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Canada’s Silence About Christmas Violence

Janet Epp Buckingham wants to know why the Canadian government doesn’t speak out against the evil of attacks on Christians around the world as they celebrate their Saviour’s birth

2 minute read
Topics: Religious Freedom
Canada’s Silence About Christmas Violence December 21, 2017  |  By Janet Epp Buckingham
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It is an evil thing to attack people when they are at worship. Canadians were appalled last January when six Muslim men were shot as they were finishing evening prayers in Quebec City. These men were targeted because of their Muslim faith. But it is shocking that anyone be murdered as they gather to worship. Mosques, temples, gurdwaras, synagogues and churches are built as gathering places where believers can be free to worship God together with others who share their faith. It is sacred space.

In Canada, we often think of Christmas as a time of gift giving and holiday parties. But Christmas remains one of the most holy times of year for Christians. As the recent horrific bombing at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan shows, church services at this time of year can be a special target for violence against Christians in the many regions of the world where they are a minority.

Last year, 25 worshippers were killed when St. Mark’s Church in Cairo, Egypt was bombed a couple of weeks before Christmas. And this year suicide bombers killed nine worshippers at a church in Pakistan. In 2011, a string of church bombings was carried out in five cities in Nigeria killing 41. In 2000, a series of church bombings in Indonesia killed 18 Christians.

An attack on a house of worship is an attack on a religious community. It harms that community not just in the moment but also in the future by making worshipers fearful of coming together. Religion, be it Christianity, Judaism or Islam, is often practiced as a community. What had been a sanctuary for the faith community becomes a place of fear.

There is a certain dark irony in Christmas being a time when churches are bombed. The Christmas story has angels declaring “Peace on Earth.” Yet for minority Christian communities in Pakistan and elsewhere, this season has brought anything but peace.

As a diverse, multi-faith country, Canada should take the lead in prosecuting attacks on houses of worship at home, and denouncing them abroad. Earlier this year, the House of Commons Justice Committee voted to retain special protection for religious services in the Criminal Code, while the Heritage Committee worked on an action plan to combat racial and religious discrimination. These are important first steps to preventing and responding to attacks on religious worshipers in Canada.

But our response to international incidents is also important. Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Human Rights, Freedom, and Inclusion is responsible for addressing religious freedom. This office can make a difference by condemning attacks on houses of worship, and expressing support for religious minorities who suffer from violence.

But where are these statements? The Canadian government has been strangely silent. Neither Global Affairs Canada nor the Minister of Foreign Affairs has acknowledged the church bombing in Pakistan. This is a missed opportunity to bring attention to a serious violation of human rights.

Canada is seen around the world as a shining light for human rights protection. When our government issues a statement condemning heinous attacks on churches and religious communities, it sends a strong signal. Many governments are concerned about their international reputation and will make changes in response to international pressure. These public statements can literally save lives in other countries.

And all of us, whether we are personally religious or just enjoying the holiday spirit, can take a moment to give thanks that we can gather in peace, and consider what we can do to make that peace a reality everywhere in the world.

Janet Epp Buckingham is a professor at Trinity Western University with a research specialization in religious freedom. She is also an academic advisor to the International Institute for Religious Freedom.

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