Sunday, February 28, 2016

Interdependent, Universal and Indivisible


As a sop to his evangelical base, Stephen Harper established the Office of Religious Freedom back in 2013. The tenure of its present Ambassador, Andrew Bennett,  expires at the end of March. Bruce Ryder and Luka Ryder Bunting argue that, rather than replace Bennett, the Liberals should shut down the office.

The office is problematic for a number of reasons:

The international promotion of religious freedom by Western states risks repeating “civilizing” colonial missions, imposing fixed standards without sensitivity to cultural and historical specificities, adding to the already overburdened social salience of religious difference, and neglecting other sources of tension and conflict. The international promotion of religious freedom is a fraught project if it does not engage local populations appropriately or undermines plural and contextualized understandings of religious freedom across the globe. Canada must not assume that our model fits well with the experiences and needs of other states.

To make matters worse, the Harper government provided a stellar example of religious hypocrisy by

promoting religious freedom abroad while simultaneously undermining it at home, most blatantly in the case of the niqab. Moreover, by creating an office dedicated solely to the promotion of religious freedom, the Harper government appeared to attach more importance to religious freedom than it did to other human rights.

Ryder and Bunting believe that separating religious freedom from other human rights creates a human rights hierarchy:

There should be no hierarchy of human rights, no privileging of some over others. The promotion of religious freedom alone can lead us to see only part of people’s experiences, and can obscure other equally important issues. For example, women and children may be denied basic rights across an entire society, whether or not they are members of religious minorities. States may imprison individuals solely on the basis of their beliefs, religious or otherwise. Viewing complex and interwoven issues through the lens of a single human right will not produce adequate responses. Canada should take an expansive view and advocate for the protection of all human rights.

They suggest that the government establish a Human Rights Office which recognizes -- as Stephane Dion has said -- that human rights are "interdependent, universal and indivisible."


Lorne said...

Trudeau has been doing a good job of dismantling the Harper 'legacy' thus far, Owen. Let's hope he continues by eliminating this office which was clearly a political-pandering mechanism.

Owen Gray said...

This office was a nod to the folks who put the fun in fundamentalism, Lorne. Its death should not be mourned.

Steve said...

it should be renamed the ministry of silly supertestions

Owen Gray said...

I have no objection to an Office of Human Rights, Steve. And freedom of religion is one of those rights. The problem with the Harperites is that, for them, religion means Christianity.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Implicit Owen, in our individual rights, as outlined in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the right of holding and practicing our own religious beliefs.If a person for whatever reason is prevented from practicing their religion, their rights have been violated. Their individual rights that is.The source of all human rights is individual rights. That includes the individuals right to privacy, dissent, freedom of movement , religion etc. When a Canadians privacy is violated, it is a violation of that individuals rights. It is the individual that holds the right to privacy.For the same reason a government doesn't go out and set up an Office of Privacy Freedom, so they should not set up an "Office of Religious Freedom." Harper always presented and implemented an idea by destroying the fundamental concept that the idea rested on.There is no such thing as religious freedom in and of itself.There is only freedom, of which freely practicing religion is based on. Harper kept his evangelical religious beliefs pretty close to his chest, but Harpers frame of reference for creating social policy came from his evangelical beliefs. Pierre Trudeau, who was a strong Catholic said that rights come before religion. Harper did not believe in human rights. I hope the Liberals abolish this office.

Owen Gray said...

Harper never had much respect for the rulings of Human Rights Tribunals, Pam. He talked about individual liberties, but he never believed in human rights.