Friday, December 15, 2006

Toronto Family Court Judge: Move Christmas Tree from Courthouse Lobby

Has the "War on Christmas" come north?

This AFP report seems to imply as much:

A Canadian judge has ordered the removal of a Christmas tree from a Toronto courthouse lobby, saying it might offend non-Christians.

In a letter to staff on Wednesday, Justice Marion Cohen said the decorated tree made non-Christians feel "they are not part of this institution" and was an inappropriate symbol to greet visitors.

But the judge's order prompted an angry reaction on Thursday.

"There's no reason why a Christmas tree can't be put wherever people want it to be. It's by no means an offense, I believe, to any religion," an attorney told broadcaster CTV.

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty called the decision "unfortunate."

"We enjoy the wonderful privilege of building a pluralistic, multicultural society," he told the Toronto Star. But no one should be "asked to abandon their traditions

... Still, the artificial tree was moved to an administrative corridor in the courthouse.

More than 70 percent of Canadians identified themselves as Christian, including almost 13 million Roman Catholics, in the last census in 2001. Muslims account for about two percent of the population. Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs each represent about one percent.

CTV news had a similar take:

A Toronto judge has ordered a Christmas tree out of a downtown provincial courthouse lobby, saying it's not an appropriate symbol to non-Christians.

The move by Justice Marion Cohen has upset staff, some of whom call the decision stupid and insulting.

Cohen says she understands the small tree has stood in the lobby at 311 Jarvis St. for years during the Christmas season, but in a letter to employees says non-Christians are "confronted" with the artificial decoration, which makes them feel "they are not part of this institution.''

The judge, who oversees administration at the courthouse, said it's inappropriate that a Christian symbol is the first thing visitors see when they enter the building.

A number of Christmas trees are on full display inside other public institutions, including at the Ontario legislature, Toronto City Hall and at Nathan Phillips Square. There are also trees inside the Old City Hall courts.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Thursday slammed the judge's order. "I think that's unfortunate,'' McGuinty said. "I think it represents a misunderstanding of what we are working so hard to build here in Ontario."

I wasn't expecting this issue to emerge in Toronto.

In fact, until reading the Premier's comments, I wasn't even aware we had a recent tradition of Christmas trees in courthouse lobbies. Silly me... now I know.

I can already hear the Bill O'Reilly gang jumping all over this as Friday's "outrage of the day."

I am left wondering a bit about how and why this tree became an issue at all. It seems a rather contrived "controversy."

We are all better served when these polarizing cultural flashpoints are avoided.

On balance, however, if any decision had to be made at all, I think Madame Justice Cohen is probably right about this.

The public attending at this particular courthouse is comprised of as diverse an ethnic mosaic as will be found anywhere in this City. Justice Cohen's intervention was a small gesture, cognizant of the many sensibilities of those "stakeholders" we hear so much about, these days.

It hardly constitutes headline news, folks .

The tree was not incinerated by judicial edict, for goodness sake! It was simply relocated to a less central location.

That said, I still can't help the fleeting thought that anything that might inspire a bit of added, seasonal goodwill at Family Law courthouses like "311" can't be that bad an idea...

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
Visit our Website: www.wiselaw.net

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