Letter to the Editor: Canada, step up for religious minorities

david-anderson-2The Christmas season has given Canadians even more reason to reflect on the crisis facing the people of Syria and Iraq, as well as Canada’s duty to extend a welcoming hand.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, recently provided an insightful article to The Hill Times in which he argues that Canada should do more to aid persecuted Christian minorities.

Mr. Fogel makes reference to a recent letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The letter points to the fact that, in 2010 terms, between 200 and 230 million Christians worldwide faced daily threats of violent persecution, while an additional 400 million were subjected to economic and social discrimination. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Christians are currently being displaced by the ongoing crisis in Syria and Iraq, including Assyrians, Armenians, Syriac Catholics, Chaldeans and Maronites, as well as Yazidis. We must also remember that many of these refugees remain off of the official books and outside the camps, as the UN-designated encampments often fail to provide safe-haven from rampant religious intolerance.

The persecution of Christians is just one example of the grim reality facing millions from other religious minorities as well. Mr. Fogel references the 2013 all-party report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which studied the rapid degeneration of Jewish communities in the Middle East throughout the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the late 20th century. Fleeing increasing economic and religious intolerance, 200,000 Jews found refuge in countries other than Israel, including Canada. The report affirmed that Canada acted justly in response to refugees’ religious maltreatment. It also recognized Canada’s reputation as a friend to the oppressed, as well as a global beacon for religious freedom.

What differentiates the “total isolation and economic strangulation” experienced by these Jewish communities from the events of today? Not a great deal, I would argue. In fact, the sheer scale and visibility of intolerance, and the accelerating trend toward religious homogeny in the Middle East demands an even greater response from those who can help.

What does this mean for the Canada of today? Even as the opportunity to resettle Syria’s refugees is dominating the headlines, the Liberal Government’s disinterest in the promotion of religious freedom around the world is cause for worry. Although the Office of Religious Freedom has proven to be a highly-effective voice that demonstrates clear value for money, the Ambassador has been muzzled and the Office abandoned. In its approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Government has chosen an untargeted policy strictly limited to the “most vulnerable.” Its approach deliberately disregards the immediately perilous circumstances faced by religious minorities.

Just two months into their mandate, the Liberals have set a dangerous precedent. I urge the Prime Minister to consider the reality of religious persecution, understand the lessons learned from Jewish persecution in their homelands, and embrace a resettlement strategy that works hand-in-hand with Canada’s respect for religious freedom.

The recommendations of the Foreign Affairs committee’s report were an important step in recognizing the equal acknowledgement of all refugees arising from the Arab-Israeli conflict 60 years ago. In 2016, let’s not turn our backs on the targeted discrimination, violence and murder of religious minorities being committed before our eyes.

Sincerely,

David Anderson, MP
Official Opposition Critic for International Human Rights and Religious Freedom