Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has launched a petition in support of a bill now before the Senate to create Pope John Paul II Day. The Polish pontiff is pictured here arriving in Miami for the start of his 1987 trip to the United States. CNS photo/Joe Rinkus Jr.

Petition to support John Paul II Day launched

  • July 8, 2013

OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has launched a petition in support of a bill now before the Senate to create Pope John Paul II Day.

Kenney also used the petition to slam NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and the 41 other NDP MPs who voted against Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon's Private Member's Bill C-266, an act to establish John Paul II Day in Canada on June 12. Members of all parties, including the Bloc Quebecois, voted for the bill, but Mulcair and the NDP MPs opposed it on the grounds the bill supported a religious figure. The NDP has 100 MPs in caucus and the split on a bill of this nature is highly unusual.

“Blessed Pope John Paul II was a champion of freedom in the face of tyranny and promoted universal values of human rights and democracy,” said Kenney. “He was an inspiration to many and it is unfortunate that nearly half of the NDP Caucus, including their leader, voted against this bill to honour a modern day hero.

“Blessed Pope John Paul II was not only a religious figure, but also a profoundly important civic leader who built lasting relationships with other faith groups,” Kenney said.

Prior to the June 12 vote, Kenney told the House of Commons the NDP had supported other bills involving religious figures or events, such as an NDP motion recognizing the Five Ks of the Khalsa of Sikhism, unanimous consent for a Liberal motion recognizing Islamic History Month and motions to grant citizenship to the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist religious leader, and to the Aga Khan, a Muslim religious leader.

Even though there are no NDP Senators, Campaign Life Coalition lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg does not see a partisan agenda behind Kenney’s petition.

“I wonder if it isn’t born from his sincere respect for John Paul II,” Brownrigg said, noting Canada had welcomed the UN resolution calling for an international Nelson Mandela Day. “Pope John Paul II equally transcended political and religious barriers.”

And after observing how other bills fare once they hit the Senate, Brownrigg has seen how some bills are fast-tracked and others are held up.

“It can take only one senator to hold up this bill,” she said. “All the powers of persuasion would have to come to bear on it but that won’t overcome ideology, which is why it will be interesting to see how the Liberal Senators vote.”

The secularist ideology present among the NDP who opposed the bill in the House is also present among some Liberals, Brownrigg said.

“At the same time it would be embarrassing for the Liberals to vote against it, given their unfettered access to Catholic schools so far,” she said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League circulated news of the petition among its membership. League executive director Joanne McGarry said creating a Pope John Paul II Day for Canada would “be a great thing to do.”

“It’s unfortunate that something like this can take on a few political overtones,” McGarry said.

She recalled John Paul’s two visits to Canada, in 1984 and in 2002 for World Youth Day in Toronto, as unifying for all Canadians, whether Catholic, non-Catholic or non-religious.

“In Toronto, people commented on what a positive feeling everyone got, having fun, enjoying a common experience,” she said. “It was a happy time for Canada. Pope John Paul II Day is a way of keeping such a positive spirit alive.”

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