The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has just published a discussion paper on religious intolerance.
In the context of the Israel-Hamas war, there is no shortage of images to illustrate this. At home, the war gave rise to outbursts of religious hatred. Jewish schools targeted by gunfire, a synagogue and a Jewish center targeted by Molotov cocktails, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts, and hateful, even criminal remarks, such as those of Adil Charkaoui calling for “inventory and extermination” the “enemies of the people of Gaza” without sparing any of them.
But that’s not what the CHRC’s discussion paper is about.
Other religious conflicts resonate with us. Iranians who fled Iran’s theocratic regime are caught up in the religious intolerance of their country of origin. Some are threatened with death by representatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, living with impunity in Canada. Let us also think about the conflict between Sikhs and Hindus which gave rise, last June, to the assassination of a Sikh independence activist in British Columbia.
But that doesn’t seem to worry the CHRC either.
What religious intolerance is the CCDP telling us about? That of public holidays linked to Christianity, including Christmas and Easter, which would constitute, according to their discussion paper, “an obvious example” of “systemic religious discrimination”.
How can we explain such a disconnect from reality?
The CHRC argues that religious intolerance “results in real harm to people and communities” that is essential to recognize and understand in order to “develop laws, policies and programs that address the causes and the consequences of this intolerance. We can only agree with this statement. Let us think of Yasmine Mohammed, who lived a nightmarish childhood in British Columbia in a radical Islamist family where she was forced to wear the veil from a very young age, then the niqab, and beaten from the age of 6 for difficulty in memorize the Quran.
Let us think of the young Hasidic people who fled their Tash community in Boisbriand to escape the ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools which deprived them of an education worthy of the name. Let us think of the stories of young girls beaten by their fathers for reasons of honor, which periodically resurface in the media. Everyone has the right to protection against the excesses of their own religion.
But none of this concerns the CHRC. Diverting the meaning of the words, the problem would not be religious intolerance, but intolerance towards religions.
The CCDP’s disconnection with the reality of religious fundamentalism is reminiscent of Justin Trudeau’s stunned reaction to the outbreak of violence in the wake of the current war. He didn’t seem to understand how this could happen in a country as open to religion as Canada. But why should we be surprised that by promoting religious values and maintaining religious particularisms we end up renewing and exacerbating religious conflicts?
In the CHRC’s discussion paper, the notion of religious intolerance is so broad that it includes physical violence, which should under no circumstances be tolerated, against believers or places of worship – including the appalling attack on the Quebec mosque in 2017 — and unintentional “microaggressions.” Religious intolerance would also include the fact, for example, that an employer does not adapt to the various “religious requirements of employees”. One wonders if, for the CCDP, secularism would not itself be a form of religious intolerance.
We should also make no secret of the fact that one of the main causes of religious intolerance is religion itself. Indeed, the texts of the main religions of the world include remarks which denigrate homosexuals, women, apostates or unbelievers, remarks which, sometimes, call for violence, even crime.
To effectively combat this religious intolerance, if there is one anachronistic regulation that it is time to repeal, it is the religious exception in the Criminal Code which grants religious speech special protection. Thus, in the section dealing with hate propaganda, paragraph 319 (3) b states that no one can be found guilty of willfully fomenting hatred against an identifiable group if he “has, in good faith, expressed an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a religious text in which he believes, or has attempted to establish its merits by argument.” Are we going to allow calls for murder, like those made by Imam Charkaoui, under the pretext that it is a prayer?
Rather than granting impunity to religious intolerance when it is professed on the basis of a sincere religious belief, we must on the contrary give ourselves the means to crack down on hateful religious speech.
This is why we unreservedly support Bill C-367 tabled by the Bloc Québécois, calling for the repeal of section 319 (3) b of the Criminal Code.
Let us hope that the CCDP will do the same if it really intends to fight against religious intolerance.