Hazel Woodrow and Justin Buhr
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Some Christian nationalists and their churches have been at the forefront of flaunting COVID public health measures and have made themselves heroes of the COVID conspiracy movement. Most recently this culminated in preacher Artur Pawlowski being interviewed by infamous white nationalist Steve Bannon about “communism” in Canada for his web show.
Far-right, vocal Christians, including Christian nationalists, have been a part of Canada’s racist right since CAHN began monitoring the explosive growth of the racist right surrounding anti-Muslim demonstrations in 2016. A year before the pandemic hit, street preachers, members of the neo-Nazi Canadian Nationalist Party, and other hate groups teamed up to violently attack Hamilton Pride in June, 2019. Later that year they teamed up again to attempt a march on Toronto’s LGBTQ+ neighbourhood in September, 2019 (they were stopped by LGBTQ+ persons and allies).
The neo-Nazi Canadian Nationalist Party itself is also a Christian nationalist party. Alongside calls to remove all the Jews from Canada “once and for all” are calls to institute “a mandatory national curriculum based in European and Christian values,” and establish “a Department of National Integrity to prevent the rise of radical views that are opposed to the traditions of our great nation.”
A blog post from January, 2021 on the now-defunct CNP website reads, “We of the nationalist persuasion put our faith in the Heavenly Father’s Kingdom, recognizing a Higher Power that is benevolent, merciful, and wise beyond our own capacity – the Exalted One, the Most High, the All Person. We serve to establish the Heavenly Father’s Kingdom here on Earth, as has been prophesized [sic] from TIME IMMEMORIAL.”
Most Christians are not Christian nationalists. Broadly speaking, Christian nationalism is the belief that Canada was founded on Christian values, that these Christian values are superior, and that our laws and government should operate on the basis of their values.
Residential schools and Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples were rooted in explicitly Christian nationalist principles. A 1924 Memorandum of the Convention of Catholic Principals states: “All true civilization must be based on moral law, which Christian religion alone can give. Pagan superstition could not suffice... to make the Indians practice the virtues of our civilization and avoid its attendant vices.”
The crux of the issue is that Christian nationalism is most commonly an ultra-conservative position, which is why it overlaps with the COVID conspiracy and racist right movements in Canada. Many Christian nationalists would, for example, oppose equal rights for other religions, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Christian nationalism is political.
Investigative journalist Marci McDonald has described Canadian Christian nationalists as coordinating on a variety of political issues and institutions, to “remak(e) Canada as a distinctly Christian nation” while “openly extol(ing) the idea of a government run by and for Bible believers according to scriptural principles that would trump the decisions of secular courts.”
One such Christian nationalist group is Liberty Coalition Canada (LCC), which created the “End the Lockdown Caucus,” of which Maxime Bernier, Ontario Independent MPP Randy Hillier, and Independent MP Derek Sloan are founding members (both Hillier and Sloan were ousted from their respective Conservative parties). While the caucus highlights politicians, LCC as a whole has explicitly religious roots, originally emerging from the organized effort to “Reopen Ontario Churches.”
According to Derek Sloan, “The End the Lockdowns Caucus, of which I am a founding member, and the Liberty Coalition Canada are open to anyone who is looking to push back against unconstitutional government overreach relating to COVID-19.”
“I’m not sure what your definition of Christian nationalist is, writes Sloan. “If it is used as a term to signify racism, extremism or hate . . . it is still a fallacious and inaccurate characterization of the End the Lockdowns Caucus or the Liberty Coalition Canada.”
To be clear, LCC has not been around long and they have not advocated against equal rights for other religions, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. It has, however, coordinated the release of The Niagara Declaration, which outlines Christian nationalist aspirations.
The Niagara Declaration
Along with the common anti-lockdown arguments, the documents, which were signed by over 200 churches, focus on ideas like the "Christian Dominion of Canada" and the "Supremacy of God" over Canada; including the assertion that "it is only in Christianized nations that religious freedom has ever flourished."
The author of The Niagara Declaration and co-author of the Reopen Ontario Churches letter is Reverend Joe Boot, founder of the Ezra Institute, as well as the Westminster Chapel in Toronto. The Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity is an evangelical think tank and “worldview training organization.”
In articles on the Ezra Institute website, Rev. Boot has railed against “cultural Marxism” and multiculturalism, referring to the latter as a “suicidal experiment which has proven an impossible disaster, leaving us with citizens who engage in terror.”
In an article about race and justice on the Ezra Institute website, Boot described protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, as a “full-scale assault on the remnants of Western Christian culture" and a "destruction of the cultural history of the anglosphere."
While recently in South Dakota for a conference, Boot said he was "honoured by the comparison" to Doug Wilson, a paleo-confederate who in 1996 co-authored a pamphlet defending slavery with a founding member of the white supremacist League of the South.
