June 3, 1992, marked the end of an 85 year long ban on retail sales activity in the province of Ontario, Canada. The federal Lord's Day Act ban was defeated in Supreme Court of Canada in 1985, but the same court upheld a more oppressive provincial ban (the Retail Business Holidays Act). Ultimately, the defeat of the ban would take political action, not court action.
This web archive is being released by Freedom Party of Ontario for educational purposes and to mark the 20th anniversary of the defeat of the ban on Sunday shopping. The materials made available on this page have been scanned from the archives of the Freedom Party of Ontario, and are being released to the public for the first time ever.
Much of the material has been put together for you in a documentary by Paul McKeever, "Never on a Sunday: The History of Sunday Shopping in Ontario", which you can view below. However, you can also look at actual newspaper clippings from the 20th century, listen to radio talk show broadcasts and interviews from the 1980's and 1990's, read the more important court decisions, and more.
Along the way, you will discover just how alone Freedom Party of Ontario members were in their six year campaign to defeat the ban on Sunday shopping. The ban was not defeated by the three parties who - then and now - held seats in Ontario's provincial Legislature. In fact, the provincial ban had been introduced by the Progressive Conservatives in 1975, and was supported by the Liberals before, during, and after the subsequent Liberal government of David Peterson. During the election of 1990, the PCs, Liberals, and NDP continued to oppose Sunday shopping, but NDP leader Bob Rae in particular vowed to introduce a tougher crackdown on businesses that opened on Sundays. Partially because of that promise, he won a majority government in 1990.
From 1986 until the ban's defeat in 1992, only one organized and active political voice was heard in constant and principled opposition to the ban: Freedom Party of Ontario. As the archival material below shows, at government committees, in the newspapers, and on radio and television, almost all voices - business interests, unions, and religious organizations - chimed out in favour of continuing to ban retail shopping on Sundays. In those very same committee hearings, newspapers, radio reports, and television reports, Freedom Party stood alone against the ban.
Freedom Party fought the ban on two fronts: principled political advocacy combined with support for civil disobedience campaigns by then Freedom Party Action Director Marc Emery and Toronto furrier Paul Magder (whose son was a Freedom Party candidate in the 1987 Ontario general election). Eventually, public opinion was swayed to the anti-ban side. By the late spring of 1992, the majority of Ontarians wanted stores to be able to open on Sundays. Despite having promised a tougher ban on Sunday shopping, Premier Bob Rae announced on Wednesday, June 3, 1992 that the ban on Sunday shopping was being repealed, effective immediately.
We at Freedom Party of Ontario continue to advocate for an end to unjust laws. Our Legislature continues to be populated by three parties that increasingly appear out of step with the facts of reality. And, perhaps for that reason, Freedom Party continues to grow as an electoral option. We hope that you will enjoy this free archival resource, and we invite you to stand with Freedom Party; to share in its rich history in the advocacy of better government.
Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario
June 2, 2012
DOCUMENTARY: Never on a Sunday
"Just Right" Commemoration
On their May 31, 2012 broadcast, Robert Metz and Robert Vaughan commemorated the upcoming 20th anniversary of the ban on Sunday shopping. Have a listen: click here. NOTE: you can listen to all previous broadcasts of "Just Right" by visiting the show's archive site, justrightmedia.org
Sunday Shopping Ban Timeline
Lord's Day Alliance formed: coalition of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Anglicans formed to lobby for a law requiring observance of Sundays as "The Lord's Day"; a day of mandatory rest.
The Lord's Day Alliance proposes a federal Lord's Day Act. Seventh Day Adventists oppose the idea.
Lord's Day Act to comes into force March 1, 1907. For decades thereafter, the Lord's Day Alliance regularly petitions Attorney General into authorizing police to lay charges - sometimes for arguably anti-Semitic purposes - under the Lord's Day Act
Ontario's Progressive Conservative government introduces a law (the Retail Business Holidays Act) prohibiting shopping on Sundays and Christian holy days. Unlike the federal Lord's Day Act, under the provincial Retail Business Holidays Act, police do not need the permission of the Attorney General to lay a charge
Bookstore owner and publisher Marc Emery, later to co-found Freedom Party of Ontario with Robert Metz, highlights Ontario's Sunday shopping ban in his Downtown London Metrobulletin (Issue #6): click here to read it.
April 24, 1985
Supreme Court of Canada declares Lord's Day Act unconstitutional: contrary to freedom of religion provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Full text of the SCC's decision in the R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd case.
November through December 1986
Stores anticipate a December 18, 1986 decision by Supreme Court of Canada. It is widely expected that the court will strike down the Sunday shopping ban imposed by the Retail Business Holidays Act as contrary to the freedom of religion provisions of the Charter. Stores open in defiance of the provincial ban. Freedom Party Action Director Marc Emery opens his bookstore several Sundays in a row. Freedom Party of Ontario distributes "Even on a Sunday" pamphlet supporting the freedom to buy and sell on Sundays.
Supreme Court of Canada upholds Retail Business Holidays Act. Act violates religious freedom provisions of Charter, but the violation held to be acceptable "in a free and democratic society" pursuant to section 1 of the Charter. Most businesses vow to obey the ban. The government says it now will conduct province-wide hearings to consider changes to the Retail Business Holidays Act. London bookstore owner/Freedom Party of Ontario Action Director Marc Emery, and Toronto furrier Paul Magder, decide to open their stores on Sundays despite the ban and to challenge the law under newly-enacted equality provisions of the Charter (section 15).
