Last week's Ottawa Citizen "Ask the Religion Experts" question was, "What do you think is the most pressing issue facing Canada’s ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom?
WSO's Balpreet Singh's answer from a Sikh perspective is below. For the replies from the other Experts, please click here
"Canada’s recently launched Office of Religious Freedom, which has been established to protect and advocate for the rights of religious minorities abroad, certainly has an ambitious (and admirable) mandate. I suspect though, that one of the biggest challenges Ambassador Bennett will face in his role is having the ability to move beyond the “usual suspects” when it comes to religious persecution.
While examples of religious persecution are common in places like Iran and Pakistan, religious persecution is also sadly all too common in countries like China and India, which are major trade partners for Canada. China’s persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners is well known.
Perhaps less well-known are the killings of Christian Pastors and converts in the Indian states of Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Assam, persecution of Muslims in states like Gujarat, or a recent example in Madhya Pradesh, where so-called “low-caste” converts to the Sikh faith were harassed and denied access to water for drinking and irrigation.
While it is undeniably important to build trade links with growing economies, it is also important to ensure that human rights issues such as the persecution of religious minorities are not ignored and sacrificed. Will our Office of Religious Freedom have the courage to risk offending our growing trade partners?
Religious persecution also exists in places we wouldn’t necessarily expect. Since 2004, in the name of “secularism,” Sikhs in France (one of Canada’s G8 partners) have not been permitted to wear turbans when attending public schools or while being photographed for government identification such as health cards, driving licenses or passports. The effects of this “turban ban” on the Sikh community in France have been disastrous.
As the Office of Religious Freedom gets up and running, it will remain to be seen whether it will have the will to take on religious persecution in all places, or just the countries that are easier to single out."