Member Of Parliament for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan
March 08, 2016

Adjournment Proceedings - Office of Religious Freedom

Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to, again, ask the government what it is going to do with the Office of Religious Freedom.

 We, and others, have been asking it to put ideology aside, to recognize the good work that the office has done, and to simply renew its mandate. The office is doing good work and should continue to do that work. When it comes to this office and its mandate, it is worth referencing the old saying, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

   Unfortunately, with many important issues hanging in the balance, the government has yet to answer our simple questions about its plans for this office. Has it still not decided? Or is it simply not ready to tell us yet?

   Canadians, especially the growing number of Canadians with personal and family connections to hard-pressed religious minority communities around the world, really want to know what the government is going to do with this office. The government has been sending mixed signals and is trying to buy itself time with a short-term extension. Still, Canadians and people around the world want to know what is happening with this office.

   We have spoken before in this House about the good work of this office in Africa, in the Middle East, in Pakistan, and in Ukraine.

   In fact, I was recently in India and had an opportunity to speak to students at Indian universities about human rights and religious freedom. I was asked, specifically, about the Office of Religious Freedom.

   It is not just something that Canadians are paying attention to. People around the world--students, the elderly, and everyone in between--are listening and asking if Canada is still going to be involved in fighting for human rights and human dignity in this vital way.

   This past Sunday, I was speaking about this issue at a major gurdwara in Mississauga and was pleased to be able to highlight co-operation between faith leaders in Canada calling for the renewal of this office. Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders have spoken out together in support of this office. The office advocates for all people. It was officially launched in a mosque and its advocacy includes for non-believers who have specific representation on the office's external advisory committee.

   The government has not answered the central question. All it has said on this subject is, “Human rights are universal, interdependent, and indivisible”.

   Absolutely, they are. We are also well served by centres of excellence within government and within the department of global affairs, which focus on specific areas.

   To name another example, we have a department for the status of women. Certainly, human rights are interdependent and indivisible, but we still have, and we should have, a department that focuses specifically upon the status of women.

   Why is it important that we have these types of centres of excellence? Because to have all types of rights lumped together risks a situation in which no one is focused upon individual specific areas of rights and rights violations. Without specific centres of excellence, individual areas which need attention can risk getting lost in one murky interdependent and indivisible soup.

   What is the downside in keeping this office open? The total budget of the office is $5 million--now, I am all for cutting costs when it makes sense to do so, but $5 million is 1/180th of the cost of the government's changes to public sector sick leave--and the vast majority of that $5 million is used directly to help suffering people caught in regions of conflict.

   Will the government just go ahead and say yes, already? While we cannot solve every problem, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. The Office of Religious Freedom is the candle that is burning bright, far beyond its size would suggest it could. I say to the government say, “Please, don't snuff this candle out”.

 


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