Canada is a tech savvy nation with 88.5% of the population connected through the internet. With such a high national internet user rate it seems reasonable to expect that information about any subject would be easily accessible. But the internet is a repository for information just like any library. Neither libraries nor the internet create information; both are repositories. Information must exist in a library or on the internet before it can be accessed. Herein lies a dilemma for Canadian Pagans. The challenge appears to be about the existence of contemporaneous information on Paganism, not an issue of access.
What information exists for new or long time Pagans in Canada and what is the current state of Pagan politics North of the 49th parallel? Statistics Canada (StatsCan) is the government agency that was founded in 1971 to support better understanding of the nation’s population, society, culture, resources and economy. StatsCan completed the latest national household survey in July of 2016 but according to their published schedule, the freshest information won’t be released until February 2017. Until that time, we’re limited to data from previous surveys. Historically, StatsCan has lumped Paganism into a catch all bucket of religions called ‘Other’. In 2001, you were included in the ‘Other’ bucket if you stated that you had a religion and did not identify as: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or Eastern Religion Other. In 2001 Canada had a reported national population of over 29.5 million individuals. Just under 64 thousand people were labelled as ‘Other’. StatsCan predicts this group to grow to 185 thousand by the year 2031. We can’t determine the percentage of self-identified Pagans that are included in the bucketed number.
Interestingly, Canada does not have any state recognized religion(s). The definition of the term ‘recognized’ is debatable. My interpretation of the definition is that despite a national history steeped in both French and English religion and law, the Canadian government recognizes all religions similarly. In general, religions are recognized in Canada from an administrative perspective and as charities.
It would be easy to feel that Pagans do not have a voice on the national Canadian stage. After all, how can the government take the Pagan electorate seriously when we’re considered ‘Other’? I would argue that the Canadian Government struggles with the decentralized nature of Paganism. In a 2011 Canadian Military guide for chaplaincy (http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2011/dn-nd/D2-147-2008-eng.pdf), contact information is provided for the governing bodies of many well recognized religions. It appears that the Canadian Government is at a loss about how to recognize religions that do not have a centralized, hierarchical structure. The guide can be found here:
Wicca was the only Pagan religion that was evident to me in the chaplaincy guide. Further, the document did not recognize the various forms of Wicca and listed the Wiccan Church of Canada as a central body.
The Peel Board of Education, Canada’s largest school board, publishes an annual calendar of religious holidays. The calendar states that it lists dates from 11 world religions and includes Wicca. A copy of the 2016 – 2017 calendar can be found here:
Through my research it occurred to me that the key political issue for Pagans in Canada remains the matter of widespread and positive recognition. The challenge of recognition, particularly positive recognition is not a new one for the Pagan community. I will address avenues for recognition in a follow-up article.