Harper’s Office of Religious Freedom and the Queer Community

Posted by Wayves Volunteer 18/05/13.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Dr. Andrew Bennett, right, and Muslim cleric Lai Khan Malik, at a press conference announcing the appointment of Dr. Bennett as "ambassador" of religious freedom. Dr. Bennett is a former civil servant and also served as Dean of a small Christian college in Ottawa.


By Gerard Veldhoven

Stephen Harper has developed a scheme, creating an office in the Department of Foreign Affairs to oversee that religious tolerance is observed world-wide. An ominous undertaking from a prime minister whose Conservative government continues to be called to task, especially on issues affecting the nation’s queer community, equal opportunities for women, and aboriginal peoples. 

Religious tolerance is a human right, as it should be. But the world’s religious organizations should also show responsibility and protect those who are sometimes viewed as less deserving than others. Mr. Harper seeks religious tolerance around the world, but his obligations should begin at home and he should cease pretending all is well in this country with equality.  What about here in our own nation, where many faiths discriminate against the LGBT community? Does Mr. Harper have a plan to combat these homophobic attitudes, or is this something he will simply ignore?

Does Mr. Harper really believe that Canadians will embrace his Office of Religious Freedom? Our esteemed Prime Minister has not exactly been a shining example of embracing the LGBT community. After marriage equality was passed in 2005 under Prime Minister Paul Martin, it was Stephen Harper, in his first minority government, who introduced a bill to overturn the equal marriage law. He did not succeed, but with the development of an office to push for religious freedom, he again ignores the death threats, intolerance and discrimination that many of the world’s religious organizations openly declare against LGBT people.

Ugandan MPs, many of them evangelical Christians, have reintroduced a bill that would impose harsh prison sentences for members of the LGBT community and their supporters. Does the Harper government really condone this action? John Baird has publicly condemned the bill, but how far is our government willing to go if this bill indeed becomes law?

I am willing to suggest that no action will be forthcoming from Harper’s Conservatives such as sanctions, or any form of standing up to defend members of our community, here in Canada, or anywhere else his Office of Religious Freedom will attempt to have an influence. Why does the government not set up an office to fight for equal rights and treatment for the queer communities world-wide? Now, that’s something Canada could do to really have a voice for human rights.

Editor's Note: Gerard Veldhoven, a frequent contributor to Wayves, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality for three more than thirty years. He has been particularly active in rural communities in Nova Scotia and he currently resides in Pictou County.

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