By Anna Farrow, Montreal Correspondent, The Catholic Register
[Canadian Catholic News] – A Christian organization forced to cancel a 10-day prayer rally in Quebec City has filed a $200,000 lawsuit against the provincial government for material and moral damages and for violating its Charter rights.
Harvest Ministries International filed the action Aug. 2 against Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx, the attorney general of Quebec and the Centre des Congrés du Québec. According to the motion, HMI is seeking compensation for both lost revenue and the interference with HMI’s “rights to freedom of religion, expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and non-discrimination on the basis of religion.”
Art Lucier, a pastor and trustee of HMI from Kelowna, B.C., learned June 2 that the “Faith Fire Freedom Rally” scheduled to begin on June 23 was in jeopardy. The contract he signed in January with the Centre des Congrés du Québec, a facility owned by the Quebec government, had been cancelled, leaving only three weeks to find an alternative venue.
That proved difficult. Though Pierre-Michel Bouchard, CEO of the conference centre, had seemingly promised assistance to HMI to find another location, Proulx told media, “My CEO made a mistake, I told him so, and this morning I’m telling him that we’re not going to help the company find new premises.”
The motion says HMI was subsequently “turned down by all 43 of the establishments it contacted” and that the group held a smaller event at an undisclosed location, “a room that could accommodate just over 200 people,” for the June 23-25 weekend.
In remarks to the press made by Proulx, Martine Biron, Status of Women Minister, and Premier François Legault, the rationale behind the governments cancelling of the event was that the evangelical church would be holding an “anti-abortion” event.
“It’s a question of judgment. We’re not going to allow anti-abortion groups to put on big shows in public places,” Legault said.
Proulx announced she had advised all conference centres under provincial jurisdiction, including the Palais des congrès de Montréal and the Parc Olympic, that events like the rally would no longer be held at government facilities.
“It’s against the fundamental principles of Quebec. This type of event will not take place here,” the tourism minister said.
In a June 5 letter to Proulx and Bouchard, rally organizers denied that they were planning “anti-abortion” content for the event.
Lucier said in a June 16 Facebook Live message that the revival was “about reconciliation, worship and fellowship.”
Olivier Séguin, director of Francophone operations for the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms and the lawyer representing HMI, wrote in an email to The Catholic Register that the suit is not just “a simple breach of contract action.”
Séguin suggests that the more concerning issue is that there now seem to be new and opaque grounds for discrimination being introduced in the province.
“With the support of the Premier, … it is now de rigueur to discriminate on the basis of ‘fundamental Quebec principles,’ ” and it is “up to the Crown corporations to guess … the Minister’s mind,” wrote Séguin.
The uncertain meaning of “Quebec values,” which presumably can change according to the election cycle, leaves not just Crown corporations but also private businesses in doubt as to their responsibilities and liabilities.
Séguin suggests there are similarities between the current suit and the landmark case, Roncarelli v. Duplessis.
Frank Roncarelli, a wealthy Montreal restauranteur and Jehovah’s Witness, provided bail for 390 of the more than 1,000 young Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested for distributing anti-Catholic Church literature between 1945 and 1946. At the time, the Duplessis government took strong action against the sect, accusing it of seditious behaviour. Duplessis ordered the Quebec Liquor Commission to revoke the liquor license of Roncarelli’s family-owned restaurant.
Within six months, Roncalli was forced to close his business. He sued for damages. A 1959 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada found in favour of Roncarelli. Justice Ivan Rand cited Duplessis’ order was based on arbitrary and bad faith reasons.