On Thursday, Members of the Legislative Assembly of BC voted unanimously at third reading restore the province's Human Rights Commission. One MLA, however, abstained to protest a government he claims is trying to protect the rights of the nonreligious at the expense of "the right of Christians to follow the biblical ethic that their Lord and their conscience requires."
The bill, introduced earlier this month, was welcomed by the BC Humanist Association and other human rights organizations in the province. It's passage means BC will soon have an independent Human Rights Commissioner whose duty will be to educate and promote human rights in the province.
The existing Human Rights Tribunal provides a space where individuals can bring forward specific claims of discrimination. The Commissioner's work will supplement the Tribunal by proactively researching human rights issues in the province and providing guidance to individuals and organizations seeking to adopt best practices.
Six MLAs were not present for the final vote: BC Liberal MLAs Michael de Jong, Ian Paton, Laurie Throness, Andrew Wilkinson and John Yap; and BC NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who was recently elected as Mayor of Nanaimo.
While the bill was being debated at committee, Laurie Throness, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent, stated that he would be abstaining from the vote in protest. During the committee stage, MLAs consider each section of a bill in order and "may ask the bill’s sponsor detailed questions about each section’s meaning and purpose."
Throness used his time at committee to talk about his views on religious rights. He expressed his concern that a consultation report, authored by Parliamentary Secretary Ravi Kahlon to inform the legislation, focused more on the rights of the nonreligious than the religious.
However, in the report done by the parliamentary secretary, there was hardly a mention of religious discrimination. Indeed, the words "religion" or "religious" do not appear in the Bill 50 before us. In fact, under the heading "Religious discrimination" in the foundational report, the narrative following the heading was about protecting people who are not religious.
Allow me to quote from that section entitled "Religious discrimination," which quotes a fellow saying the following: "Under Canadian case law, religion requires worship of a supernatural deity. Non-believers in supernatural deities should be protected as well." It goes on to make more of the same point.
It's amazing to me that the protection of religious rights would be recast in this report as protection for those who are specifically not religious. It is the antithesis of the protection of religious rights. In this way, the voices of people of faith were effectively excluded and silenced in this report.
The BC Humanist Association and its members contributed to that consultation, including a call for "nonreligion" to be added as a protected class. Religious individuals and organizations had equal opportunity to contribute to the consultation but only two groups provided submissions.
Throness continued by talking about the work of Christian charities in his community and what he sees as discrimination against Christians who are anti-choice or anti-LGBTQ+. The chair cut him off when his fifteen minutes were up.
Later, Throness asked a series of questions to Attorney General David Eby on whether he would appoint people "who hold to biblical or other strong religious values" as Commissioner, to the committee that appoints the Commissioner or to the Commissioner's advisory council.
Eby defended the bill as it was written, noting that the Commissioner will be hired by a committee of MLAs from all parties. Those MLAs will be chosen by agreement of each party's house leaders (as is customary). The advisory council will be appointed by the Commissioner, independently of the government or legislature.
At one point Eby challenged Throness' claims directly:
It's not clear to me that the member has a full grounding of the human rights law in British Columbia. The human rights code has, as one of the core areas of protection against discrimination, is religion. And the commissioner's work, expressly by this statute, is to protect and promote those areas that are contained in the code, which include religion.
Earlier this year Throness spoke at an anti-abortion rally. This morning he spoke against a motion in the legislature supporting SOGI in BC schools.
The bill now awaits Royal Assent by the Lieutenant Governor, after which the legislature can begin the process of hiring the new Commissioner.
Note: All quotes are taken from draft transcripts and subject to revision by Hansard. To find full quotes, search for Throness in this document.