Articles

Office of Religious Freedom

Office of Religious Freedom

 

On December 11, 2011, having read the text of a speech made by External Affairs Minister, John Baird, at the launch of the Office of Religious Freedom, I wrote him a letter asking for clarification of specific parts of his speech in regards to non-believers. Later, I emailed him to enquire about his receipt of my letter and to request a reply.


 

Address by Minister Baird at Office of Religious Freedom Stakeholder Consultations No. 2011/34 - Ottawa, Ontario - October 3, 2011

john_bairdLadies and gentlemen, I am pleased to join you this morning. This is an opportunity to exchange ideas on a key priority for our government: establishing an Office of Religious Freedom.

We announced our intention to do so in the Speech from the Throne on June 3. And I repeated our commitment most recently at the United Nations General Assembly this past week in New York.

This office will be created to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief, consistent with core Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Most importantly, it will demonstrate that Canada truly is a free society.

Canadians enjoy the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society in which human rights are respected. We are also keenly aware of the struggles that religious minorities face around the world.

That is why, whatever the circumstances, Canada will continue to speak out, and take principled positions. As I said in my address at the United Nations General Assembly, we will not just go along to get along. We will stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient.

All human rights are essential, of course, but today, we come together for a special purpose.

History has shown us that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable.

As Franklin Roosevelt observed on the eve of global war:

“Where freedom of religion has been attacked, the attack has come from sources opposed to democracy.

“Where democracy has been overthrown, the spirit of free worship has disappeared.

“And where religion and democracy have vanished, good faith and reason in international affairs have given way to strident ambition and brute force.”

Societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms. They are typically more stable and more prosperous societies. This view has been reinforced in consultations I’ve had around the world so far.

I honestly believe it is critically important that Canada is uniquely placed to protect and promote religious freedom around the world.

We are a country of many ethnicities and religions, but we all share one humanity—one of tolerance, one of acceptance, one of peace and security.

Canada has spoken out against violations of freedom around the world.

I’ve voiced strong concern about serious violations of the rights of Iranian citizens to practice Christianity, including those facing charges of apostasy. I spoke up for the Bahá’í community, which continues to face difficulties in Iran with its leaders being imprisoned on unfounded charges.

I spoke out on the discrimination by the Burmese regime against Muslims and Buddhists.

I stand with Roman Catholic priests and other Christian clergy and their laity, as they are driven underground to worship in China while their leaders are detained. And our government has raised the issues of Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners at the United Nations.

We stood in solidarity with Pakistan’s Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer, who were assassinated by extremists for speaking out against unjust blasphemy laws.

We have called for accountability for the violence faced by the Ahmiddya community in different parts of the world.

We were the first major country to speak out about the attacks against Egyptian Coptics following the events in Nag Hammadi, and we deplored the New Year’s Eve attacks in Alexandria.

And in Iraq, where al Qaeda has driven out many Christians and minorities, we implemented a program to resettle refugees.

This year, our government created an award, the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award, to recognize individuals who show exceptional leadership in defending human rights and freedoms.

It was former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who, during his time in office, championed human rights both in Canada and around the world. On the day he introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights in Parliament, he spoke these words:

“I am a Canadian, …, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and mankind.”

I pledge to continue this tradition. But I of course can’t do this alone.

And we as a country are compelled to get this right.

That’s why I’m glad each of you is here to share your expertise, insights and experiences.

I’m extremely pleased at the calibre of people gathered here.

I know this is a challenging task, but, then again, Canadians stand for what is right, not what is easy, so I have no doubt we here today are up to that challenge.

It is our common duty to defend the rights of the afflicted, and to give voice to the voiceless.

Our positions will not soften, our determination will not lessen, and our voices will not be diminished until all citizens can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and true.

Through our combined efforts, I am confident that the Office of Religious Freedom can help do just that.

Thank you all for being here.


 

Letter from SCS President, Doug Thomas to John Baird asking for clarification.

Dear Minister Baird:

A major part of my responsibility to non-believers in my role as president of Secular Connexion Séculaire is to pay attention to government and political party communications to understand their intentions toward non-believers in Canada.

