The Ohio House of Representatives, led by Republicans, passed a resolution this week urging the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to add Canada to its watch list.
Citing the ways Canadian lawmakers handled COVID-19 lockdowns and targeted churches, even jailing one pastor for more than a month, state Rep. Tim Ginter (R) presented legislation asking the federal government to add the northern country to a list of nations where religious liberties are in jeopardy.
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“This resolution is not the result of a singular incident or even a handful of incidents,” he said in a statement, according to WKSU-TV. “It’s a persistent pattern of religious rights violations that has driven us to this point.”
At the height of Canada’s overbearing restrictions, government authorities in Alberta arrested and jailed James Coates, pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, for more than 30 days because he held in-person worship services, a violation of unilaterally enacted government edicts.
Coates recently appeared on “The Prodigal Stories Podcast,” where he spoke candidly about the “surreal” experience, the toll it took on his family, and the future of religious freedom in Canada:
Ohio state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus (R) referenced Coates’ incarceration, arguing such treatment by government authorities should not be tolerated and ought to be clearly condemned.
“While Ohio has stood up for religious freedom and protected the right to attend religious services, it is clear Canada has not done the same,” he said, describing the authoritarian mandates enacted by Canadian officials as “very similar to what we see in Communist-controlled China.”
Stoltzfus’ remarks echo those made by Coates, who told CBN’s Faithwire he believes the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are just the beginning of the “totalitarian” measures Western governments will try to foist upon their citizens.
“I think this is going to continue to take place; there’s going to continue to be battles,” he explained, calling his experience a “practical illustration of what it looks like to take a courageous stand on the Word of God.”
Albertan Pastor Artur Pawlowski was also subject to heavy-handed government treatment, reportedly spending two months in solitary confinement during his 51-day stint in police custody for inciting “mischief” over his participation in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” along the U.S.-Canada border, a weeks-long demonstration earlier this year protesting COVID-19 restrictions.
Yet another pastor in Alberta, Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church, was arrested in 2021 for organizing in-person worship services, a violation of a government injunction. Stephens was arrested at his home by Canadian police, who escorted him into the back of a squad vehicle while his children cried uncontrollably.
Ohio legislators are not alone in their concerns about Canada’s treatment of Christians. Last year, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) urged the USCIRF to investigate “systemic” violations of Canadians’ charter rights.
“I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship,” he wrote in a letter to USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza, referring to the fact that Coates’ church hosted “underground” worship services to skirt government restrictions.
The Ohio resolution is certainly noteworthy, given The Buckeye State’s top destination for its exports is Canada. According to the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, Ohio exported $21.2 billion in goods to Canada in 2018, accounting for about 40% of the state’s total goods exports.
Democrats in Ohio are not fans of the resolution to see Canada added to a religious freedom watch list.
“We should be addressing the issues that our constituents are asking for, such as stricter gun policies, legislation to protect women’s rights, and reforming our rigged criminal justice system,” said state Rep. Latyna Humphrey (D). “At this point in time, we are focusing on issues that are not even within our jurisdiction.”
Ohio Rep. Daniel Troy (D) said it is wrong for Ohio to tell Canadian politicians how to run their country.
“Before we start the War of 1812 here again with our Canadian neighbors, I just want to remind everybody that they’ve been a strong and loyal NATO member,” he said. “They are one of our strongest allies.”
The countries currently on the USCIRF watch list are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela. The federal agency describes the list as a collection of countries “where religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level requiring CPC [countries of particular concern] designation but which require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.”
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