In the world of parliamentary business, motions of commitment and encouragement can get lost under the weight of debate and controversy surrounding more binding efforts. But in politics, governance culture can be everything, and yesterday in the House of Commons Motion 382 took an important step forward to recognizing not only the high priority of religious freedom in Canadian foreign policy, but also religious literacy generally in its foreign affairs.
As I've said elsewhere, the measure of efforts like the Office of Religious Freedom will be not just the work of religious freedom, important as that is, but the inroads it can make into cultivating religious literacy generally in foreign affairs. If it's God's Century, as the academics and the pundits say, we have a lot of catching up to do.
The motion, passed uninamously yesterday, takes a hard line on "defamation of religion" and "blasphemy" laws designed to suppress religious minorities, and a strong stand with already existing covenants and declarations at the international level on freedom of religion or belief. The motion is worth quoting and endorsing.
Mr. Shipley (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex), M-382:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should:
(a) continue to recognize as part of Canadian foreign policy that
(i) everyone has the right to freedom of religion and conscience, including the freedom to change religion or belief, and the freedom to manifest religion or belief in teaching, worship, practice and observance,
(ii) all acts of violence against religious groups should be condemned,
(iii) Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights be supported,
(iv) the special value of official statements made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs denouncing violations of religious freedom around the world be promoted,
(v) Canada's commitment to the creation of an Office of Religious Freedom should be used to help protect religious minorities and promote the pluralism that is essential to the development of free and democratic societies; and
(b) support(i) the opposition to laws that use "defamation of religion" and "blasphemy" both within states and internationally to persecute members of religious minorities,
(ii) reporting by Canadian missions abroad in responding to incidents of religious violence,
(iii) coordinated efforts to protect and promote religious freedom,
(iv) the maintaining of a regular dialogue with relevant governments to ensure that the issue of religious persecution is a priority,
(v) the encouragement of Canadian embassies to seek contact with religious communities and human rights organizations on gathering information related to human rights abuses,
(vi) the training and support of foreign affairs officials for the advocacy of global religious freedom.