Parliamentary Forum discusses religious freedom in Canada

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Tackling the topic of “Religious Freedom in Canada” was the focus of the fourth annual Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom, Organized by Colin Mayes, MP for Okanagan-Shuswap and David Anderson, MP for Cypress Hills-Grasslands, held in Ottawa on May 26.  

“Canada is a strong supporter of religious freedom as a fundamental human right, yet the way forward is not always clear and discussion of this important issue is vital,” forum host Mayes explained.”

“When we first began holding Parliamentary Forums on Religious Freedom, there was limited interest,” Anderson noted. “But over the last few years we have seen a marked increase. I am pleased to see that there is growing awareness of the importance of protecting religious freedom at home and abroad.”

With more than 180 people registered, the forum was attended by MPs, Senators, diplomats, academics, religious leaders, and the general public. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from a number of experts on key issues pertaining to religious freedom in Canada:

Dr. James Wallace, from Boston University, explained how when it comes to religion-state relations, there are actually four models present in Canada. These models include the official state church, laïcité, separation of church and state, and total secularity. The debate about what religious freedom looks like in Canada is impacted by these four competing models.

Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham gave forum participants a brief overview of the history of religious freedom in Canada. She explained how Canada has experienced three eras of religious conflict, including the Roman Catholic / Protestant conflict during the early days of Canada, the exclusion of religious minorities during the 20th century, and the conflict over the relationship between secularism and religion which is still being debated today.

Don Hutchinson, former Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada gave a compelling presentation on the changing perspective of the Supreme Court of Canada over the past 30 years, with respect to religious freedom.

Natasha Bakht, Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa, challenged forum participants to consider how the seeds of religious intolerance can be seen in our society’s reactions to niqab-wearing Muslim women in Canada.

The presentations were followed by a lively question and answer session, moderated by Anderson, where attendees had opportunity to interact with the panel of speakers.

Planning for the next Forum on Religious Freedom has already begun. Additional information will be posted on www.DavidAnderson.ca, along with videos of this year’s forum.

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa

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