Religion and politics have had an uneasy relationship in Canada since before Confederation in 1867. The first 100 years of Canada’s history were characterized by conflicts between the French Catholic population and the majority English Protestant population. In the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in the French Catholic province of Quebec witnessed in effect a divorce from the Roman Catholic church. This dramatic secularization was echoed in the rest of Canada by a more gradual secularization, evidenced by marked decline in church attendance. The adoption of the Charter of Rights in 1982 gave rise to a series of court decisions removing even the vestiges of the Christian ethos that dominated for over a century. The increasing presence of religious minorities, due largely to immigration, has given rise to a new focus on accommodating religious practices. Yet a new law in Quebec shows that province preferring to impose a laicity form of secularism rather than accommodating religious difference. As this law prohibits wearing religious symbols when working for the government, it has had a very negative impact on religious minorities in the province. Religious organizations continue to have an impact on politics and public policy in Canada.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Aga Khan Foundation Canada. n.d. Available online: https://www.akfc.ca/about-us/visit-us. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Anderson, D., and J. Mosey. 2018. Legislators lead the way to freedom of religion and belief. International Journal for Religious Freedom 11 (1/2): 9–14.
Association for Reformed Political Action. n.d. Available online: https://arpacanada.ca. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Bélanger, P., and M. Eagles. 2006. The Geography of Class and Religion in Canadian Elections Revisited. Canadian Journal of Political Science 39: 591–609.
Berger, T.R. 1982. Fragile Freedoms: Human Rights and Dissent in Canada, (revised and updated). Toronto: Clark, Irwin and Co.
Botting, G. 1993. Fundamental Freedoms and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.
Bouchard, G., and C. Taylor. 2008. Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation. Quebec: Government of Quebec.
Brown, D.M. 2000. Freedom From or Freedom For? Religion as a Case Study in Defining the Content of Charter Rights. UBC Law Review 33: 551–615.
Buckingham, J.E. 2014. Fighting over God: A Legal and Political History of Religious Freedom in Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Bussey, B., 2021. “That ‘Moral Squint’ and Canada Summer Jobs,” Canadian Council of Christian Charities. https://www.cccc.org/news_blogs/barry/2021/06/14/that-moral-squint-and-canada-summer-jobs/. Accessed 24 June 2021.
Canada. 1966. Proceedings of the Special Joint Committee the Senate and House of Commons on Divorce. Ottawa: Government of Canada.
Canadian Association of University Teachers. n.d. “Universities that impose a faith or ideological test.” Available online: https://www.caut.ca/latest/publications/academic-freedom/universities. Accessed 30 May 2021.
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. n.d. “History.” Available online: https://www.cccb.ca/about/overview/. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Cardus. n.d. Available online: https://www.cardus.ca. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. n.d. Available online: https://www.cija.ca. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Centre for Public Dialogue. n.d. Available online: https://www.crcna.org/PublicDialogue. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Christian Embassy. n.d. “About”. Available online: https://christianembassy.ca/about. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Conseil Supérieur de l’Éducation. 2000. A New Place for Religion in the Schools. Quebec: Government of Quebec.
Crowley, T. 1996. The French Regime to 1760. In A Concise History of Christianity in Canada, ed. T. Murphy and R. Perin, 1–55. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Dawson, T. 2021. “The price of worship during COVID: Church fined, pastor in prison.” Healthing. Available online: https://www.healthing.ca/news/the-price-of-worship-during-covid-ontario-church-is-fined-and-an-alberta-pastor-sits-in-prison/wcm/4121e657-585f-44a6-a07b-33bcf68ccf3d. Accessed 28 June 2021.
Diefenbaker, J.G. 1985. In The Personal Letters of a Public Man: The Family Letters of John G. Diefenbaker, ed. Thad McIlroy. Toronto: Doubleday Canada.
Egerton, G.W. 2000. Trudeau, God and the Canadian Constitution: Religion, Human Rights and Government Authority in the Making of the 1982 Constitution. In Rethinking Church, State, and Modernity: Canada between Europe and America, ed. David Lyon and Marguerite Van Die, 90–112. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. n.d. Available online: https://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Ferguson, B. 2005. 9.2 Religious Institutions. In Recent Social Trends in Canada 1960-2000, ed. L.W. Roberts, R.A. Clifton, B. Ferguson, K. Kampen, and S. Langlois, 359–371. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Henderson, W. B. n.d. “The Indian Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Available online: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-act. Accessed 21 May 2021.
Hiemstra, R. and K. Stiller, 2016. “Religious Affiliation and Attendance in Canada,” In Trust Magazine, New Year 2016. Available online: https://intrust.org/Magazine/Issues/New-Year-2016/Religious-affiliation-and-attendance-in-Canada. Accessed 10 Jun 2022.
IPPFoRB. n.d. Available online: https://www.ippforb.com/. Accessed June 11 2022.
Jenkins, P. 2021. “How Quebec went from one of the most religious societies to one of the least,” The Christian Century, April 28, 2021.
Lale, B. 2021. “The Church of God in Aylmer went ahead with a drive-in church service for a third straight week Sunday,” CTV News. Available online: https://london.ctvnews.ca/the-church-of-god-in-aylmer-went-ahead-with-a-drive-in-church-service-for-a-third-straight-week-sunday-1.4922943. Accessed 24 June 2021.
