Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured in the attack at the Quebec City Islamic centre. It cannot be overstated that this attack is an affront to the religious freedom of Canadians. Places of worship are meant to be havens for personal peaceful reflection and faith. Violence against any religious group is an attack on the universal values that all Canadians cherish and seek to protect.
It truly is a privilege to speak to the motion introduced by colleague, the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. He has been a mentor to me through the incredible work he has done over the years advancing the issues of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Parliament, and I want to acknowledge his efforts.
We truly are fortunate to live in Canada. Often, we take our freedoms for granted, like the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association. These foundational democratic principles were first enshrined in Canadian law by Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, in 1960. His definition of what a Canadian is has never been better stated and has stood the test of time, “ I am a Canadian...free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.”
These are Canada's values.
As someone whose faith is integral to my life, I am grateful for and believe very strongly in the religious freedom we enjoy here in Canada. That freedom, which includes protection against discrimination based on one's faith, is a right for all Canadians regardless of their religion.
A number of weeks ago, I met an incredibly brave young Christian woman in my riding. She fled her country as a young adult because she was the very real target of attacks from those who did not approve of her choice of faith. Today, she cannot be on Facebook or Instagram because she remains concerned that her family, still in her country of origin, could be targeted because of her choices. When I sat down with her and listened to her tell her story, it was impossible not to grasp the real fear that she feels as a target of attack because of her religious beliefs. This young woman came to Canada because she believes in the words and the spirit of former Prime Minister Diefenbaker's declaration. Nobody should be forced to choose between their faith and their personal security.
Os Guinness, in his book, The Global Public Square, Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, identifies the need to “restore the primacy and high priority of establishing freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief for people of all faiths and none, both for the sake of individual human persons and for the common good of humanity itself.”
Making free speech and freedom of faith a priority is paramount to our democracy and our success as a nation. These are the values that, for over a decade, informed the previous government's foreign policy.
Unfortunately, with the abolishing of the office of religious freedom, one of the most visible vehicles for the promotion of freedom of religion is now gone. Through this office, under the very capable leadership of Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada worked with like-minded partners to speak out against violations of freedom of religion, denounce violence against human rights defenders, and condemn attacks on worshippers and places of worship around the world.
This office led the way internationally to protect freedom of religion and belief, as well as to promote Canadian values of tolerance and pluralism.
Free speech and freedom of belief are fundamental. Without them, there can be no exchanging and evaluating of ideas. If we are unwilling to challenge each other, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to having our beliefs set by others.
If British society had not challenged the monarchy, the bill of rights of 1689, which is the foundational document of Canada's democracy, would not exist.
Free speech is what allows us to advance as a country. When the state determines what is right and what is wrong, societies are doomed to become less prosperous and less free, as we have observed in Venezuela or North Korea.
Free speech is also our first and ultimately our only durable defence against tyranny. It has been well documented that the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gained and held power by taking control of the press and silencing all of their critics. Free speech was stifled, competing views put down, often violently.
The Soviet Union was the first state to have the objective of eliminating religion as a means of consolidating power. The state, or a central authority that derives its power from the state, cannot unilaterally decide what is right to say and what is wrong to say or think. Trying to shut down debate on a point of view that is not mainstream almost inevitably leads to unintended consequences.
Over the past few years, we've seen campus clubs shut down, government not releasing certain information because it could be incendiary or certain persons not being able to hold events in certain forums. Because a debate may be divisive is precisely why it's important to have it.
It's impossible to find common ground or a way forward on an issue unless the proponents of both sides of that issue can share their points of view and the reasons behind their contentions. If that does not happen, the silos of thought that are so devastating to the advancement of a prosperous country become more and more entrenched. An informed citizenry is the check against an abuse of power by the state or its most powerful individuals.
Freedom of religion also serves as a bulwark against totalitarianism. Pope John Paul II has been well recognized as playing a major role in ending Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.
Beyond supporting the motion, all of us here can take a role supporting religious freedom, which brings me to the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Established in Oslo, Norway in 2014, the panel's activities have been opened up to all members of Parliament. All participating parliamentarians are committed to accomplishing the shared goals of advancing freedom of religion or belief.
This is done by promoting freedom of religion or belief for all persons through their work and respective institutions; enhancing global co-operation by endeavouring to work across geographical, political, and religious lines; and undertaking efforts to jointly promote freedom of religion or belief, share information, and mobilize effective responses. The experiences of one country can inform how another country views its situation. I recommend that MPs from all parties participate in this international panel.
To conclude, last week, I welcomed my seventh grandchild into the world. I consider it my responsibility as a federal legislator to work every day to help keep Canada a place where my grandchildren will be able to worship as they choose, a place where they will be able to speak out for what they believe in, and where they are able to live without fear of being the target of hate-based attacks because of those choices. That is my priority as a member of Parliament. It is my sincere hope that all members will support the motion.