December 7, 2023

Verbatim: The Canadian Human Rights Commission insists it has never called Christmas racist


The Canadian Human Rights Commission insists it has never called Christmas racist.

Last week, several new outlets reported that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had declared that Christmas is discriminatory. Fox News even dedicated a segment to this. Unfortunately, those running the stories twisted what the Commission wrote in a discussion paper for clicks, anger or both.

This week, these inaccurate takes were repeated on the floor of both Quebec’s National Assembly and the House of Commons and resulted in both chambers coming to the defense of Christmas.

To be clear, the Commission has not issued a statement or a position on Christmas or any other religious holiday. We never said Christmas was racist or discriminatory. The academic discussion paper that has been misinterpreted was developed in consultation with many policy experts representing a variety of religions and perspectives. This document was drafted at the beginning of 2023 and recently published online as part of the Commission’s anti-racism work.

Our discussion paper explains that, based on current Canadian law, providing a statutory holiday for one religion, and not providing reasonable accommodation for other religions may be considered discrimination. It simply mentions Christmas as an example of a religious holiday that is also a statutory holiday.

Christmas is an important and time-honoured tradition in Canada. It is both spiritually and culturally significant for millions, Christians and non-Christians alike.

Canada should be a country that welcomes people to join in its existing traditions while accepting and creating space for new traditions. These new traditions do not come at the expense of older ones. Instead, they make Canadian society much richer. From the food we eat to the festivals in our streets, it is about mixing the old and the new into something uniquely Canadian.

Religious practice is no different. Working to understand religious intolerance is about including people, not dividing them. This is not a zero-sum game.

Just as Christmas is profoundly important to many people, many others in Canada feel this way about sacred religious holidays of other faiths. The difference? Canadian society knows less about these holidays, and governments and employers don’t always do enough to support them.

In Canada, if you practice a religion other than Christianity, observing a religious holiday might mean having to take the day off work — assuming your employer will give you permission to do so. In some cases, you might have to chose between participating in an important work event or observing an important religious holiday. This has a real effect on people’s lives that may not be visible to those who already get the day off to observe their traditions.

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it is vital that we remember that every person has the fundamental right to freely practice their religion. And it is enshrined in Canadian law. This includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and every human rights code in every jurisdiction in this country.

Canada has made a commitment to equity and inclusion. Canadians care deeply about this, and we hear about it every day.  ...

Making these kinds of changes takes awareness and discussion because the barriers that people face are most often not intentional, nor are they malicious. They are baked right into our society and our systems.

Research shows that systemic inequality is embedded within a society over generations, and it is often unrecognizable to those living in that society. Unless the social norms and systems of a society creates barriers and makes it hard for you to live your life the way you want — such as practising your religion and observing religious holidays — it might be hard to recognize.

In the end, this is not about Christmas. It is about making sure everyone in Canada can practice their religion with the same equality, dignity and respect as others. Not everyone will agree how we get there, but it’s worth a discussion.

Dec. 4, 2023

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