In an email to CAHN, Boot confirmed that he has “founded or been involved in a variety of initiatives (from churches, schools and Institutes) which seek to proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things.”
Boot went on to write, “Apart from Jesus Christ there is no hope for individuals, communities or nations for he alone is the answer to all social conflict, the healer of all divisions and the one who reconciles all peoples and brings us together at the cross where justice, forgiveness, love and mercy meet.”
The co-author of the Reopen Ontario Churches letter is Aaron Rock, the Lead Pastor at Harvest Bible Church in Windsor, Ontario, who also consulted on The Niagara Declaration. Rock is also a strong supporter of Maxime Bernier and regularly promotes him and the People’s Party. Rock has said of Bernier: he is “top notch. We need more people like this in politics.” Harvest Bible Church collected over $1.4 million dollars in 2019.
Sharing the stage with Derek Sloan and Randy Hillier, Rock bragged at an April 25th No More Lockdowns rally that he had preached to 850 people in his church that day. While he has insisted in interviews with the media that he isn’t a COVID-19 denialist or an anti-masker, his social media contains disinformation about masks, vaccines, and COVID deaths.
Rock concluded a May 6th press release responding to being issued a court summons by the Windsor Police Service: “We look forward to the day when elected officials will again uphold the supremacy of God and rule of law in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Christian nationalists, the anti-science movement, and the new Red Scare
For their parts, Derek Sloan, Randy Hillier, and Maxime Bernier have not shied away from embracing the religious aspects of the movement against COVID-19 public health measures.
Randy Hillier retweeted an article about a municipal councillor in Ontario joining the End the Lockdown Caucus, with a headline referring to it as being under the banner of a “Christian political group” - Liberty Coalition Canada.
When reached for comment about this acknowledgement of the Caucus’ relationship to LCC, Hillier told us that the only criteria for membership in the Caucus is to be a current or former elected official who promotes “the end of unconstitutional and unwarranted lockdowns.”
Hillier did not deny the Caucus’ religious roots, but said: “It is open to all, and has members regardless of their personal partisan or faith affiliations who advocate freedom, upholding the rule of law, and representative democracy.”
In a tweet of a screenshot of CAHN’s email to him, Hillier wrote, “This group hates all Canadians, especially white Christians & is comprised of public servants funded by the Govt. This Hate Network is like the Nazi Brownshirts.”
(CAHN received a grant under the Anti-Racism Action Plan, along with many other organizations, and is an independent and nonpartisan non-profit.)
The presence of Christian Nationalism can be felt at in-person organizing, as well as online.
Maxime Bernier was the headline speaker at a so-called “Freedom Rally” in Waterloo, Ontario on June 6th, which opened with the singing of O’Canada and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The organizer, Tyler Nicholson, expressed his excitement at seeing so many anti-communists.
Martin Masse, the spokesperson for Bernier’s party, responded very briefly to our request for comment on Bernier’s involvement with Christian nationalist events and organizations:
“Fuck off. We don’t talk to communist morons.”
Christian nationalists believe communism, and “cultural marxism,” as it is often called, are fundamentally anti-theist.
Opposition to communism is not in and of itself problematic, but it is an integral facet of the racist right. In those spheres it often incorporates elements of well-tread antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as references to a shadowy “globalist” struggle for world dominance or influence. In more extreme cases, opposition to communism can be a direct stand in for antisemitism, such as Rock Against Communism (RAC), a fringe genre of music favoured by neo-Nazis.
Modern usage of the phrase “cultural marxism” has reached such a saturation point that many who promote the conspiracy theory don’t fully realize or understand its origins or implications.
Liberty Coalition Canada isn’t the only Christian nationalist organization with which Sloan and Bernier have associated themselves.
Sloan recently appeared on an “Emergency Broadcast” livestream entitled “The Call for Protests and the Need for Prayer,” hosted by Battle for Canada (BFC), a Christian nationalist group, calling to “restore Canada under the Christian God.” In the livestream he told BFC founder Art Lucier: “I don't think God wants us to sit down and stand by as our country is sold out to, you know, frankly, communism. Explicitly the Communist Party of China, but also radical ideologies that are trying to undermine our entire country and values.”
“I am not formally affiliated [with BFC],” says Sloan. “I am passionate about our shared Canadian values, and am never shy speaking up for justice, compassion, fairness, truth, freedoms and equality for all. I understand Art Lucier's organization is Christian and they pray for Canada’s wellbeing.”
Both Sloan and Bernier appeared at rallies hosted by the organization in early June 2021.
Follow Hazel Woodrow on Twitter at @woodrow_hazel.
Justin Buhr is a student at University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's of Theology from Heritage College and Seminary. He is a proud Christian. You can follow him at @justin_buhr on Twitter.