Opposition Motion (CPC) Office of Religious Freedom - part 2
For example, a recent project gave $290,000 to the Aga Khan Foundation for development and distribution of children's books that promote pluralism among school-aged children in Bangladesh. Working through a Muslim organization, this project also particularly is important to the atheist community, who face growing persecution in Bangladesh. Among the non-Christian groups, the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Canada have taken the lead on calling for the renewal of this office. Earlier this year, representatives from these three communities sent a joint letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs pleading with him to do the right thing and to renew this office.
A vast range of communities are represented on the office's external advisory committee. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and atheists are represented on the external advisory committee as well.
I would also say with respect to this objection that it is important to note that this office does provide some support to some Christians because Christians are indisputably one of the most persecuted religious communities anywhere in the world. Long-standing Christian communities, which have existed in the Middle East since almost the time of Christ and since long before Christianity spread to western Europe or certainly North America, are under intense pressure, which in various cases includes systematic discrimination, growing cultural bias, regular violence, and even attempts at total extermination. These people happen to share a faith with western colonizers, however these indigenous Christian communities bear no responsibility whatsoever for colonization. They have as much right to live in peace and security as anyone else.
When I talked to other non-Christian faith groups, strikingly they often raise the increasingly desperate plight of Christians as a matter of significant concern. CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, for example, has been vocal in support of the plight of persecuted Christians, and we should listen to what it has to say in this respect. This office does not focus uniquely on Christians but does not ignore them either.
A fifth and final objection that I hear to the Office of Religious Freedom is that its work is in some way colonialist. A recent commentary piece in the Toronto Star stated:
The international promotion of religious freedom by Western states risks repeating “civilizing” colonial missions, imposing fixed standards without sensitivity to cultural and historical specificities...
Those who suggest that the good work this office is doing to advance religious freedom is somehow about advancing narrowly western values clearly do not understand the work of this office or the context in which it operates. This office does not seek to dictate to other countries. It works with and provides vital support for programs on the ground, works with local leaders, and leverages local knowledge. That is why it has earned such high praise from diaspora communities and others with whom it directly works.
This is not about western values but about universal human values laid out very clearly in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those who object to the promotion of religious freedom on the grounds that it is a “western” value are often the same people who have the same objections to efforts to advance gender equality, democracy, and other principles of human society, which have long been recognized as universal.
Because of my family's connection to Pakistan, I can speak best to our work in that country. We are very clearly not interested in promoting some western construction of what Pakistan should be; we want to see the restoration of the pluralistic Pakistan that my wife's grandmother Molly grew up in. This was her reality. This was Mohammad Ali Jinnah's vision, and this was Chavez Bhatti's dream: the restoration of Pakistan's historic traditions, not the imposition of western ones.
When it comes to this office, the government has refused to give a clear answer. However, with 10 days to go until the current mandate runs out, it is high time it communicates its decision, and this motion is necessary to give people working in this area the clarity that they need.
Most importantly, people who rely on this office are waiting for an answer. If the government recognizes the good work of this office, will it simply say yes so that the work can continue uninterrupted, and if it is determined to kill this office could it at least explain why, could it at least give us some kind of a reason?
Two weeks ago, I attended a commemoration held in Toronto to honour Chavez Bhatti and there I met Rimsha Masih, a Christian teenager who was accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and only found safety after being spirited away to Canada. I think of my wife's grandmother's reality as a child in pluralistic Pakistan, and I think now of Rimsha's reality with the challenges facing Pakistan. This is why this work and this motion matter so much. For one-quarter of the cost of the recent member's office budget increase, this office is saving lives and giving hope to people like her. Therefore, I urge members to reflect on the good work this office is doing and to please support this motion.