Amidst a day of stormy backlash from opposition parties over the Conservative government’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, Defence and Multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney took advantage of a brief appearance at a religious freedom conference Wednesday night to smooth things over.
“I say to our Muslim fellow citizens here in Canada, but I specially say to the Muslim minorities be it the Shia in Pakistan, the Sufis in Syria, and I say to the normal peaceful Muslims that populate the countries around the world, that we too are in solidarity with them as they confront this terrible evil,” Kenney told the conference, which was meeting on Parliament Hill.
Kenney made the remarks while speaking at the International Conference on Religious Freedom, organized by the group International Christian Voice. ICV is a Canadian group that defends the rights of marginalized religious minorities around the world, working principally with Christian minorities of Pakistan.
We must, all of us, stand in solidarity, with the vast majority of Muslims around the world, who simply want to be able to raise their families in peace, freedom and dignity, who do not share this distorted, violent, dystopian vision of Islam.
In his speech, Kenney noted that although Christian minorities continue to be persecuted throughout the Middle East and around the world, they are not alone. He said that those who want to create a caliphate (Islamic State) “victimize more muslims than people of any other faith.”
“We must, all of us, stand in solidarity, with the vast majority of Muslims around the world, who simply want to be able to raise their families in peace, freedom and dignity, who do not share this distorted, violent, dystopian vision of Islam,” Kenney added.
Kenney said his government has expressed solidarity with Muslims around the world through diplomatic and development efforts, “and yes also through our national defence and security efforts.”
The conference — the first of its kind in Ottawa — featured almost exclusively Conservative speakers, including Kenney, Senator Don Meredith and former Conservative and Liberal MP David Kilgour.
NDP MP Wayne Marston — his party’s critic for international human rights — told iPolitics that little effort was made to reach out to members of the opposition. “I am taking that as a snub, there is no any other way to look at that, it’s beyond ridiculous!” said Marston, adding that he had received his invitation only the day before the conference.
“This is almost an encouragement of intolerance — again I am not referring to this particular forum as these may very well be well intended people — it’s just that in the atmosphere of the other things that are happening, I am really concerned.”
Marston was referencing yesterday’s comments by the Prime Minister on the wearing of the niqab by Muslim women in citizenship ceremonies, and the backlash that ensued. “There seems to be an effort on the government side to divide people. And it is really frightening.”
The event’s organizers said they had sent out invitations to both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau’s offices but neither parties were represented at the conference. The office of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler — who is his party’s human rights critic — confirmed to iPolitics that it had received an invitation to the conference but Cotler couldn’t attend as he is out of the country.
Today’s event was held in memory of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, ex federal minister of minority affairs of Pakistan. Bhatti was assassinated in March 2011, thirteen days after he appeared before the Canadian parliamentary committee of human rights, on the subject of religious freedoms for minorities in his country.
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca