Seldom is liberty lost in one fell swoop.
Rather, politicians and bureaucrats take it away bit by bit, typically in pursuit of health, security, safety, the environment, the children, or some other cause.
Canada’s velvet totalitarianism does not arrest, imprison, torture or kill. Rather, today’s nanny state stifles initiative, suffocates enterprise, smothers creativity, obstructs volunteerism, impedes freedom, and kills community.
Case in point: the British Columbia health ministry is using daycare regulations to shut down a children’s program at First Baptist Church in Armstrong, BC. A local bureaucrat insists that providing religious instruction to children is illegal “child care” if one lacks a government licence to “provide care”.
First Baptist started running a weekly “Kid’s Club Ministry” for children from Kindergarten to Grade 5. Kid’s Club Ministry was free and open to all children, without charge or fee, provided their parents signed a permission form. The church explained to government bureaucrat Shauna Stewart that the sole purpose of Kid’s Club was teaching children about Jesus, love and the good news.
For Ms. Stewart, religious instruction is unauthorized “child care” because First Baptist dared to provide children with snacks, and included activities and games as part of the religious instruction.
A typical Kid’s Club Ministry session included providing children (ages 5-10) with snack time, as well as options for baking, woodworking, gym-time, crafts, games and puzzles. After a 20-minute opening session of prayer and Bible lessons, the kids enjoyed 40 minutes for snacks and activities before closing with another 30-minute session of Bible lessons, prayer and … a puppet. As the church explained it: “Gone are the days of the old school model of ‘Sunday School’ where kids just sit around a table and listen to a Bible story. This has been replaced with teaching the Bible stories through activities, games and stories,” part of creating “a modern and fun environment where we as a church could teach children about Jesus, while doing everyday fun activities and participation.”
BC law says “a course of activity or study for children” that has the promotion of religious instruction “as its only purpose” does not need a daycare license. This means that churches running kids’ programs can rely on volunteers and regular employees, without needing to hire only those with degrees in Early Childhood Education. An exemption from stifling and smothering regulations also allows a soccer coach to bring sliced oranges to a game or practice without a permit.
Nevertheless, Ms. Stewart somehow “determined” that First Baptist was acting as a “community care facility.” Ms. Stewart and her taxpayer-funded colleagues simply won’t tolerate a church providing kids with snacks, activities, arts and crafts as part of a religious Kids’ Club. She ordered the church to shut it down. The church complied, but has appealed her decision.
In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville aptly described Canada in 2018, in his book Democracy in America:
… the supreme power … extends its arm over the whole community … [covering] the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Like chess clubs, music classes, soccer leagues, girl guides and Cadets Canada, church programs are part of the social fabric that sustains a free society. For its health and strength, the free society depends on Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” of private, voluntary associations. Defending social, recreational, sports and religious programs from the likes of Shauna Stewart protects civil society. For a bureaucrat to insist that these voluntary programs cannot exist without government licence is to smother civil society with a cold, wet and expensive blanket of bureaucracy, employing busy-bodies who are high on their own power.
Canada’s velvet totalitarianism will continue to grow, unless resisted decisively by citizens while they still retain their understanding and appreciation of liberty.
John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which acts for Armstrong’s First Baptist Church in seeking to overturn this B.C. Interior Health decision.