How Canada once led the way in religious freedom
Catholic Herald, 22 June 2017
Canada's distinct history is one of religious pluralism, toleration and liberty
In this year of looking back, many on both sides of the Atlantic might think that there is nothing of great religious significance in the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, to be marked on July 1, 2017. Perhaps its inclusion here is just special pleading by a Canadian writer?
Not so. Canada’s history is often told as the working out of French and English colonial competition in the frozen half of North America, a sort of sideshow to the main event of the American Revolution. Canada has not had the impact on world affairs of that revolution, but its own development constitutes a distinctive history of religious pluralism, toleration and liberty.
After the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, when Britain took Quebec from France, the British Crown was faced with a problem: how to rule across the Atlantic over a vastly more numerous French population? The usual telling of the tale emphasises the difference in language and culture and law, but of monumental importance was the question of religion. Catholicism in the 1760s was illegal in Britain, and would remain so for decades more. Could the same laws be applied in Quebec, enforced by a small British colonial administration?
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