TORONTO -- "Parallel," according to Webster's Dictionary, is defined as "extending in the same direction but never meeting." Perhaps the best example is the 49th parallel that divides Canada and the United States. There is certainly no convergence in the area of GLBT rights, and no greater illustration than the Salvation Army and other faith-based social organizations that get government funding. While the Salvation Army and other religious groups try to avoid gay rights laws in the United States, many of the same organizations, including the Salvation Army, work within Canada's extensive human rights codes. In Toronto, the Salvation Army operates two hospitals, Scarborough Grace, a general care center, and Toronto Grace, a geriatric center. Both receive government funding and neither has asked for exemptions from Ontario's Human Rights Code, which protects gays and lesbians in the workplace. The hospitals, and others like them across Canada, are also bound by same-sex partnership laws regarding pensions and other benefits laws enacted by state and national levels of government. "Vriend set the boundaries," said George Smitherman, an out member of the Ontario legislature, referring to a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998. In the Vriend case, Delwin Vriend, a lab instructor at King's University College, a Christian institution in Edmonton, was fired from his job because he is
gay. When the case ended up in the Supreme Court, the justices ruled that gays working in publicly funded institutions were covered by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms even if the institutions are religiously controlled. "Anytime an organization seeks constitutional exemption to discriminate, that's going to be bad news for gays and lesbians." Smitherman said. "We should be thankful that the Canadian experience with respect to equality rights offers greater protection than in the U.S., where President Bush's faith-based initiatives could be akin to state-sanctioned discrimination and homophobia," Smitherman said. A survey of Human Rights Commissions across Canada this week by 365Gay.com failed to turn up any complaints of discrimination in the workplace against Canadian faith-based institutions. One senior nurse at Toronto Grace hospital, when asked about gays and lesbians working for the Salvation Army hospital said, "We'd be lost without our gay staff. I've never seen any problem here." The nurse, who asked that her name not be used, said that while there is a chapel in the facility, no one is required to use it or to accept pastoral care. Salvation Army officials declined an invitation to discuss the differences between the Canadian and American branches of the organization.
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