Editorial: No one so blind as the watchdog

  • November 30, 2023

The Canadian Human Rights Commission must at least log marks for audacity by attacking Christmas and Easter as “obvious examples” of religious intolerance following the Oct. 7 Hamas hate slaughter in Israel. Even in the wake of the most barbaric outbreak of religious “intolerance” afflicted on Jews since the Holocaust, after all, the CHRC created a media flutter with its recent “Discussion Paper on Religious Intolerance.” To do so, it singled out the two main Christian holidays as prime causes of “present day systemic religious discrimination.”

The claim’s supporting logic, using “logic” in its most woebegone form, is as follows: “Statutory holidays related to Christianity, including Christmas and Easter, are the only Canadian statutory holidays linked to religious holy days.” Thus, the two periods systemically and intolerantly force adherents of non-Christian faiths to seek special time off to celebrate their own holy days. The conclusion is tautologically said to be “obvious,” though obvious to whom is left unsaid.

What is obviously overlooked is that Christmas and Easter long ago ceased to be primarily religious festivals. It’s why wide swathes of the Canadian economy simply shut down each year to grant the calendar days as culturally customary time off. More, human rights codes across the country make it an axiomatic condition of employment that sincere religious observance is grounds for reasonable accommodation. If the key “example” used to advance the discussion is so easily shredded as to make the paper not worth the paper it’s written on, what follows?

Worse, unfortunately. Borrowing the verbiage of a C+ undergraduate student spouting half-understood nostrums from one critical race theory seminar, the paper boldly states that “Canada’s history with religious intolerance is deeply rooted in our identity as a settler colonial state.” This is vacuity performing as protective coloration for outright historical ignorance, willful or otherwise.

Canada’s history is, in fact, rooted in our identity as (admittedly imperfect) seekers of religious accommodation dating back to the beginnings of the habitually maligned “settler colonial state.” The Quebec Act of 1774, in defiance of British law, granted full rights to Catholics not only in matters of faith but in language and the holding of office — more than 50 years before such rights were granted to Irish Catholics. 

Without that historic commitment to religious tolerance, embedded a mere 15 years after the British conquest of New France, Canada would not be Canada. Saying so does not negate the horrid transgressions of the 19th-century progressivist Indian Residential School system, but the existential fact should at least be acknowledged as a critical part of the discussion. Why is it purposefully left out of a discussion paper from Canada’s federally mandated, self-styled “human rights watchdog”? Why, indeed, is there not a single highlighting of the most appalling acts of violent religious intolerance in recent Canadian memory, that is the burning of numerous Catholic churches in 2021 following still unsubstantiated reports of “mass graves” at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C.? Why are such heinous acts glossed in the discussion paper as generic “vandalism” when they involved the Criminal Code offence of arson?

Part of the answer is in the miasma of intellectual feebleness spread throughout so many of our institutions whereby rigor of argument is reflexively sacrificed to cheerleading for “our” side. Part of it is in social media driven, sophomorically transparent attempts to be provocative in an age when hey-look-at-me is deemed the ultimate end of everything.

But the major cause is the blindness of our self-proclaimed watchdogs themselves. So focused are they on the “intolerance” of others, meaning “white, male, Christian, English-speaking, thin/fit, not having a disability, heterosexual, gender conforming” as the paper robotically catalogues, that they cannot see the intolerance in themselves. They would do well to meditate, with Christmas coming and the horrors of Oct. 7 still vivid in memory, on the words of a certain Jewish-born religious figure who cautioned about confusing specks and logs.

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