Red tape: meet religion
Bureaucracy for only the religious
Only in Canada could a government with arguably one of the worst human rights record in the country’s history get away with opening an Office of Religious Freedom in the name of promoting human rights around the world.
But that actually happened: last month, an office with that exact title was opened in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
It was apparently started to “speak out against egregious violations of freedom of religion, denounce violence against human rights defenders and condemn attacks on worshipers and places of worship around the world,” according to the Government of Canada website.
But before getting into why the notion of a dedicated “religious freedom” office is absolutely preposterous, let’s quickly review the track record of the institution that is claiming the authority to spout this rhetoric.
This is the same government that was recently called out by Human Rights Watch for its complacency in addressing the abuse of aboriginal woman by the RCMP. It’s the same cabinet that has essentially stripped the refugee system and prison system of any compassion.
They’ve axed funding to Status of Women offices and heavily pursued foreign investment from China (a country which Harper once said he wouldn’t deal with due to its terrible human rights record).
It’s clear that anything the Conservative government has to say about human rights should be treated with some major suspicion. The very existence of the Office of Religious Freedom should infuriate every voter in the country.
It’s the definition of pork-barrel spending, with $5-million being devoted to it in a time of significant cuts to social services across the country. It’s also a reinforcement of absurd privilege given to religion.
Obviously, I support freedom of religion. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees it. And yes, there are issues of persecution worldwide.
But appointing Andrew Bennett, a Catholic who’s got his PhD in politics — not religion — and has never published any journal entries or books, as the “ambassador” for the office won’t change anything in the world in regards to these issues.
No atheist, agnostic or humanist groups were consulted about the creation of the office, nor were they invited to the announcement. John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said last year, “We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defense in the same way persecuted religious minorities are,” despite the fact that atheists can still be executed in seven countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, the West African state of Mauritania and the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Nothing has been said about how the office plans on dealing with the inevitable clash between religious and human rights.
Because they’re not the same. Many religious groups propagate inexcusable violations of basic human rights — look no further than the Muslim theocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia for evidence of that.
Will Bennett challenge those countries over their human rights records, or instead defend freedom of religion? The answer should be obvious.
This office is a horrendous idea — one that wastes taxpayer money in order to win votes.
It’s a disgrace that Canada would even consider the establishment of such an organization. But the Canada that some of us thought we knew is no longer relevant.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet are transforming it into an unequal, militant and nationalistic country. Add religious to the list, too.