Frances Russell is puzzled about why we need an Office of Religious Freedom:
One question: why not just celebrate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? It’s right there at the top of the charter’s Fundamental Freedoms section: “freedom of consicence and religion.” Were the Conservatives unaware? Had they read it? Or are they elevating “freedom of conscience and religion” above other fundamental human rights and freedoms — creating a hierarchy of human rights?
The answer is that what the Harperites call "religious freedom" trumps all other rights. It's a pat formula for a government which acts on faith rather than reason. For the Harper Party, the Charter is infuriating. That's why they did not celebrate its thirtieth anniversary:
A year ago, the Harper government all but ignored the Charter’s 30th anniversary. Asked why, Harper referred to “constitutional divisions” created by the refusal of the separatist Parti Quebecois government to sign the patriation package. (Incidentally, virtually the entire Quebec Liberal caucus voted to support it.)
Many social and religious conservatives — Harper’s bedrock base — loathe the charter. Many of them see it as violating the natural order of things: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate”, in the words of the old hymn. Or Ephesians 5:22 — “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
If they could replace the Charter with the Office of Religious Freedom they could rest in the bosom of Abraham. For people who firmly believe that they make the rules, the notion of universal human rights is anathema. Russell rightly sees through the facade:
Not only do the Harper Conservatives tacitly reject the concept of universal human rights, he (and many of his party members) want to be able to pick and choose the rights to be deemed fundamental — and the people they deem worthy of enjoying them.If only they could ditch the Charter.