Canada’s Proposed “Office of Religious Freedom”

The Conservative Party unveiled their election platform on Friday.  In it, they promise to launch an “Office of Religious Freedom” (emphasis theirs):

DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Around the world vulnerable religious minorities are subject to persecution, violence, and repression.

Canada has a proud tradition of defending fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of conscience; and our Government recognizes that respect for religious pluralism is inextricably linked to democratic development.

But we can and should do more to respond to the plight of those who suffer merely because of their faith.  We will:

  • create a special Office of Religious Freedom in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to monitor religious freedom around the world, to promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy, and to advance policies and programs that support religious freedom;
  • continue to ensure that Canada offers its protection to vulnerable religious minorities through our generous refugee resettlement programs; and
  • ensure that the Canadian International Development Agency works with groups supporting such vulnerable minorities.

They estimate in their platform budget that this office will cost five million dollars per year.

Questions, questions.

So how exactly are they going to promote religious freedom in other countries?

Will this affect how we’re seen as a nation on the international stage if we’re meddling in their affairs?

How are we going to ensure that this work will be done fairly, i.e. advocating for ALL religious freedoms?

Will advocating for Muslims in Israel be a part of the agenda? They’d be the religious minority, there.

How do we resolve it when advocating for one religion runs counter to the needs or wants of another?

Or are we simply going to be donating money to various religious agencies to proselytize in other countries, to the tune of $5 mil a year?

How do we determine which religion is a minority in a country and therefore a religion we wish to support?

Will this be accompanied by a similar fostering of religious minorities here in Canada? Muslims? Sikhs? Buddhists?  Scientologists?  Moonies?  What about the Mormons in B.C. who are currently defending their polygamous marriages partly on the basis of their religious freedoms?

Can such an office even possibly be directed without a bias of any kind?  And if it’s biased, then how can we truly say that the guiding principle is religious freedom?

If we have such a great record defending human rights, why did the Conservative party (with a few exceptions) vote nearly overwhelmingly against human rights for trans people?

And if we continue to have gaps in our own human rights legislation, do we really have a right to be telling other nations how to do democracy?

However, the idea is popular with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, too:

“We think an initiative like is the kind of thing that ought to have the support of all sides in politics,” Mr. Ignatieff told reporters Saturday at a press conference in downtown Toronto… “Mr. Ignatieff cautioned, however, that this office should not be “politicized”. Whatever work is done must also respect “the sovereignty of countries overseas.”

Interestingly, this isn’t going over so well among the extreme right, with Free Dominion commenters saying things like the following:

The biggest problem with an Office of Religious Freedom is that it will quickly become an instrument for taking away the religious liberty of someone (orthodox and conservative Christians) in the name of the religious liberty of all. “Office of Religious Freedom”. Does that not sound Orwellian for “secular inquisition”? We already have one of those in Canada. It is called the Canadian Human Rights Commission/Tribunal. We don’t need the one we have, let alone another one.

After all, sooner or later, Harper will be gone, and the Office of Religious Freedom will be run by someone who will not have a particular preference on which religion to support.  The thought of such an office being directed by someone who is not a Christian Nationalist cannot be a very appealing thought to Christian Nationalists (not to be confused with all Christians).

People of faith need separation of church and state (which unlike our neighbour to the south, Canada does not have in any existing legislation) just as much as people of minority faith or no faith.

Perhaps THAT should be the campaign pledge.  Any takers?

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.

(If I don’t respond to comments right away, be aware that due to computer issues, I’m still semi-offline.)

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    • Natalie Murray
    • April 10th, 2011

    Under a Harper majority, this will be the ‘Office of Religious Freedom’ in name only, and will, in fact, offer religious freedom for one religion only, that being Harper’s own brand of narrowminded christianist fundamentalism. It will be the ministry (literally) where we see such things as same sex marriage, abortion and equal rights for LGBT people disappear all to quickly. Shrimp and cotton-poly blends will still he readily available, however…

    Christianists have demonstrated time and again that they fail to play well with others, and we already know that Harper doesn’t. This won’t be any different. We don’t need shite like this in this country. Let us keep church and state very far apart.

  1. I think this is a great opportunity for Canada to take the leadership in understanding the different religious groups around the world in order to be able to addres the issues of new immigrants that immigrate to a Canada where freedom of religion is respected.

    Will definately support such a bold step.

  2. I only heard about this “office of religious freedom” now when the news reported Harper’s dutiful conducting secret meetings.

    Religious freedom is one of several basic rights criteria to be free of discrimination within our constitution. Harper has scrapped many program including those that were set up to help a mitigate existing discrimination against women.

    If there be any merit to the present bill, ought not the same approach be applied to each of the other constitutional rights?

    And if this is new office is being promotted with the best of intentions, why when conducting trade negotiations, despite reminders, why would Harper refuse to universally put them on the trade table talks?

    Personalistically Christian faith matters, matter to me, but I fear as earlier comments anticipatd this will be little more than freedom as personally agreeable to Harper, the needle exchange Supreme Court Challenge but one example of his “blue dent” in “government practise”.

    There is however a just and democratic way out of this mess.

    Please see Taking back our democracy at

    http://www.eduardhiebert.com/ereform/v123p.htm

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