Religion and Canada

Canada Immigration Forum (discussion group)            
Subject: Religion and Canada
  Curious about religious hostility? Ask a Canadian immigrant
By Douglas Todd 28 Dec 2009

So you think Canadians hold harsh opinions about religion?

The Canadian arms of the World Wide Web -- not to mention the country´s coffee shops and bars -- are often smoking with hot-headed views from both religious and anti-religious people.

Sometimes I have to take a deep, calming breath after reading some of the belief-bashing vitriol that passes for a "comment" on my blog, called The Search, as well as those on other Canadian websites that explore spirituality.

But, folks, Canada ain´t seen nothin´ when it comes to religious discord.

We live in peace and spiritual harmony compared to 70 per cent of people around the world, according to a comprehensive survey of global religious hostilities released this month by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life, a respected non-sectarian American research organization.

If Canadians want to learn about religious antagonism, the results of the Pew study suggest all they need to do is ask some of their immigrant neighbours about it.

Perhaps they could do so while standing together at the side of a local soccer field or attending an event in our multicultural public schools. That´s especially possible in Metro Vancouver, where 40 per cent of the population was born in a foreign country.

Judging from the Pew Forum study, most recent immigrants to Canada come from countries that are rife with sectarian religious hostility or government restrictions on faith groups.

That´s especially true of immigrant-rich India, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and China. These densely populated countries, along with nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Sudan, Russia, Burma and Sri Lanka, are places where, the Pew Forum says, religious people are routinely discriminated against or persecuted -- and not through just a few snarky comments. (Burmese photo right from China Digital Times).

At the worst, religious minorities in these countries are refused basic government privileges, restricted in their travel, denied jobs, harassed by mobs, jailed, tortured, raped, burned out, shot by government troops or murdered in their places of worship.

No religion or belief system is immune from criticism on this score, although some have worse records than others. The Pew Forum reports that Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, animists and atheists are all, in one country or another, the perpetrators of persecution.

Before looking more closely at the disturbing global reality, let´s pause and reflect on the relatively good news.

Canada is among the most religiously tolerant countries on the planet. We have the same "low" level of religious hostility as Poland, Nicaragua and Spain.

But we´re not quite as religiously mellow as Brazil, Mozambique and Argentina -- not to mention Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, the latter of which are also major source countries for immigrants to Canada.

One of the reasons Canada is not at the absolute freedom-loving pinnacle of the Pew Forum´s survey is a result of the way the polling organization measures both religious "restrictions" and "hostility" levels in each country.

The Pew Forum judges Canadian provinces´ uneven distribution of government support for religious schools to be a "restriction."
For instance, Pew researchers were concerned about the Ontario government´s favouritism in subsidizing Catholic schools but not others.

For different reasons, the U.S. does not do quite as well as Canada in the Pew survey. That´s based on FBI reports of more than 1,500 acts a year of religious hatred, as well as the regular harassment or worse of all groups in the country, including Muslims, black Protestants, Jews, Catholics, atheists and Sikhs.

However, Canada and the U.S., as well as most countries in North and South America (except Mexico) score somewhat better than many nations in Western Europe on religious peacefulness.

Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and Belgium are rated only "moderate." That´s in part based on tensions involving Muslim immigrants, and because some of these European governments officially favour state churches, particularly Lutheranism and Anglicanism.
What´s happening in authoritarian China, which in recent years has become the biggest source of immigrants to Canada, especially Metro Vancouver?

The officially atheist government of China is rated one of the most religiously repressive in the world because of its harsh crackdowns on Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong, Uighur Muslims and "unregistered" Christians. (Photo left of North American Falun Gong members protesting imprisonment of relatives in China.)

India, a huge source of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim immigrants to Canada, offers more freedoms than China. But it´s developing a bad record for religious hostilities because of the Hindutva movement´s expanding efforts to enshrine India as a Hindu nation.

The Pew Forum also rates Pakistan, Iran and some other Muslim-majority countries as having high degrees of both religious hostility and restrictions, mainly because of government efforts to impose Muslim shariah law on the entire population.

