By Mike Blanchfield, Globe and Mail, January 2, 2012
Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada, says that while religious persecution “is a serious human rights concern right around the world” he’s not confident about the government’s approach to the new office.
“We’re watching it with interest but also with considerable concern,” Mr. Neve said.
“There is such complete secrecy about it.”
His organization has met with Foreign Affairs officials, but questions about the office generate vague responses along the lines of “work is under way” and “you’ll be hearing more,” Mr. Neve said.
Mr. Neve said religious freedom can have a “contentious relationship” with other crucial human-rights concerns such as women’s equality, the equality rights of gays and lesbians, and freedom of expression.
“It’s an area obviously where governments need to tread carefully. They need to do so in ways where they don’t – either intentionally or unintentionally – convey a message that some religions are preferred over others.”
If the government is so concerned about the repression of religious freedom, why does it not create an office of "Human Rights Advocacy" under the umbrella of the Foreign Affairs Department? After all, religious freedom is another in a list of human rights that often are repressed, abused, trashed...and often with impunity. If the government is serious about advocating for those victims of human rights violations in other countries where repression and denial are more feasible because there is not an active and vigorous press and because there might be a repressive regime, then open the file to include all human rights and stop segregating religious freedom.
By segregating religious freedom, the government must hope there will be political benefits back home, within the religious communities.
Creating an Office of Religious Freedom keeps the government's hands clean from advocating for gays, lesbians, women and other groups whose support back home is not either desired or needed.
This project, if it were to become a reality, is a thinly veiled attempt to "massage" the religious vote back home, without having to advocate for victims of human rights abuse in all other areas.
If the government were serious about its potential to advocate for victims of human rights abuses, it would create an Office of Human Rights Advocacy, and bring all the force of the Canadian government to bear to expose human rights abuses of all varieties.
Once again, it is very difficult to help but maintain a very healthy scepticism about the project, given the high priority the government places on political advantage, and the potential for political "teflon" in areas where it might generate negative "push-back" from its neo-con base.
Religious leaders should be very wary of being used by the government, when asked for their support for the project, unless, of course, the motivations of the specific religious are congruent with those of the government, that is the perpetual re-election of the Harper government.
It is not only the appearance of the preference of some religions over others that is dangerous; it is also the appearance of specific human rights abuses (religious) that are preferred to be highlighted over other human rights abuses that can remain undetected, unrevealed and undisclosed, for the protection of this government, and potentially another government guilty of human rights abuses.