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Saturday, February 28, 2015


I did a feature on religion in Canada for the February 2015 edition of the Canadian Immigrant magazine. I spoke to a cross section of the Canadian society to get diverse views on how a multicultural, multi-religious society coexists and the issues we should be aware of to retain our secular character.

If you’re interested in reading the feature (which was the cover story), please click here: Divine Diversity. Many of whom I interviewed for the feature said that immigrants tend to become more tolerant of other religions and cultures after they have lived in Canada for some time.

Then, several incidents suddenly propelled the question of tolerance right back to the centre stage.  For instance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized that women who wear a niqab should remove it when taking the oath of citizenship. Another incident: Media also reported that many Canadian teenagers (from Edmonton and Montreal) have left Canada for the Middle East to join the ISIS.

Harper’s statement has surprisingly found support from a cross-section of the Canadian society. And only a small (but vocal) segment has criticized the Prime Minister for his narrow views. This is not a new debate; it’s similar to the issues that were raised in 2013 when the controversial Quebec Charter was being discussed. The Quebec voters rejected a narrow interpretation of religious neutrality.

The Canadian Interfaith Conversation had then clarified: “Although the stated goal of the proposed Charter is to emphasize and give legal recognition to the neutrality of the state with respect to religion, the prohibition on wearing religious symbols presents an unacceptable restriction on the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion guaranteed in both the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Another instance of institutionalization of intolerance is the anti-terrorism bill (C-51). Thankfully, the opposition to the bill is strong, and expected to grow more vocal and vociferous. Eminent academics have in a signed letter said that the proposed bill is a “dangerous” legislation, and needs to be suitably modified as it gives tremendous powers to the government and removes constitutional and safeguards, and parliamentary oversight.

The CBC reported: While introducing the bill, Prime Minister was asked how the government would distinguish between ‘teens messing around in their basements and someone who is radicalised, Harper said it would be a serious offence “no matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what the age of the person is, or whether they’re in a basement, or whether they’re in a mosque or somewhere else.”

The statement was roundly criticized for singling Muslims (as opposed for Jihadists) being a terrorist threat to Canada and Canadians. This statement underlines the government’s explicit bias.

It is this systemic prejudice that is used by the astute proselytizers of Islamic fundamentalism to recruit callow young boys and girls to abandon everything that they can call their own, and offer to sacrifice their lives in a cause that they don’t even fully comprehend.

On a different note, the recent incidents in South Asia such as hacking to death of Avijit Roy in Dhaka by Islamic fundamentalists, and the hounding of Teesta Setalvad by the pro-Hindutva government in India, are also signs of a shift of paradigm in the debate over freedom and security. Increasingly, it would seem, that people are willing to keep quiet and hope for more security as majoritarian views throttle democratic right that seek justice, advocate secularism, and oppose religious intolerance, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

I’d much rather end the piece on a lighter note, only because that is truly the Canadian way. 
Here’s a piece from How to be a Canadian (by Will and Ian Ferguson).


Here’s everything you need to know about religion in Canada: when Jesus decided to reveal himself to Canadians, He chose a Tim Hortons as his venue. True story. It happened in September 1998, in Cape Breton town of Bras D’Or.

In what became known as the “Miracle of the Doughnuts,” an image of Jesus began appearing nightly on the wall outside the Bras D’Or Tim Hortons. Hundreds of faithful flocked to the site (although, in honesty, some of them came for the doughnuts). Stranger still, an image of the late Tim Horton began appearing on windows in the Vatican. No, no. We’re just kidding. But the Christ of Tim Hortons was real enough.

There was even a movement launched on the Internet to create the Church of Tim Horton. It wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. After all, the main elements were already in place.

A.     a departed saint (Tim)
B.     a chain of churches (both drive-thru and sit-in)
C.     a hymn (“You’ve always got time for salvation!”)
D.    daily communion (a box of timbits and a double-double)
E.     a pilgrimage site (64 Ottawa Street North in Hamilton: the very first Tim Hortons, opened in 1964 and still going strong)
F.     it’s very own Mecca (Moncton, New Brunswick, with more Tim Hortons per capita than any other place in Canada), and, last but not the least,
G.    a faithful following (Canadians i.e., a tribe of sugar-dependent, dough=addled caffeine addicts)

Sadly, this ecclesiastical movement seems to have faltered, and Christ Himself has left building. The miracle ended when the assistant manager at the Bras D’Or shop changed some of the light bulbs outside and the image of Jesus disappeared. Still, it is nice to know that even Our Lord and Saviour gets a crawling for a maple glazed now and then. In Canada, it’s not religion that is the opiate of masses – it’s doughnuts.

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