Quebec facing criticism over refusal to allow religious gathering at convention centre

CAQ Minister of Tourism Caroline Proulx at a press conference in Montreal, Quebec, Friday, July 9, 2021. Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s human rights commission has criticized the provincial government for blocking a religious gathering at a publicly owned convention centre after a cabinet minister said the event would have promoted anti-abortion views.

The commission issued a statement saying it was concerned about the government’s decision and reminding the province about the importance of freedom of expression.

As guaranteed under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, “freedom of expression aims to protect both unpopular and controversial ideas …. It is an essential pillar of a democratic society,” the commission said Thursday.

Last week, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx cancelled an event scheduled for June 23 to July 2 at the Quebec City Convention Centre by British Columbia-based Harvest Ministries International. Proulx explained her decision by stating that the event — called “Prepare the Way” — would promote anti-abortion views, which she said are contrary to the core values of Quebec.

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In response, Harvest Ministries International sent a lawyer’s letter to the province, demanding the minister reverse her decision. In a statement released on Wednesday, pastor Art Lucier argued that everyone has the right to express their convictions and core values, “even if they are minority or unpopular.”

The government has said it will maintain the cancellation despite the legal threats.

The rights commission said that for the government to determine case by case which events are acceptable at the convention centre raises “fundamental questions” about the protection of guaranteed rights.

And while the commission said it recognizes that certain rights aren’t absolute, “by limiting freedom of expression based on vaguely defined principles, there is a risk of opening the door to arbitrary restrictions and violating the fundamental rights of individuals and groups.”


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