Former religious freedom ambassador warns conservatives that ‘Canadian values’ talk is full of pitfalls

Sensible comments by Andrew Bennett (of course, the challenge occurs when religious freedom clashes with other rights, and the case-by-case balance of rights):

Kellie Leitch’s opponents have largely rejected her rhetoric around immigration interviews, and the idea all immigrants should be tested for “Canadian values,” with some accusing her of sowing division and inciting hatred.

Leitch has connected such ideas to protecting Canada against terrorism and, specifically, Islamist terrorists, although she has also repeated that she believes hate speech is wrong.

Her message resonates with some in the Conservative base who feel their concerns have been muzzled by a Liberal government that preaches inclusivity.

In Bennett’s view, “values” talk confuses, however, and religious freedom should be defended. Bennett was ambassador for religions freedom and ran the Office of Religious Freedom within Global Affairs Canada from 2013 until the Liberal government dismantled it about a year ago. Now, he is a senior fellow with Cardus, a faith-based think tank that does work on religious freedom.

He expounded on the virtues of plurality to a room of about 70 conference attendees Saturday morning. The talk followed several sessions Friday that had been devoted specifically to the issue of Islamist extremism, part of a weekend agenda largely focused on populist sentiments that led to Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

“To champion religious freedom is also to implicitly accept that there are those in our common life who will hold and will promote beliefs, theological and philosophical, moral and ethical, that many of us will vehemently reject,” Bennett said. “And that’s OK. It’s OK to oppose. It’s OK to differ.”

But “marginalization of people of faith and the beliefs they possess,” he said, “leads to an impoverishment of our public debate.” And, he told the room during a Q&A session, hate speech provisions in the Canadian criminal code are “essential” in cases where any group incites hatred and violence.

Moreover, Bennett told the Post, a major lack of understanding about Islam has underpinned recent debate over an anti-Islamophobia motion in the House of Commons.

“I think we should absolutely stand against anti-Islamic bias and anti-Islamic statements. And if the House of Commons wants to pass a motion in that regard, that’s great. That’s a good thing. I think it’s also important to recognize that we need to stand up against any type of anti-religious bias,” Bennett said, noting, for example, that anti-semitism persists in Canada.

Source: National Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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