House of Commons prayer scrutinized after top court decision

A House of Commons prayer that begins with “Almighty God” is under scrutiny following the Supreme Court decision that a municipal council in Quebec cannot open meetings with a Catholic prayer.

Prayer to 'Almighty God' before each sitting could be in violation of charter

Speaker Andrew Scheer reads prayer in House

7 years ago
Duration 0:55
The traditional prayer before House of Commons business is usually private but was public on October 23, 2014, after the Ottawa shooting.

A House of Commons prayer that begins with "Almighty God" is under scrutiny following the Supreme Court decision that a municipal council in Quebec cannot open meetings with a Catholic prayer.

The prayer is read by the Speaker of the House ahead of each sitting before the doors are opened to the public. Parliament's website says that the Speaker, MPs and table officers must stand during the prayer, which is followed by a moment of silence.

Though usually a closed-door affair, the prayer was televised on Oct. 23, 2014 — the day after the shooting at the National War Memorial and inside Parliament's Centre Block.

The prayer reads:

Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.

Opposition House leader Peter Julian is looking into whether the decision applies in the House of Commons, which is protected by parliamentary privilege, said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Speaker Andrew Scheer reads the traditional prayer on Oct. 23, 2014, the day after the Ottawa shooting. (Hansard)

"If there a place where we need to show we fully respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it's here in Parliament," he said.

The prayer has been part of the daily House proceedings since 1877 and was codified in standing orders in 1927, said Heather Bradley, director of communications for the office of the Speaker.

Speaker Andrew Scheer "has no intention of changing this," but standing orders can be amended by the House, Bradley said.

'It's a moment of solemn reflection'   

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he believes the prayer is "as inclusive as possible." But he said the prayer could be reviewed by the Board of Internal Economy, which is the governing body of the House of Commons.

"I'm personally comfortable with the way it is. The wording, the presentation, is done in such a way that it is to recognize all faiths. And even if a person is agnostic, it calls for a moment of silence and contemplation," he said.

It's important to respect the Supreme Court's ruling and to defend the rights of individuals.— Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he is pleased that there are discussions underway about whether or not the prayer should be changed.

"It's important to respect the Supreme Court's ruling and to defend the rights of individuals," he said. "I hope — and I am certain — that we will be able to find a way to proceed. For me, like many others, it's a moment of solemn reflection."

Mulcair said that he enjoyed the moment of silence observed in Quebec's National Assembly.

"It's a solemn moment at the beginning of each session. Those who want to pray are free to pray, but it's not imposed," he said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson replaced the prayer at the beginning of city council meetings with a moment of reflection after the Supreme Court ruled the state must remain neutral in matters of religion on April 15.


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