Canada has a tradition of separating church and state, so I’m surprised sometimes how often issues related to religion come before me on Parliament Hill.
I believe it’s important to apply the same principles to all of these issues: respect each other’s beliefs; promote fairness and equality; and oppose intolerance and fearmongering.
Last fall, I was approached by members of several churches here in Kootenay-Columbia. They were concerned about proposed legislation that would amend the Criminal Code of Canada, removing a section to prohibit obstructing a clergyman or minister from “celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connecting with his calling” or disturbing “an assemblage of persons met for religious worship”.
This amendment was part of a larger bill, C-51, to “clean up” the Criminal Code by removing superfluous laws. The Liberal Minister who proposed the bill felt that there were other laws that already prohibited interfering with religious rites. Many clergy across Canada disagreed and I believed that having this special protection in the Criminal Code is beneficial. I wrote the Minister to share the churches’ concerns and I presented a petition in Parliament on behalf of my constituents.
I’m happy to say the government has dropped this amendment from its bill!
On another matter, Canadians were shocked last year when a gunman invaded a mosque in Québec City, killing six people and wounding nineteen more. In the face of increasing hate crimes in Canada, motion M-103 was moved by a government member. The intent of the motion was for the Canadian Heritage Committee to study the issue and to take a “whole-of-government” approach on recommendations to government to reduce or eliminate systemic racism and religious discrimination. I was saddened to see the motion misrepresented by radical right-wing web sites, which falsely claimed that the motion enacted “Sharia Law”. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I encourage everyone to read the actual motion for themselves.
More recently, those same websites – and some Conservative politicians – are claiming that “ISIS fighters” are being welcomed to immigrate to Canada. Again, this is entirely false. Those ISIS participants who are returning to Canada were Canadian citizens when they left. They are being investigated for their role and charges have already been laid against at least one ISIS wannabe. It is illegal for Canadians to join terrorist groups like ISIS and any Canadian who leaves our country to join a terrorist organization should be criminally charged!
Canada has long been a nation of rational and reasonable thought. Too often lately, I find that people are coming to me with concerns they’ve read on websites or heard about in coffee shops that are deliberately misleading, and create fear and hate. These are old tricks – the politics of division have been used since ancient times. We need to be particularly vigilant in seeking truth these days when social media is regularly used by extremists and the ill-informed to spread fear and division.
Before we accept, blindly, everything we read on a website or a Facebook meme; before we listen to a politician who uses fear as an argument; and before we attack our neighbours for being different, we owe it to ourselves to seek out accurate information, understand first-hand what is being said, and champion a politics of love to fight the growing politics of hate.
Let’s work hard, together, to oppose intolerance in all its forms.
Wayne Stetski is MP for Kootenay-Columbia