as ours. Although the law is developing rapidly in this area, an informed spirit of tolerance and compromise is indispensable to any civil society, as well as to its capacity to make opportunities available to everyone, on equal terms, regardless of creed [or other protected right].” Policy page 16. “R v. Rig M Drug Mart l 1985] I SCR 295 at336-337