Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Still Saying "NO" to Office of Religious Freedom in Ottawa

Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, has work cut out: Editorial


Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just named Andrew Bennett to head Ottawa’s new Office of Religious Freedom, to promote and monitor religious rights. He has his work cut out for him.
Editorial, Toronto Star, February 20, 2013
...Skeptics understandably wonder whether Harper’s initiative plays more to domestic politics than anything else. Certainly, it will resonate with the Conservative base, and with constituencies the party is courting. Christians are under fire in Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt and elsewhere. And Iranian Baha’is are persecuted, along with Saudi and Bahraini Shias, Pakistani Ahmadis, and Chinese Sunni Uighurs and Tibetan Buddhists.

Still, Canada spends $2.5 billion a year on Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s department, in which the new office will be housed. If Harper wants to whistle down rights abusers he has an army of diplomats to call upon. It’s hard to see how spending 0.002 per cent more can make much of a difference.
There’s a concern, too, that the focus on religion may distract Ottawa from addressing other notorious abuses, including attacks on free speech, assembly and association. Some wonder whether Ottawa will go as far as the U.S. has in criticizing trading partners or allies such as China, Saudi Arabia and Israel for treating minorities unfairly. And what will Ottawa say when religious beliefs clash with women’s rights, gay rights and so on?
It’s no simple thing to make religion a focus of foreign policy, and to apply it fairly to persecuted minorities around the world. Bennett has his work cut out delivering on the prime minister’s grand promise.
The Canadian "Great White (Christian) Knight" has just been appointed by Harper to shine a spotlight on religious persecutions around the world and, one has to assume, the marching orders for this Roman Catholic appointee, are and will be to call out religious persecutions of whatever religions are targeted in whatever lands they are suffering. First, protecting religious freedom, as part of our foreign policy, signals that religion now occupies a seat in the foreign affairs office, where, presumably, we will also find grants to religious organizations that oppose a woman's right to choose. Whose religious freedom is being protected in such a decision? Certainly not the women seeking therapeutic abortions for their own legitimate, personal and honourable reasons.  The Canadian government's "doling" minister, Fantino, states publicly that grants are based on the effectiveness of the organizations. Talk about mixed messages! If there were an international award for mixed messages, the Harper government would lead the candidates elegible. "We are doing a lot" says Environment Minister Kent, in response the rising tide of protest agaisnt the Keystone Pipeline in the U.S. "No you're not!" echoes in every head of those watching his charade. "We are focused on jobs and a strong economy," the mantra that jumps out of the mouth of every Conservative MP, no matter what question is being asked by what person, reporter, opposition member, or citizen. Meanwhile, the evidence is that there is more left undone than is being done on that file also. "We are keeping our streets safe from crime," another of the mantras, belied by the statistics on crime, that demonstrate falling crime rates even before this gang took power. As for protecting religious freedom, a Canadian voice, buried in the Foreign Affairs department, poking a flashlight into the dark caves of persecution will have about as much positive impact as a Pope who denies child sexual abuse for decades, before assuming the Pontificate, and then resigning without accomplishing a resolution either in fact or in public perception.

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