Sunday, April 10, 2011

THE Great Idea Whose Time Has Come

Tories pledge to take a stand on global religious freedom

Who says that Canadian political parties don't talk about foreign policy at election time?

Surely, they don't do it nearly enough. But sometimes, it happens. This was the case very recently, as the Conservative Party announced they would create an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"We think there's a need to put a particular focus on this," announced Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. "This is something the United States did more than a decade ago through the creation of the Office for International Religious Freedom in the State Department."

"You'd be looking at things, in part, from a religious freedom prism," he continued. "As a champion of human rights around the world we should be entirely comfortable with focusing on the rights of vulnerable religious minorities."

For his own part, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae was not convinced, and seemingly not amused. He accused the Tories of naked political opportunism.

"It has much more to do with Canadian domestic politics than it has to do with the necessity of having a coherent strategy for the promotion of democracy and human rights," Rae complained. "It's more a domestic strategy than a foreign affairs strategy."

In his own rush to find something in the policy to criticize, David McGuinty complained about separation of church and state. He also suggested that an office promoting religious freedom abroad is not necessary.

"We have a document in this country that does that, it's called the Charter of Rights," McGuinty mused.

In this, McGuinty has missed the point. In countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, and (yes) Afghanistan there are no such documents. They have no such freedoms. Moreover, the office would also allow Canada to take a stronger stand against the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who annually introduce their anti-blasphemy resolutions at the UN.

Canadians believe religious freedom to be a global good. Canada would be remiss not to promote it abroad.

This is an idea that the Liberal Party should enthusiastically support. If anything, their greatest criticism of the Conservatives should be that they didn't create such an office years ago.

Their lack of enthusiasm about this idea indicates that the Liberal Party has taken a step away from Canadian values. In their assumption that they define Canadian values just by virtue of existing, the Liberal Party has lost touch.

Jason Kenney seems to have little time for those opposing this idea.

"Perhaps there are some rabid secularists out there who don't understand there are a lot of vulnerable religious minorities under attack around the world," Kenney remarked. "To those people who would challenge it because they are uncomfortable with religious faith, I would say, 'Get over it'. We're talking about fundamental rights here."

If this initiative wins more votes from ethnic Canadians, it will be for good reason: because they understand the importance of this issue, and they know that the Conservative Party shares that understanding.

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