If you are a Canadian who likes to live a little dangerously, try starting a conversation about religious persecution with an immigrant, whether from China, India, Pakistan, Iran or wherever.
You might be met with grim silence. But you also might end up in a robust discussion.

The latter, in effect, is what happened to Vancouver Sun reporter Darah Hansen when she researched a feature for last Thursday´s edition. Hansen reports how a Muslim and a Christian refugee from war-torn Sudan, where their religions make them enemies, can in Canada be friends sharing the same small New Westminster apartment.

That´s the kind of story I hear often from immigrants -- full of relief and gratitude -- to be living, finally, in a country largely free of sectarianism, where a person has the right to practise his or her religion, or atheism, in freedom.

It would be a mistake if we took it for granted.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
I´m just glad to live in a western country that separates religion from government, effectively keeping it at arms length. In many part of the world, intolerance and persecution of non-believers still goes on, as it had during the Middle Ages. If reason, science, and rationality had not come along, many would still have been burned at the stake as heretics and infidels.

Still, in many modern Islamic societies, one would never want to proclaim oneself a "non-believer", out of justified fear for personal safety. Certainly not express an opposing point of view such as Salman Rushdie had boldly done. In the United States, Poland, and many Catholic countries, religious zealots continue their intolerance and imposition of their views in attempting to suppress womens´ reproductive rights by means of intimidation and occasionally murder of medical providers. Poland has recently outlawed abortion in all cases, forcing many women to flee the country or seek back-alley solutions. One wonders what kind of freedom that is.

It´s interesting the the reverse, dark side of dogmatic religion and its intolerance of non-belief are often overlooked. Thankfully, Canada shows no signs of allowing religious views to shape its system and laws. No forced school prayer periods there yet.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
we had school prayer up until about 15 years ago.

Canada is by no means the bastion of utopic tolerance. As long as there are people who are afraid to make room for other people´s views (right, left, muslim, hindu, christian, athiest, mormon)then we have a problem, especially when religious views also influence our societal norms and justice system.

Hopefully, we will learn that other peoples views are rarely a threat to our own and it is not my right to force you to agree with me. Agreeing to disagree and still enjoy a friendship and a conversation is something truly liberating.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
Exactly. Different points of view makes for interesting discussion between friends, as well as valuable learning experience in understanding the other side. This topic of differing opinion dates back quite a ways, but always refreshing to share ideas.

Glad to hear school prayer up there no more. Progress moves forward. :-)

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
I believe ALL organized religions are full of brainwashed sheep and its a fairy tail! All religions are full of discrimination and if there really is a God he would not want wars started in his name. Books such as the bible and Qur’an was written by man and are stories told like Chinese whispers that change over time. I don´t believe in religion at all. What I do believe in is respect for others. And if God is real then he would not condemn anyone to hell for not believing in him. That would make him not very loving. Organized religions have one goal. To scare people and give them power over others.
(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
In my son´s public school, they say prayers before school functions (I am not made aware of this beforehand or asked permission; it is a matter of course). They also teach (" ") about Christmas, that is, the religious aspect, whether or not it is our belief at home. Other cultures and religions are not even considered.

As an American, it is shocking and at times extremely uncomfortable. However, I realize now that separation of church and state isn´t a Canadian goal, and if I am to live here there is a certain amount of acceptance that I must display.

Every single day a challenge.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
In your part of the world Wannabe Boxing Day was celebrated on Monday!

No Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia.

In smaller communities sometimes change is far slower then it should be but there are other benefits. There is little if any need for an alarm system everyone watches everyone else´s house for strangers.


(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
So what if stores were forced to be closed on Boxing Day? What a relic. At least NS finally did away with their Sunday closures some years ago; a small progress.

Look, saying that "life is so simple" in smaller communities--which, by the way, make up the bulk of Canadian populations--is ridiculous. We face the same problems as any other area: rampant drug abuse, some of the highest per-capita crime in the country, car break ins, petty theft, the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country (and the shocking poverty levels that go with it)...just a couple weeks ago a woman was kidnapped and held hostage from a business establishment not 2 blocks from my house, and you think people don´t lock their doors?

