Judges Enter Church for Interfaith Service During Opening of Ontario Courts


see source – reprint from the Toronto Star

On Tuesday, as they do every September, judges in Ontario will assemble in a house of worship for some religion, fellowship and celebration.

The occasion is an annual “interfaith service” that kicks off a day of pomp and ceremony to mark a new term for Ontario’s courts.

The service, which takes place this year in the picturesque Church of the Holy Trinity behind the Eaton Centre, has been a fixture on the court calendar in Toronto since 1955.

Ontario's Judges, Dressed in Their Robes, will be Attending the 87th Annual Red Mass to mark the Opening of Ontario's Courts. All judges in Ontario courts wear red sashes over their robes. Judges of the Ontario Superior Court wear the sash over their right shoulder, with the ends attached on the left side, while judges of the Ontario Court of Justice wear their sash over their left shoulder with the ends attached on the right side. The Superior Court judges also wear a badge on their sash. The badge features a gold sun with a Royal Crown. On the sun is a maple leaf with a gold Scales of Justice.Ontario’s justices of the peace also wear sashes, but they are dark green. They wear their sashes over the left shoulder, with the ends attached on the right side.

Judges are asked to wear their robes and there is a bus to shuttle them from the courthouse to the service, which has also taken place in synagogues over the years.

But some legal experts question the degree to which religious symbolism should be mixing with the official business of the state, including the workings of its justice system.

Canada’s Constitution doesn’t stipulate a formal separation of church and state, as does its American counterpart, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says Canada was founded upon principles that recognize “the supremacy of God.”

But Canada has developed a strong tradition of keeping church and state separate and the idea of injecting religious imagery into the legal system makes many people uncomfortable, says James Stribopoulous, a professor specializing in criminal and constitutional law at Osgoode Hall Law School.

“We don’t have the debates you see in the U.S. about displaying the Ten Commandments at a courthouse,” Stribopoulous said.

But Canada also has a long tradition of government and religious organizations working alongside each other, noted Benjamin Berger, an Osgoode professor who counts religion and law among his specialties.

That said, tethering religion to the justice system is bound to give some people pause, Berger contends.

After all, judges are the people we turn to when disputes erupt over religious freedom, public prayer or state support for religious schools and their jobs involve trying to sort out where religion should fit in the complex relationship between citizens and the state, he said.

But Michael Osborne, president of the Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto, a Catholic lawyers’ organization, argues attending a religious service is part of every judge or lawyer’s right as a Canadian.

In fact, Osborne’s organization holds its own “Red Mass” every year to mark the opening of the courts.

The Red Mass has been taking place in Toronto since the 1920s and the tradition itself dates back to 13th century France.

In the mid-1950s, some lawyers thought there should be a Protestant equivalent of the Red Mass and that led to the creation of the interfaith service, explains Jacob Bakan, special counsel to the office of Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler.

The annual service is actually held in memory of Newton Wesley Rowell, a former chief justice of Ontario and the province’s first Liberal Party leader, who played a big role in advancing women’s equality and shaping Canada’s constitutional law.

Rowell was also a leading figure in the Methodist Church and helped create the United Church of Canada in 1925 through a merger with three other Protestant churches. His grandson is former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Hal Jackman. Rowell died in 1941 and trust funds from an anonymous benefactor keep the interfaith service going in his memory. Many judges no longer attend, but the most senior members of the judiciary are among those who do.

There’s a lot to celebrate, both in honouring Rowell’s memory and in attempting to include and respect the rights of all religious faiths in the service, said Berger. But there are still issues around the timing of the event.

“Why is the opening of the courts the time to signal anything about religion? Those are the kinds of questions that, for some, will raise eyebrows.”

The Church Of The Holy Trinity - A. D. 1847 - found behind the Eaton Centre (the Eaton Centre was built around this church). This is where the interfaith service takes place this year for the Opening of the Ontario Courts, with all of the Judges inside this very old and historical church. The Church of the Holy Trinity opened in 1847 following the gift of an anonymous donor (later revealed as Mary Lambert Swale of Settle, England). Mrs. Swale had stipulated that all pews were to be "free and unappropriated forever", a tenet of the High Church party in England at the time. At that time, most other Anglican churches charged pew rentals.

What do those who have formally declared themselves to be “non-religious” think of this? The Canadian Secular Alliance, which advocates for government “neutrality” in religion, finds “any blurring of church and state problematic,” says spokesman Kevin Smith. But, perhaps surprisingly, the alliance isn’t calling for an end to the interfaith service. Actually, they want in.

“We find it hypocritical that while the organizers are trying to be inclusive by inviting the smallest faith groups (Zoroastrians have taken part in the service) they ignore the fastest growing world-view, the non-religious,” Smith said.

“It is time we were included in the theist club.”


The Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto traces its history back to the 13th century with the initiation of the Red Mass. In the Cathedral of Paris in 1245, a Mass was held to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the judges of the Ecclesiastical Courts.

It is believed the first liturgy was celebrated in honour of St. Ives of Brittany, the patron saint of lawyers. The practice of the Red Mass spread to England in 1310 during the reign of King Edward I. The entire Bench and Bar attended this special Eucharist at the beginning of the spring term of Court.

The Name “Red Mass” became a tradition because of the red robes worn by the judges and the red vestments worn by the priests. The Red Mass has been held annually in Westminster Cathedral, London, since 1904.

The Red Mass was first held in Toronto in 1925. Its sponsorship was assumed by the Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel in 1931 and by The Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto since 1968.

One of the primary objectives of the Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto is the sponsorship of the Red Mass.

Ontario judges parade into the Church of the Holy Trinity for an "interfaith service" prior to the Opening of the Courts on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR
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