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Hard-Won Religious FreedomHard-Won Religious Freedom

Hard-Won Religious Freedom

— Jason Kenney (@kenneyjason) January 21, 2013 The prospect of having harboured terrorists can certainly take the wind out of your sails. With allegations from Algeria that Canadians were part of the band of Islamist militants who attacked a natural gas plant in Algeria, we find another welcome opportunity to check ourselves. But if the allegations by the Algerian prime minister prove true, these would not be the first Canadian terrorists. In fact, the first terrorist convicted in Canada lived in the seemingly placid suburb of Orleans, Ontario. I have friends that live very nearby. It was pretty alarming to find out that Momin Khawaja was constructing detonating devices in his bedroom and his family had a shooting range in the basement.

Janet Epp Buckingham
2 minute read
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The prospect of having harboured terrorists can certainly take the wind out of your sails. With allegations from Algeria that Canadians were part of the band of Islamist militants who attacked a natural gas plant in Algeria, we find another welcome opportunity to check ourselves.

Yes, we have successes to celebrate in how Canada pursues religious freedom domestically, and promotes it internationally—see for yourself in this illuminating online video discussion, recorded Monday by the Canadian International Council.

But if the allegations by the Algerian prime minister prove true, these would not be the first Canadian terrorists. In fact, the first terrorist convicted in Canada lived in the seemingly placid suburb of Orleans, Ontario. I have friends that live very nearby. It was pretty alarming to find out that Momin Khawaja was constructing detonating devices in his bedroom and his family had a shooting range in the basement.

Canadians are tolerant and accepting. We have welcomed immigrants from everywhere in the world. But this is the very challenge. The United Nations proves that countries have a hard enough time getting along with each other; what does the Canadian experience prove about how individuals are supposed to get along when they seemingly lack most any shared values?

How much have Canadians figured out about religious accommodation and healthy society? Is our own house in order? This week the right of Trinity Western University, an evangelical school in British Columbia, to maintain community standards that define marriage as being between a man and a woman came under fire. In fact, the TWU community covenant asks all students to refrain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman." Meanwhile, a sanctioned student club at the University of Toronto hosted an orgy—sorry, a clothing-optional sex adventure.

Canadians' values are less "shared" than we think. At times they seem as far apart as our coasts. What unity we have as a nation, philosophically, is both proximate and hard-won.

Yet what some might see as weakness is also Canada's strength. Because we have a wide diversity of views on what constitutes "right thinking" or "right morality," we have had to develop ways to get along. We do not always get it right—for instance, when the blinds of tolerance obscure the jihadist next door, or when the myth of neutrality makes the religious seem backwards—but the fact that we do live together in relative harmony is a model for the rest of the world.

The Bouchard-Taylor Commission is a great example of how Canadians can and do move forward in establishing boundaries for reasonable accommodation of those whose values we do not share. While there was much hand-wringing at the time over xenophobic statements made in public, it is actually healthy for a society to have a public forum so that views can be expressed. Debates in the media serve a similar function. It is far better to have a debate of words than riots.

They are works in progress, but uncomfortable debates are also Canada's remarkable strength. And when the Office of Religious Freedom is up and running, it too can claim, "We don't always get it right, but we have ways to keep negotiating without violence or oppression." That is the mark of a healthy society.

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