Lt. Glib Pistruga, a Chaplain from Canadian Forces Base Kingston, Ont., provides spiritual support to a Ukrainian woman at a reception centre in support of Operation REASSURANCE in Warsaw, Poland, on April 23. MCpl Genevieve Lapointe, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, Canadian Armed Forces photo

Department of National Defence panel addresses racism with more racism

By  Paul Schratz, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 5, 2022

The national director of UNITED SIKHS Canada has joined Catholics and others who have condemned a report to the Department of National Defence seeking to rid the Canadian Armed Forces of military chaplains whose religious faiths do not openly promote diversity.

The advisory panel on systemic racism and discrimination made more than 40 recommendations, among them to consider not hiring “chaplaincy applicants affiliated with religious groups whose values are not aligned with those of the Defence Team.”

The advisory panel in its April 25 report cites “some churches’ exclusion of women from their priesthoods” and “sexist notions embedded in their religious dogmas.”

UNITED SIKHS Canada’s Sukhwinder Singh said the recommendation was discriminatory and would “ostracize Christians, Jewish people, Muslims … by allowing an outsider to judge that a group of people are not worthy of a chaplain.”

“Everyone has the right to practise their beliefs, whether we agree with them or not,” said Singh. “We cannot take away religious freedom just because we think that another religion does not promote enough diversity.”

It’s especially important in the military “for a person to be able to lean on their faith in hard times,” he said. “They need a chaplain.”

The policy would also be “a nightmare to enforce,” he said. “How does one test whether a religious group is promoting diversity and what would the standard be?”

Bishop Scott McCaig, the Catholic military ordinary for Canada, said the report seemed to target Christian faiths and called the report’s section on redefining the chaplaincy “deeply problematic and regrettable.”

In a six-page response prepared for chaplains and members of the archdiocese for Catholics who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, McCaig stressed that all chaplains are committed to “inclusive, nonjudgmental and universal care of service members, regardless of their religious or ethical convictions.”

“Many of the pejorative remarks would appear to be directed to Catholics, as well as some other Christians, and amounted to mere caricatures of what we actually profess,” he wrote. He said the advisory panel’s report was full of “errors and oversimplifications.”

Chaplains are responsible for “accompaniment, general counseling, ministry of presence and availability, discernment of morale and the authentic needs of members, and support for the military chain of command” to all persons “regardless of race, gender, religion or nonreligion,” he said, and such care “specifically excludes proselytization or any imposition of religious belief.”

McCaig said implementing the panel’s recommendation would be “a grave mistake.”

“Narrowing spiritual support does not increase diversity. Excluding the majority of faith traditions does not make the CAF more inclusive. Facilitating intolerance toward particular religious groups, who are believing and living in accord with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does not make the CAF more tolerant. Historic discrimination is not overcome by new and different forms of discrimination.”

In a memo to Defense Minister Anita Anand, the nonpartisan think tank Cardus called the recommendation “extremely troubling and overtly discriminatory against certain religions.” Cardus said the recommendation was “explicitly prejudiced” and “undermines the panel’s very purpose: to address discrimination.”

The recommendation is one of four in a section titled “Re-Defining Chaplaincy” which says, “at present, some chaplains represent or are affiliated with organized religions whose beliefs are not synonymous with those of a diverse and inclusive workplace. Some of the affiliated religions of these chaplains do not subscribe to an open attitude and the promotion of diversity.”

In a commentary preceding the recommendation, the advisory panel cites some churches’ “sexist notions” and “certain faiths (that) have strict tenets requiring conversion of those they deem to be ‘pagan,’ or who belong to polytheistic religions.”

Cardus said that comment “demonstrates thinly veiled hostility” to Abrahamic religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity and shows “gross ignorance” of such faiths by presenting “caricatures of their adherents as violators of equality and social justice.”

The panel’s report says the defense department “cannot justify hiring representatives of organizations who marginalize certain people or categorically refuse them a position of leadership.”

Cardus called the panel’s position “a clear violation” of constitutional protections of freedom of conscience, religion and association and said the report was advocating for the state to “effectively police the legitimacy of Canadians’ most deeply held beliefs and how those are lived out in community with others.”

Cardus said the panel displays “a deep ignorance and unfounded prejudice of various religious traditions.”

Cardus called on Anand to “firmly and publicly reject” the discriminatory sections and “affirm that all Canadians, including those with religious beliefs, will be supported through the pastoral services of CAF chaplains as they serve our country.”

Anand responded to the report with a tweet saying, “As minister of national defence and a racialized woman, I am committed to building institutions where Canadians from all backgrounds are included, welcomed and empowered. The report released today will help us achieve this mission.”

Last modified on May 5, 2022

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