When religious freedoms are threatened anywhere on the globe, an international network of parliamentarians takes keen interest. They currently have their eye on Canada.
The International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFORB) was created in 2013 as a network of religious freedom champions dedicated to advancing the rights of religious people of any creed, anywhere. Its steering committee members hail from Canada, Britain, Brazil, and Norway.
And one year ago, it opened a Canadian branch.
Now, CANFORB is defining its mission and seeking partnerships with groups that are also in the business of promoting freedom of religion, like the Ontario-based Cardus Institute.
Kelly Block, the MP for Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek in Saskatchewan, said religious freedom is threatened in Canada, and situations such as the Supreme Court’s ruling on Trinity Western University prove it.
“It’s a bit of a slippery slope in terms of freedoms being eroded. Perhaps we’re not experiencing overt persecution,” but “over time, it’s becoming more of an issue,” Block said.
She found the TWU decision “very disappointing and concerning,” and praised the Law Society of Saskatchewan for agreeing to accredit the university’s proposed law school.
“I call on law societies throughout the country to admit students who exercise their Charter rights to freedom of religion, expression, and opinion,” she said. “This ruling will set an unwelcome precedent wherein the courts determine that religious convictions can only be lived out in private, and must have no bearing on public decisions.”.
The TWU case is just the latest threat against religious freedom in this country, said Block.
Another is the Canada Summer Jobs program, which helps small businesses and camps hire summer students but, this year, was only offered to those organizations that signed off saying they supported abortion (even if their work was completely unrelated to the topic).
“To me, that’s been one of the most overt actions of the current government that would appear to be undermining those rights,” said Block.
Other examples, she said, were the rejections pro-life MP Rachael Harder faced when she was appointed as the chair of the status of women committee, or when the government introduced legislation that would remove Section 176 of the Criminal Code, which offers specific protections to clergy and condemns interrupting religious worship.
“We still enjoy religious freedom in Canada, absolutely,” said Block, “but I think some of these initiatives that this government has been behind, certainly the attestation or the legislation to remove some of the protections from the Criminal Code,” show erosion of that right.
“All Canadians should be concerned when that happens.”
CANFORB represents some of those Canadians. The all-party Canadian network, formed in 2017, is tracking the state of religious freedom in the country. It watches issues like the TWU case with keen interest, and has been collecting data about the fallout over the Canada Summer Jobs pro-abortion requirement.
Its umbrella group, IPPFORB, was founded to advance freedom of religion and belief as defined by the UN’s Universal Declaration for Human Rights.
Interestingly, it also has a Saskatchewan parliamentarian at its core: IPPFORB’s four-person international steering committee includes MP David Anderson, the opposition critic for human rights and religious freedoms.
Anderson, who sits on the subcommittee on international human rights and hears from people persecuted and oppressed all over the world, has said that while Canadian Christians don’t suffer the same violent opposition, they do have cause to be worried.
“We set ourselves forward as a beacon of democracy and freedom and equality, and we need to make sure those principles are applied equally as well: that we don’t talk tolerance while we’re being intolerant ourselves,” he told Convivium.
“We need a debate about whether we have the capacity to disagree or not. That really is the freedom to believe.”
Block said when Canadians go to international religious freedom conferences, they come from a place of strength.
“We are not being persecuted for our faith here in Canada in a way that other individuals in other countries are,” said Block. “We are there to continue to provide support to those countries and to advocate for freedom of religion or belief and freedom from persecution in their countries.”
Block, an evangelical Christian, has been a member of parliament for 10 years and says she disagrees with those who argue she should leave her religion at home.
“I am a person of faith,” she said June 14. “It’s probably undergirded everything that I do in this political life and it’s, I believe, a real part of what I bring to the table.”
When religious rights are trampled, she said, organizations and faith groups must speak up.
“We are part of the diversity that we say we value.”