The CBC has obtained some information through access to information laws about the mysterious Office of Religious Freedom that the Harper Conservatives promised during the last election and established quietly.
The released preparatory interview questions show that the government expected concerns that the office would be used for partisan purposes – i.e. to win over with religious and ethnic minorities – and that it may encroach on the (unofficial) separation of church and state in Canada.
Unfortunately, the government retracted the lines responding to the theoretical question “How were participants chosen for the event?”, referring to the closed-door meeting in October between the minister and members of the religious community. Legally the government is allowed to keep secret consultations between a minister and employees of the Crown, but CBC News notes that this is quite odd given that the answers were supposed to be made public were the minister asked this question. They do note that one sentence remained in the answer, “Participants were invited on the basis of a demonstrated interest and track record in promoting respect for religious freedom.”
Basically, I read: Those who told us to make this office get invited to this office. Those who don’t want it, don’t get to be a part of it. Sound pretty one-sided to me.
We still don’t the official reasons why atheists and humanists were not invited to the party. During the election Jason Kenney denounced “rabid secularists” who “are uncomfortable with religious faith” when the Liberals criticized the need for the office.
There is a poll that asks “Is the planned Office of Religious Freedom about promoting tolerance and human rights, or is it meant to gather political capital from religious and ethnic groups in Canada?” The cynics are winning 295-21, but I think we can still improve that margin.
While my long-term goal for blogging is to eventually begin to break some stories of my own, for now I’ll continue to rely on the mainstream media’s budgets to file and follow up on freedom of information requests.