by Janet Buckingham
Originally published: December 6, 2017
November seemed to be religious freedom month in Ottawa. The month was book-ended by two significant Supreme Court of Canada hearings on religious freedom. The Supreme Court also released a decision on religious freedom for First Nations peoples. And two parliamentary committees held hearings on issues related to religious freedom. As if that was not enough, in her first speech, the governor general saw fit to weigh in on religion. All these events have served to air a variety of viewpoints on the place of religion in Canada. If the confluence of these events has a broader lesson, it is that if we are serious about embracing diversity, we have to include religion in the dialogue.
Her Excellency Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, kicked off the month of religious controversy with a speech on November 1, where she expressed incredulity that some people believe that life on Earth is a “divine invention.” To be fair, she also took aim at people who believe in astrology and homeopathic medicine. But for the governor general, whose role is intended to be politically neutral, to be disdainful of significant parts of the population was highly controversial, to say the least. It was even more so because the prime minister and several cabinet ministers supported her.