Oh Canada. Our country’s government is ready to cut the ribbon on a new $5 million federal office within the Department of Foreign Affairs, an Office of Religious Freedoms.
Now, I am not a political expert. However, I read a lot to stay informed, and I also have a good friend named logic. She tells me that the one thing we have no need for is the ORF, at least the one the Conservative government has planned.
Religious freedom means something different to everyone. The issue here is that the purpose of this office is so vague. Does it mean that the government is out to protect those who want to have a space to practice their beliefs? Last time I checked, this already exists; it’s called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The government believes that religious minorities overseas need protection. Fine. However, many news agencies are reporting that the majority of the people involved come from a Judeo/Christian background. In fact, according to the Toronto Sun and CBC, the Department of Foreign Affairs held a “closed-door” meeting having to do with the ORF last fall, but failed to invite “Muslim, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and First Nation religious leaders.”
Well, what’s the point then? This poses a serious threat for bias within the office, and that could do much more harm than good. Whatever happened to secularity? The Canadian government isn’t supposed to be filled with missionaries.
“I think Canada doesn’t really know what to do with religion,” said Dr Susan Palmer, a sociologist and religion professor at Concordia and Dawson College.
Palmer said she believes that an office like this has “a lot of potential if people in the office are educated and not partisan.” She thinks that trained religious scholars and historians should be the ones calling the shots.
Problems with bias were seen in the 1990s when the United States opened up a similar office called the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom. The office was called out as being dedicated to not only protecting, but also promoting Christianity in other countries. If not done and dealt with properly, this is very well what could happen with the Canadian office.
Here is what we do need. First off, education. Religion is barely present in the education system. Palmer believes that providing a “solid knowledge” of world religions can be very beneficial. The media shapes a lot of what we think of certain religions, and this has obviously proven to have a negative impact.
Second, I think the government should be trying to protect people from the potential threat of religion. Work with other countries to separate church and state. People find themselves violently fighting for this, so why can’t Canada promote this in a peaceful manner? I have nothing against religion on a personal level, but those in power who use it as a manipulative tool are oppressing far too many people. While one government shouldn’t tell another what to do, I think certain circumstances call for it, especially when human rights are on the line.
The way I see it, no one should be held prisoner in the clutches of religion, and those who want to practice it should be able to do so without being persecuted by ignorant generalizations. It’s a two-way street.