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Toronto Rabbis Mount Legal Case In Fight for Religious Freedom

There cannot be two different standards - one that governs gatherings for amusement, and another for religion: Rabbi Shochet

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Prominent members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto will be launching a legal challenge against the Ford government in Ontario, for violating Charter rights to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly.

The senior rabbis of the city’s V’aad HaRabanim, the religious court of Toronto, are leading the case.

Rabbi David Shochet, Rabbi Shlomo Miller, Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, and Rabbi YY Sofer are seeking the right to have ten men pray together in a quorum (minyan), which the province has prohibited due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

This legal case, led by The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is also being supported by 400 churches.

COVID-19 regulations have already shut down the city for close to three months, but there has been a gradual loosening of restrictions with some businesses, stores, and parks. As such, the rabbis in this case believe religious services should follow these very same rules.

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“There cannot be two different standards: one that governs gatherings for amusement, and another for religion,” Rabbi Shochet told TheJ.ca. “Either it is safe to gather, or it is not. Safety always comes first, but we cannot endure the double standard.”

Lisa Bildy, the legal representative heading the case

The Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act permits religious gatherings of up to five people, with safe distance. Those caught contravening the Act may face legal ramifications, such as fines up to $100,000 and a one-year jail term, according to the Centre’s press release.

In recent weeks, a variety of businesses and services have been deemed “essential” and have been permitted to operate with safety measures in place, including construction work, hardware stores, nurseries, large book store chains, liquor and marijuana shops. As far as the rabbis are concerned, synagogue prayer is more “essential” than the need to pick up a new plant, screwdriver, or bottle of whiskey. 

“It is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to discriminate in this arbitrary manner,” concludes Lisa Bildy, the lawyer leading the constitutional challenge.

According to the Centre’s press release, a week ago government representatives initially agreed to accommodations for outdoor services with a quorum, but then changed their minds when they learned that some in the Jewish community sought to follow the government’s boundaries.

While a pronouncement in late-May by the Ford government did allow for drive-in religious services, this does not serve those following Orthodox Jewish practice for Saturdays (Shabbat), a day on which Torah-observant Jews do not drive.

“With the province increasingly opening up, it is important that faith groups be a part of that process. If stores can have many dozens of people inside and maintain safety, so too can houses of worship,” noted Bildy.

Rabbi Dovid Shochet

Other jurisdictions in Canada are permitting indoor services with 50 congregants, such as the province of Manitoba. “There is no reason why similar guidelines couldn’t be adopted in Ontario,” she said.

The rabbis represented in this case are clear that any allowance for prayer would be accompanied by the adoption of all health measures in place in other provinces. 

Not everyone agrees that communal prayer services, at this time, is a good idea. Dr. Barry Pakes, on behalf of the Toronto Jewish Community Covid-19 Task Force, a group of health care providers, wrote online in a May 28 update: “It is clear from the epidemiologic data, and my experience in managing community outbreaks, that this final condition – the safety of individuals and the community – has not yet been met. With the recent increase in cases and outbreaks and deaths in the community, minyanim still present a very real risk, regardless of the guidance they follow.”

Rav Shlomo Miller

The Justice Centre is presently preparing court documents. Whether the case gets heard is contingent on the court agreeing that a constitutional challenge to broad government infringements of Ontarians’ civil liberties is sufficiently urgent to meet the test, Bildy said.The four rabbis leading the case are:

Rabbi Shlomo Miller, Chief Justice, Kollel Toronto,

Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, Chief Justice, Bais Din Tzedek Toronto,

Rabbi Dovid Shochet, Chief Justice, Vaad Harabonim Toronto,

Rabbi YY Sofer, Chief Justice Adas Yisroel, and Chief Justice, The Chassidic Community of Toronto

Miriam Perl is a freelance writer and a marketing communications specialist at NCSY Canada. She has written for several news outlets and has written a blog about her father’s life at miriamprl.blog

 
 
 
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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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