“Evangeline”

Image via CBC.ca

So Canada now has an Office of Religious Freedom.

Lately I’ve read and heard a lot about the intertwining of politics and religion in Canada, so the actual establishment of such an office warrants some consideration.

The most basic question is why do we need an office of religious freedom?

I can practice my faith quite openly here in Canada.  Religiously and spiritually, I don’t feel constrained in any way.  Conservative Christians often feel otherwise, but it’s mostly because they don’t understand the mammoth difference between persecution and not getting their own way (insert commentary on privilege and entitlement here).

Unfortunately, people of faith (which includes anyone and everyone that espouses religious belief of some sort; in other words, Christians sure ain’t the only people of faith out there) are tortured and even killed because of their belief.  A lot of this is sectarian violence, but there governments that routinely punish religious minorities.

The Prime Minister says the assassination of Pakistan Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minorities minister, inspired the creation of the office (ORF is an unfortunate acronym; if you remember the Conservative Reform Alliance Party, you know Conservatives aren’t great with acronyms).

Fine.  Nobody should be gunned down simply because they have different religious views than somebody else.  I can get behind that.  But religious freedom comes in many forms, including the freedom to be free from religion.  And the office doesn’t seem to be too concerned with that.

Here’s ORF’s mandate:

The Office will focus on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to (i) protecting, and advocating on behalf of, religious minorities under threat, (ii) opposing religious hatred and (iii) promoting Canadian values of pluralism and diversity abroad.

ORF even has a religious freedom fund:

The Office of Religious Freedom will administer the Religious Freedom Fund that will seek to:

  • Compel action internationally against violations of religious freedom by contributing to greater awareness of threats to religious freedom and by promoting pluralism;
  • Strengthen the Government of Canada’s response to specific violations of religious freedom; and,
  • Promote education on issues related to freedom of religion.

The most troubling part of the Frequently Asked Questions is the question, “Will the Office remain objective and treat every religion equally?”  The fact that they felt they had to address this question no doubt demonstrates that people are a little bit skeptical about what exactly this office plans to do.

But I’m with David Carment: ORF is nothing but a blatant attempt to shore up the votes of ethnic minorities and has the nice side effect of pandering to the Conservative right.

Personally, if the Harper government wanted to create an office dedicated to fighting human rights violations, it should have focused on gender discrimination.  These days, the deadliest words in the world are ‘It’s a girl,’ not ‘I’m a Christian/Muslim/Jew, etc.’  Ask Aboriginal and other minority women in Canada about it.

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