Your speech to religious leaders regarding the creation of an “Office of Religious Freedom” has come to my attention, courtesy of the executive officer of one of our local associations. Several comments within that speech stand out to me as requiring some clarification regarding your government’s positions and attitudes to Canadian non-believers.

I ask for these clarifications in light of several Supreme Court of Canada opinions (e.g. in Rodriquez vs. Regina and Big M Drugs vs. Regina) that clauses 2a) and 2b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

First, the idea of establishing an office of “religious freedom”, rather than “philosophical freedom” prompts the question, “Is freedom from religion not as worthy of protection under your government’s policies?”

Second, did you intend to exclude freedom from religion and belief when you said,

“This office will be created to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief, consistent with core Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Most importantly, it will demonstrate that Canada truly is a free society.”

If that is the case, do you not find the last sentence in this statement to be contradictory?

Third, may we assume that when you say, in reference to the United Nations, “[w]e will stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient, that the policy of your government would include support for the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s representative on the UN Human Rights Commission in the fight to keep the right to question religious practices when they breach the Universal Charter of Human Rights?

Fourth, in your statement, “[w]e are a country of many ethnicities and religions, but we share one humanity-one of tolerance, one of acceptance, one of peace and security,” are you reflecting government policy to accept non-religions such as Humanism equally with religions?

Finally, in the creation of the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedoms Award are you prepared to accept the nomination of such people as the late Dr. Robert Buckman, a prominent oncologist and long-time supporter and leader of Humanist Canada, recipient of its Humanist of the Year Award?

I look forward to hearing from you so that I can inform our non-believing community of your government’s policies and attitudes toward non-believers in Canada.

 

Sincerely,

 

Doug Thomas

President, Secular Connexion Séculaire

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 

Second letter from SCS President, Doug Thomas

Honourable Minister:

Some weeks ago, I sent you a letter asking for clarification of statements in your speech to the inaugural meeting of the Office of Religious Freedom (copy attached).

We are concerned about the intent of your government regarding the human rights of Atheists in those countries that will be the focus of the office.

What are those intents? Can we depend on your government to defend the rights of non-believers with the same vigour that you seem to be investing in believers?

How can non-believers participate in the Office of Religious Freedom?

 

Sincerely

 

Doug Thomas

President, Secular Connexion Séculaire

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Titre : Le président de SCS journal John Baird au sujet du bureau de la liberté religieuse. Réponse de M. Baird?

Au début de décembre, ayant lu le texte d'un discours prononcé par le ministre des affaires étrangères, John Baird, lors du lancement de l'Office de la liberté religieuse, je lui a écrit une lettre demandant des précisions de parties spécifiques de son discours en ce qui concerne les non-croyants. Une semaine ou si il y a par courriel une lettre de suivi pour lui, avec une copie de l'original attaché, demandant une réponse.
J'ai eu ni une réponse ni un vérification de réception à chaque lettre. Le discours, la première et la deuxième lettre sont reproduits ici. Mes préoccupations et les demandes sont-ils déraisonnables ? Êtes vous surpris à son « réponse » ?

Lettre du président de SCS, Doug Thomas à John Baird demandant des précisions.