Full text of the court's decision in R. v. Edward's Books and Art Limited
[AUDIO] Radio Interviews: businesses' reaction to the decision, including Paul Magder and Simpson's Barry Agnew (December 18, 1986, radio station not known)
[AUDIO] Talk Radio: Callers to Radio 98, in London, Ontario discuss what if anything should be done to businesses that continue to break the law despite the court decision (includes calls from Freedom Party's Ray Monteith and later Freedom Party leader Lloyd Walker)
December 21, 1986
Emery opens his bookstore and gives away books, rather than selling them: an act of civil disobedience. Emery is charged under the Retail Business Holidays Act (one of several such charges that would be imposed upon him for numerous Sunday openings of his bookstore).
[PHOTO]: Freedom Party Action Director Marc Emery's posted sign (displayed on the door of his City Lights bookstore) re: opening on Sunday, December 21, 1986 for a pre-Christmas book give-away.
Emery's City Lights store among 20 charged Sunday
(Newspaper clipping: newspaper not known)
Select Committee tours province to get public feedback about Sunday shopping ban and what if any changes to make to the Retail Business Holidays Act. Business, union, and religious interests favour continuation of the ban. Only Freedom Party of Ontario President Robert Metz and FP Action Director Marc Emery present submissions against the Sunday shopping ban.
Freedom Party of Ontario Submission to Committee
(FP President Robert Metz, February 25, 1987)
City Lights Bookstore Submission to Commitee
(FP Action Director Marc Emery, February 25, 1987)
[AUDIO] TV London News: Strong voice for Sunday shopping finally heard by Committee - Emery/Metz/FPO; others "totally opposed" to Sunday shopping says Committee
[AUDIO] Global Television News: Ontario politicians and churches "criminals" for imposing ban says Emery;
Freedom Party's Metz advocates rights; all others favour the shopping ban;
no other businessmen submitted briefs favouring Sunday shopping.
Full Text of FPO President Robert Metz's Magder Dinner Speech
Full Text of FPO Action Director Marc Emery's Magder Dinner Speech
[VIDEO]: excerpts of the speeches, which appear in Paul McKeever's "Never on a Sunday" documentary.
July 12, 1987
Freedom Party Action Director Marc Emery again charged for opening his bookstore as act of civil disobedience against provincial ban on Sunday Shopping
[PHOTO]: "Lawbreakers Special" sign on Emery's City Lights bookstore door
Summons issued to Emery re: opening his store on Sunday, July 12, 1987.
September 10, 1987
Ontario provincial general election. Freedom Party makes ending the ban on Sunday shopping an election issue. The media call the move "not a quick ticket to Queen's Park". Toronto furrier Paul Magder's son, Glen Magder, runs as as the Freedom Party candidate for the riding of Fort York.
A provincial by-election is held in the riding of London North. Freedom Party of Ontario's candidate, Barry Malcolm, appears in Freedom Party of Ontario by-election television commercial calling for an end to the Sunday Shopping Ban
[VIDEO]: Freedom Party of Ontario's February 1988 by-election commercial, which appears in Paul McKeever's "Never on a Sunday" documentary.
Businesses, unions, and religious organizations buy ads and write joint letters in opposition to allowing municipalities to permit Sunday shopping. Freedom Party of Ontario alone buys newspaper ads calling for a province-wide elimination of the Sunday shopping ban.
Freedom Party of Ontario ad calling for province-wide repeal of the ban on Sunday shopping (London Free Press, February 12, 1988; note: this ad was printed in other papers, and on other days, as well)
Ontario government introduces changes to Retail Business Holidays Act to make exceptions for opening on Sundays in some cases. Proponents of the ban oppose the exemptions. Freedom Party says the changes don't go far enough.
Freedom Party Action Director and bookseller Marc Emery is arrested and jailed, having refused to pay $500 fine for having opened his store on a Sunday. Released from jail on the morning of June 10, 1988, he later that morning is a panelist on a radio 94.9 FM (CHRW - London) debate on Sunday shopping. He is alone in opposing the ban: click here to listen to the debate.
Coverage of Emery's arrest and release in the party newsletter, Freedom Flyer
[AUDIO] CHRW 94.9 FM, London, Ontario: Sunday shopping discussed by panelists Marc Emery (Freedom Party of Ontario Action Director / City Lights bookstore owner), London city controller Orlando Zamprogne, John Corbin (local furniture salesman), Mark Silverthorne (Coalition Against Sunday Shopping), with show host Mario Circelli (June 10, 1988)
February 7, 1989
Ontario legislature holds final vote on bill giving municipalities the power to lift the Sunday shopping ban within their municipal boundaries.
Ontario holds its general election. All political parties in the Legislature oppose shopping on Sunday but, in the face of the June 22, 1990 trial decision, New Democratic Party leader Bob Rae campaigns on introducing a new, tougher ban on Sunday shopping. Freedom Party of Ontario alone in campaigning for repeal of the ban.
[VIDEO]: then leader of Freedom Party of Ontario, Robert Metz, at a leaders debate during the 1990 Ontario provincial election, opposing the banning of Sunday shopping (this excerpt appears in Paul McKeever's "Never on a Sunday" documentary.)
March 20, 1991
Ontario's Court of Appeal overturns the June 22, 1990 trial decision that struck down the ban on Sunday Shopping. As a result: the ban on Sunday shopping is immediately re-imposed.
Full text of the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision to overturn the trial decision in Peel (Regional Municipality) v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Co. of Canada Ltd.
Ontario Standing Committee holds hearings on Bill 115, which would toughen the ban on Sunday shopping. Freedom Party makes submissions to the committee calling for an end to the ban on Sunday shopping.
Full text of Freedom Party of Ontario's submission (August 27, 1991)
June 3, 1992
Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae announces that, due to a change in public opinion, his government is repealing the ban on Sunday shopping, effective immediately.