I don´t know any of my neighbors, they are closed off and uninterested in making the smallest of pleasantries. You´ve got to be kidding that anyone cares enough to be watching anyone else´s house for strangers. Life in this small town in isolated and virtually without social contact. I was talking with the mom of one of my son´s classmates who has lived in the neighborhood for 5 years (having grown up nearby) and she is just now starting to get a know a few people. 5 YEARS. People were shocked--and I mean absolutely knock your socks off shocked--when we delivered holiday cookies. We were asked if such a gesture is "an American thing".

My point about prayer being acceptable in public schools(and even "forced" as my 6 year old son isn´t told that he has a choice whether to participate or not and I am not given the opportunity to remove him from such a spectacle) was for Richard´s education. As a fellow American holding the common beliefs and opinions about Canada, he likely assumes (and forgive me if I am wrong here, Richard) that separation of church and state is policy in Canada as it is back home. I offer up this once example to show that it is not.

No judgment, just fact.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
my educated guess is that religious observances in public school are dramatically impacted by the community in which the school operates and the influence of the teachers federation. I think that would be true in the US as well. An elementary school in San Fransisco would be very different than a school in the mid west. Our countries are big places.

I have to tell you Wannabe, from a BC perspective, I am shocked at your school practices. It would never happen here. That said, it is tough to observe one set of religious holidays over another when 80% of the classroom is from a different country or religious background.
My girlfriend teaches grade 1 and she has taken to teaching all religious holiday observances as a sign of respect to her students. The Muslim kids love decorating a tree and making cookies because they have never done it before. Parents don´t have a problem with it whatsoever - after all they believe in the birth of Jesus too. The only folks that get a little uptight are those that think there should be nothing at all. To them she says - chill.

On Christmas eve, the Asian and Indian veggie stores and restaurants were open in my community. Christmas day was the same. Why not! They may or may not observe the holiday and those of us who do really appreciated a place to buy that extra litre of milk we forgot. Grocery Stores with unionized staff were closed Christmas Day. Some went the extra mile and closed Boxing Day mostly because they did not want to pay the overtime. Nobody thought anything of it.

Back to the point of the article - ask folks from Pakistan, Iran, Morroco or China how it would be as an athiest of person of a minority faith or political view and I think we can agree that our freedoms are beyond anything most can imagine.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
I´m not disagreeing that Canada has wonderful religious freedoms. However, I do have to point out in respect to your insinuations that in the US, absolutely no mention of religion (outside neutral "religious theory or comparison" type high school classes) is allowed. That means absolute freedom from all the "birth of Jesus" BS and in it´s place, a freedom to celebrate all faiths and celebrations without singling any one out. Try telling an American to "chill" if their child is forced to say a prayer in class! Oh my, I´ll close my mouth now.

I have no doubt that teaching practices vary around the country, but it will always be my (apparently very American) view that religion has no place--whatsoever--in the classroom. That said, I´ve kept my mouth shut about what my own child is exposed to, knowing it´s very short term and knowing that I can undo any damage done at home.

I certainly didn´t mean to start an argument; merely pointing out a major difference to a fellow American. I certainly don´t mean any offense.

(in reply to: Religion and Canada)
wow, obviously this has touched a nerve. So much for a celebration of tolerance.

I am sure it is more than acceptable for your child to be excused from class during a prayer - it was available to students 15 years ago and I would assume the same is true now.

I would submit that the US is far more religiously aware than Canada - look at the church attenance statics, the fact that your Obama inauguration had prayers and religious affiliations were front and centre of the political debate. Those questions would never, ever be part of a Canadian election.

How can learning tolerance and awareness of cultural and religious views around us be damaging? I submit that religion and politics are not leaving the planet any time soon so the sooner we understand those around us the better.

I am distressed that you would view that as damaging. I am also a little sad that you are continuing to live in a community that you find so distastful. Life is too short to hate where you live and that is obviously the case.