SCS Monitors Religious Bias in Calgary Police Service

January 29, 2024 - 12:00 am

In November of 2023, SCS became aware of infringements by the Calgary Police Service (CPS) on the requirement for governments and their agencies to be neutral regarding religion. These infringements included:

  • supporting a faith based community prayer breakfast by providing an honour guard, and by the attendance and recognition of senior officers as members of the CPS. The speaker at the breakfast was a fundamentalist Christian, residential school denier. Those senior officers apparently joined in a standing ovation for the speaker, (listen to full speech –
  • the CPS spent public funds, approved by the Calgary Police Commission (CPC), on a chapel in its police headquarters. The CPS claimed that the chapel was non-denominational, and open to all for use in spite of its religious configuration and the presence of a St. Michael statue within it. They made no attempt to make the space religiously neutral (i.e. having a non-religious function) by including non-believers in their consideration of the design of the chapel.

SCS wrote the following letter on our official letterhead to the CPS
November 10, 2023
Calgary Police Service
5111 47 St. N.E.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
T3J 3R2

RE: Support of religious activities by the Calgary Police Service To Whom It May Concern:
Secular Connexion is a national organization that works to protect the right to freedom from religion in Canada1. As a part of that effort, we work to ensure that public institutions conform to the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada requiring public institutions to honour that right and to be neutral in regards to religious activities in Canada.

We have become aware through the news media that the Calgary Police Service has recently actively supported a community prayer meeting that featured a fundamentalist religious speaker who made negative comments about the LGBTQ community and criticized the Prime Minister of Canada for defending the rights of that community. In short, he exercised his right to deliver a Christian message.

Our concern is that in providing an honour guard for the prayer meeting itself, the Calgary Police Service abrogated its duty to remain neutral in matters of religion by so supporting a religious event. By doing so, it supported the aforementioned fundamentalist speaker in direct violation of its duty to remain religiously neutral. In listening to his speech, I came to the conclusion that, were it not for the unfortunate Section 319 3b of the Criminal Code of Canada, he could be charged with uttering hate speech.

We are also aware that the Calgary Police Service spent public funds on establishing a religious chapel in its headquarters. In claiming that the chapel is open to all religions, the Service ignores the fact that to be neutral, such a facility would have to equally support non-believing members of the force, and of the general public. To meet its obligations, the Service would have to ensure that non-believers would have equal access to the facility. Our information is that it has not actively done so.

Please take steps to eliminate the religious bias that these actions demonstrate and to ensue that non-believers are treated equally with any religious people, either members of the force, or members of the general public.

Doug Thomas, President
Secular Connexion Séculière

We received the following reply from Chief Constable, Mark Neufeld.

January 9, 2024

Doug Thomas, President
Secular Connexion Seculiere

Dear Mr. Thomas,
Re: Response to your letter of November 10, 2023

Thank you for reaching out to the Calgary Police Service.

In accordance with the Alberta Human Rights Act and organizational values, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) is
committed to upholding respect for the diverse range of religious beliefs and non-beliefs within our
community. As a public institution, we maintain a stance of religious neutrality, ensuring that no preference or
favouritism is shown towards any specific religion.

We strive to create a safe, diverse, inclusive and inspired environment for our employees and those we serve.
In doing so, we have recently conducted a full review of the overall position of religion and spirituality at the
CPS, through our Office of Respect and Inclusion. Following our review, we recognize there are some areas of
our Service requiring changes to better reflect our commitment to religious neutrality and to improve
inclusivity. This includes, but is not limited to, honour guard representation at external events, changes to
policy around the spiritual and emotional care program (formerly called the Chaplaincy program), and changes
to the Arthur Duncan Memorial Hall (formerly the CPS chapel).

For context, the former CPS chapel was renamed the Arthur Duncan Memorial Hall in 2017, in honour of Const.
Arthur Duncan, the first member of the CPS to be killed in the line of duty . The hall serves as a dedicated space
that honours the fallen members of the CPS and is used for line of duty dedications and services of
remembrance. The hall’s former use as a chapel has necessitated additional changes to better ensure it is a
religiously neutral space . We have taken several actions to ensure this, including removal of religious statues,
items, sacraments and any references to the area as a “chapel.” Currently the Arthur Duncan Memorial Hall is
also undergoing renovations so the area may be used for a variety of purposes.

Additionally, as a public organization, representatives from the CPS are invited to attend various community
events throughout Calgary, as such events provide an opportunity for community engagement. As attendees at
external events, CPS representatives do not make decisions regarding the speakers and are not given an
opportunity to hear their remarks beforehand. As such, there is always a possibility that the organizers of the
events will select speakers whose values do not match those of the CPS, which was the case at this year’s
Calgary Leaders Prayer Breakfast. That said, I appreciate your concerns regarding the attendance of the honour
guard at such an event, and as noted, through our review, we will be looking at honour guard attendance at
events going forward.

I appreciate and agree with you that it is crucial for the CPS to be a place where members of all beliefs can feel
comfortable, respected, and included . While some of the changes may take time to fully complete, we are
committed to religious neutrality in the Service and workplace .

Mark Neufeld, Chief Constable, CPS
5111-47 Street N.E.,
Calgary, Alberta Canada T3J 3R2
www.calgarypolice .ca

Our thoughts

While this letter would seem to indicate that the CPS is changing its ways, we are concerned by the incongruity of their words and their actions.

For example, the CPS partnered with the Salvation Army church for a toy drive rather than the many religiously neutral options that also collect toys for children. In addition, they are committed to appointing 20 more religious chaplains. We don’t know how this will align with religious neutrality, what faiths or humanist/secular groups will be represented and what policies will govern their actions.

1 Supreme Court of Canada.Big M Drugs v. Crown.1984; Mouvement Liaïque Québécois v. City of Saguenay.2015