Lambertson, R. 2005. Repression and Resistance: Canadian Human Rights Activists, 1930-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lexier, R., S. Bangarth, and J. Weier. 2018. The Party of Conscience: The CCF, the NDP, and Social Democracy in Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines.
Mason, G.W. 1956. The Legislative Struggle for Church Union. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
Mendelson, M., and R. Nadeau. 1997. The Religious Cleavage and the Media in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science 30 (1): 129–146.
Mennonite Central Committee. n.d. Available online: https://mcccanada.ca/get-involved/advocacy/ottawa. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Milloy, J.S. 1999. A National Crime; The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.
National Council of Canadian Muslims. n.d. Available online: https://www.nccm.ca. Accessed 23 June 2021.
National House of Prayer. n.d. Available online: https://nhop.ca/about-us/history. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Newfoundland and Labrador. 1986. Education for Self-reliance: A Report on Education and Training in Newfoundland. St. John’s, NL: The Royal Commission on Employment and unemployment.
Noll, M. 2006. What Happened to Christian Canada? Church History 75 (2): 245–273.
Penton, J.M. 1976. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
Quebec, Task Force on the Place of Religion in Schools in Québec. 1999. L’enseignement culturel des religions. Principes directeurs et conditions d’implantation. Québec: Government of Quebec.
Robertson, B. 1971. Wilfrid Laurier: The Great Conciliator. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Schull, J. 1965. Laurier: The First Canadian. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
Skelton, O.D. 1921. The Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Vol. I. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Snell, J.G. 1991. In the Shadow of the Law: Divorce in Canada, 1900-1939. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Statistics Canada. 2001. Religious Groups in Canada. Ottawa: Government of Canada.
———. 2022. The Canadian Census: A rich portrait of the country’s religious and ethnocultural diversity. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/221026/dq221026b-eng.pdf.
Thiessen, J. 2015. The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Trudeau, P.E. 1968. Federalism and the French Canadians. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
Weir, G.M. 1917. Evolution of the Separate School Law in the Prairie Provinces. Saskatoon.
Wilkins-LaFlamme, S. 2016. The Changing Religious Cleavage in Canadians’ Voting Behaviour. Canadian Journal of Political Science 49 (3): 499–518.
World Sikh Organization. n.d. Available online: https://www.worldsikh.org. Accessed 23 June 2021.
World Vision. n.d. Available online: https://www.worldvision.ca/get-involved/advocacy. Accessed 23 June 2021.
Act to amend the law concerning education with respect to persons professing the Jewish religion, (1903) 3 Edw. 7, c. 16 (Quebec).
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982, 1982, c. 11 (U.K.).
Constitution Act, 1867, 30 & 31 Victoria, c. 3 (U.K.).
Constitutional Amendment, 1998 (Newfoundland Act), SI/98-25.
———, 1997 (Québec), SI/97-141 Canada.
Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69, SC 1968–69, c. 38.
Divorce Act, S.C. 1990, c. 46.
A.G. Ontario v. Hamilton Street Railway,  A.C. 524 (JCPC).
Adler v. Ontario,  3 SCR 609.
Brassard et al, v. Langevin, (1877) 1 SCR 145.
Brophy v. A-G Manitoba,  A.C. 202 (JCPC).
Canadian Civil Liberties Association v. Ontario (Minister of Education) (1990) 71 OR (2d) 341 (Ont. C.A.).
Chabot v. Commissioners of Lamorandiere (1957), 12 DLR (2d) 796 (Que. Q.B.).
City of Winnipeg v. Barrett,  A.C. 445 (JCPC).
Civil Marriage Act, S.C. 2005, c. 33.
Duval v. R. (1938), 64 RJQ 270 (K.B.); leave to appeal dismissed  SCR 390.
Hirsch v. Protestant Board of School Commissioners of Montreal,  AC 200;  1 DLR 1041 (JCPC).
Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee, [L.R.] 1 P. and D. 130 (1866).
In re Legislation Respecting Abstention From Labour on Sunday (1905), 35 SCR 581.
Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University,  2 SCR 293.
Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General),  1 SCR 613.
R. v. Big M Drug Mart,  1 SCR 295.
R. v. Kinler (1925), 63 RJQ 483 (S.C.).
R. v. Morgentaler,  1 SCR 30.
Re the Marriage Law of Canada,  AC 880 (JCPC).
Reference Re Same-sex Marriage,  3 SCR 698.
Roncarelli v. Duplessis  SCR 121.
Saguenay (Ville de) c. Mouvement laïque québécois,  2 SCR 3.
Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers,  1 SCR 772.
Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Ontario,  2 SCR 453.
Waldman v. Canada, CCPR/C/67/D/694/1996.
Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education (Director) (1988), 65 OR (2d) 641 (Ont. C.A.).
Editors and Affiliations
© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Buckingham, J.E. (2023). An Uneasy Relationship: Religion and Politics in Canada. In: Holzer, S. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Religion and State Volume II. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-35609-4_28
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-031-35608-7
Online ISBN: 978-3-031-35609-4