In my mind one of the best things about Canada is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of us take our rights and freedoms for granted. My rights and freedoms have been curtailed at times but even in solitary confinement in a correctional facility, I had and exercised certain rights and freedoms. When you can’t choose what to sit on, where to walk, what you eat or who you see; you pay attention to what part of you the government allows.
I wore an orange jumpsuit and could not escape even the light in the ceiling. When you are in solitary confinement or medical isolation about all that exists is you and That which speaks to you.
I was allowed both a copy of the Koran and a Bible and with knowledge of several other faiths I decided I needed to not be eating meat. You can call yourself a vegan but I had to call myself a lawyer and use the jail copy of the Canadian Criminal Code to read a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to write a letter to the Ombudsman of Ontario to be a Vegan. It was jail policy that an inmate could not alter their diet unless for medical reasons after their admission to an institution. The jail tried to impede my religious freedom. I won my battle with the Deputy Superintendent and was punished with meatless cabbage rolls three times a week.
I do not belong to any recognizable faith, sect, church or choir but as someone who has experienced different aspects of spirituality in far flung places I see Canadians entering dangerous waters. It is seriously important when an institution can dictate what to eat, wear, not eat or in any way influence what gives meaning to any life. We can shout about Turbans before Burqas but we are on a dangerous slope kicking up clouds of divisions. It is somewhat frightening when a Prime Minister attempts to pit the country against itself.
It all slithers into the sinister when the conservatives have singled out one of the most vulnerable minorities in Canada. I am 46 years old and have never seen a burqa in person. My city is 365 000 small. One woman in one religious garnet is what the government wants us to see. We need to look for what we are being distracted from. We also need to imagine something similar being exposed to any religion. Religions grow, and fade. No one can be sure that they or their blood will never see a day where the faith that has guided generations becomes a minority. Why does this government dig their heels in here? When a government devotes its resources to interfere with any religion or culture, none are safe.
If a government does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation what are they doing interfering with an individual’s customs and beliefs? If we allow this government or any government the mandate and ability to interfere in any religious or non-religious custom of anyone on our shores, it sets a dangerous precedent. It makes no sense to spout to the world that we are a country with religious freedoms but if you want to become a citizen you must interrupt your fundamental beliefs. I don’t think becoming a Canadian citizen should include institutional interference with any belief or custom of any religion, faith, sect or believer.
Who would a God find favour in? The one who openly displays his or her beliefs or the one who covertly wants her or him to be subjected to an interruption of faith and belief in order to belong in our citizenship?
One would assume someone’s identity could somehow be revealed without disrespecting or dishonouring what anyone believes and gains through public or private adherence to a system or lack of which forms and enfleshes what we inwardly experience. Is the burqa less significant than the water in a baptism?
Every citizen, visitor or refugee should be allowed at any moment to honour or announce any aspect of their faith, if safe. This provision is guarded by almost every organization, institution, agency and decent citizen but the conservative government seems to want to stand tall for us all and tell certain Muslims that they must deface a custom and belief to be included in the magnificence of multiculturalism and a land that offers outright protection of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
I would feel violated if I had to remove and turn my back on my beliefs to become a citizen of a country that claims to embrace the opposite. Are we Canadians or conservatives? Belief in something or anything can be and should be one of the most sacred of personal rights and responsibilities. A measurable minority who claim majority is imposing on the fabric of an individual by reason of her faith. I believe all should be protected from such action if we aren’t already.
One could be the other and what protects the individual protects us all.
My religious freedoms were imposed on by the government but because the government had to honour the Charter of Rights and Freedoms I could even in complete powerlessness resist their overbearing actions. They had complete control of my body but I could fight for my spirit. If the rights of the individual to express their religious freedom is not respected, honoured and implemented by the government, the government can be forced by the individual to refrain from actions or policies that hinder religious freedom.
I will end with the words of the woman in a Burqa who this government is harassing. We need to ask what the end benefit is for Canadians and what the end benefit of the Conservative’s is.
“Aside from the religious aspect, I like how it makes me feel: like people have to look beyond what I look like to get to know me. That I don’t have to worry about my physical appearance and can concentrate on my inner self. That it empowers me in this regard.”