Toronto a target of Sunday closing law

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``Toronto the Good'' - as Canadians often refer to this church-oriented city - seems set to keep its old nickname, for a while anyway. After an unsuccessful battle waged by shop owners, stores have been ordered to keep their doors shut on Sundays.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently upheld Ontario's law forcing most stores to close on Sunday. It had been challenged by a number of store owners who stayed open in defiance of the law (which carries with it a maximum fine of $10,000).

The Toronto police force hands out as many as 200 citations to store owners on a typical Sunday.

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Last month, the Ontario government, under Attorney General Ian Scott, warned large store owners not to open on Sunday in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. Big chains such as Eatons and The Bay planned to test the Sunday law but backed off after the government said it meant business about prosecuting offenders.

Although recent public opinion polls show Canadians want Sunday shopping, until there is new legislation the Ontario government plans to continue enforcing the Sunday closing rule.

Of Canada's 10 provinces, only Alberta and British Columbia allow extensive Sunday shopping. In other provinces - including Ontario and Quebec, the two biggest - exceptions are allowed.

Convenience shops can open on Sundays, as can stores in special tourist areas. On a recent December Sunday in Vancouver, grocery stores, children's stores, drugstores, and others were open.

The Supreme Court ruling affects Montreal and other cities that have Sunday closing rules. But this battle was fought over stores operating in Toronto, Canada's largest and richest city. Part of the fight grew out of the changing ethnic and religious makeup of the city.

Toronto was once the most traditionally Christian of Canadian cities. The largest Anglican Church in Canada is in Toronto. So is the largest Methodist Church and the largest United Church.

But Protestants are no longer the majority in Toronto; they now make up 43 percent of the city's population, with Roman Catholics at 35.8. In 1961 Protestants made up 61 percent of Toronto and Catholics, 26.

Other religious groups, such as ``Eastern non-Christian,'' now show up in the numbers from Statistics Canada. They did not show up at all in 1961, but now constitute 3.1 percent of the city's population. That group, which and prefers Sunday openings, is growing.

``The court's decision is unjust and unfair because it fails to recognize the presence of other religious groups besides the Christian majority,'' says Jag Bhadauria of the Canadian Council for Racial Harmony.

The Supreme Court ruling was on the validity of Ontario's Retail Business Holidays Act. One person who has constantly challenged the law is Toronto furrier Paul Magder. He is facing well over 100 prosecutions charging he broke the law. The Supreme Court ruling means that Mr. Magder and others will now be taken to court. There is a backlog of about 4,000 cases.

Ontario also says it will clamp down on stores that force employees to work on Sunday - which, along with similar measures, should mean Toronto the Good will remain closed for business on Sundays.

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