Monsieur le ministre Baird :
Une grande partie de ma responsabilité de non-croyants dans mon rôle de président de Secular Connexion Séculaire est prêter attention au gouvernement et de la communication de parti politique afin de comprendre leurs intentions envers les non-croyants au Canada.
Un de nos groupes locaux m'a informé au sujet de votre discours aux amorces religieuses au sujet du « bureau de la liberté religieuse ». Plusieurs commentaires au sein de ce discours se distinguent pour moi comme nécessitant des précisions au sujet de votre gouvernement positions et attitudes de non-croyants canadiens.
Je demande pour ces éclaircissements comme justifié par des plusieurs avis de la Cour suprême du Canada (p. ex. en Rodriquez vs Regina et Big M médicaments vs Regina) que 2 de clauses a) et 2 b) de la Charte des droits et libertés garantit la liberté de non-croyance ainsi que la liberté de croyance.
Premièrement, l'idée d'établir un bureau de « la liberté religieuse » plutôt que « la liberté philosophique » invite la question, « Est la liberté de non-croyance pas aussi digne de protection dans le cadre de votre politique? »
Deuxièmement, aviez-vous l'intention d'exclure la liberté de non-croyance ou de conviction lorsque vous avez dit,
"Ce bureau sera créé pour promouvoir et protéger la liberté de religion ou de conviction, compatible avec les valeurs canadiennes fondamentales telles que la liberté, la démocratie, des droits de l'homme et la primauté du droit. Plus important encore, elle démontrera que le Canada est véritablement une société libre."
Si tel est le cas, ne vous trouvez pas la dernière phrase dans cette déclaration contradictoire ?
Troisièmement, pouvons nous supposons que quand vous dites, en référence à l'Organisation des Nations Unies, "[n] ous défendra pour ce qui est juste, qu'il soit populaire, commode ou opportun, que la politique de votre gouvernement comprendrait un soutien pour le représentant de l'humaniste International et l'Union éthique pour la Commission des droits de l'homme de l'ONU dans la lutte pour le droit de pratiques religieuses question quand ils respectent la Charte universelle des droits de l'homme et fondée sur des principes ?
Quatrièmement, dans votre déclaration, « [n] ous sommes un pays de nombreuses ethnies et religions, mais nous partageons une humanité-un de la tolérance, l'un de l'acceptation, de la paix et la sécurité, » êtes-vous reflétant la politique du gouvernement à accepter des philosophies non-croyantes telles que l'humanisme également avec les religions?
Enfin, dans la création de la John Diefenbaker Award êtes-vous disposé à accepter la nomination de personnes telles que le Dr Robert Buckman fin, un éminent oncologue et partisan de longue date et un leader du Canada humaniste, bénéficiaire de son humaniste de l'année ?
J'attends votre réponse avec l'anticipation de sorte que je puisse inform notre communauté non-croyant de politiques et les attitudes à l'égard des non-croyants au Canada de votre gouvernement.
Sincèrement,
Doug Thomas
Président, Secular Connexion Séculaire
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Deuxième lettre du président de SCS, Doug Thomas

Honorable ministre :
Quelques semaines plustôt, je vous envoie une lettre demandant des précisions des déclarations dans votre discours à la réunion inaugurale de l'Office de la liberté religieuse (copie ci-jointe).
Nous sommes préoccupés par l'intention de votre gouvernement concernant les droits de l'homme des athées dans les pays qui seront au cœur de l'office.
Quelles sont les intentions? Est-ce que nous pouvons compter à votre gouvernement de défendre les droits des non-croyants avec la même vigueur que vous semblez d'investir dans les croyants ?
Comment les non-croyants peuvent participer dans le Bureau de la liberté religieuse ?
Sincèrement

 

Doug Thomas
Président, Secular Connexion Séculaire
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

John Baird's Response - May 18, 2012


Mr. Doug Thomas
President, Secular Connexion Séculaire
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dear Mr. Thomas:

Thank you for your letter of December 8, 2011, and your email of January 21, 2012, concerning the Office of Religious Freedom that will be established within Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT). I regret the delay in replying to you.

The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canada's foreign policy. Canada stands up for human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Canada takes very seriously issues related to freedom of religion. I have issued several statements concerning egregious violations of freedom of religion and conscience. You may read my statements on DFAIT's website at http://www.international.gc.ca/media/index.aspx?view=d.

In the Speech from the Throne of June 3, 2011, the Government of Canada committed to creating an Office of Religious Freedom within DFAIT. On September 26, 2011, I reiterated Canada's commitment in my speech delivered at the United Nations General Assembly. On October 3, 2011, I held round-table consultations on the establishment of the Office. You may read my remarks at http://www.international.gc.ca/media/aff/speeches-discours/2011/2011-034.aspx?lang=eng&view=d. The Office will defend and advocate on behalf of religious minorities under threat, oppose religious hatred and intolerance, and promote core Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance. The Office is a key component of the Canadian government's efforts to advance human rights, including freedom of religion, around the world.

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your views.

Sincerely,

John Baird, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Foreign Affairs