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Why stop with just one religion? Shouldn't Ottawa certify clerics for all religions?

Andrew P.W. Bennett

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A Senate committee wants the federal government to "explore options" for the training and certification of imams, the National Post reports.

It's all part of a "wide-ranging set of recommendations aimed at confronting the threat of terrorism," don'tcha know? So saith the National Post, the word of the Lord (of Crossharbour).

According to the Post's report -- which was repeated verbatim in all the other Postmedia newspapers, right down to the spelling mistake -- the Senate thinks the government of Canada should play a role in certifying Muslim clerics because "foreign-trained imams have been spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values, contributing to radicalization."

Now, I have to tell you, there's absolutely nothing new about foreign trained clerics "spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values." Anyone who thoughtfully considers the history of Canada since at least the 15th Century will recognize the truth in that statement -- Giovanni Caboto, of the confraternity of St. John the Evangelist, c'mon down!

Indeed, radical American clerics prayed in my personal presence in 1964 for the defeat of Lyndon B. Johnson in that year's U.S. presidential election! They then drove away in an dusty old blue Ford Falcon automobile with a bumper sticker that said "Au H2O." You figure it out.

I don't suppose I have to tell anyone that the late Wiebo Ludwig, the convicted pipeline bomber, was also a foreign-trained cleric. Even more suspiciously, he was a foreign-born one too!

This long line of foreign trained extremist clerics weren't Muslim, as it happened. They were, you know… Christian. But, whatever

So that raises the question, which is entirely appropriate under the circumstances: Why stop with clerics from only one religion?

Maybe the government of Canada needs to play a role in certifying all clerics in Canada, especially those trained abroad in places like Rome, Italy, and Bethlehem, Penn.?

God knows, and I don't mean that profanely, Christian clerics have stirred up a lot of hatred, even violence, based on interpretations of Scripture that are no longer in keeping with Canadian values, apparently the Senate's new standard for what's acceptable in religion.

Sometimes Christians are capable of taking care of this kind of thing themselves if given enough time and understanding, although not nearly often enough. For a positive example, I can't ever recall seeing King Billy lead a parade through the streets of Edmonton on "the Glorious 12th," which is this Sunday as it happens. So it's got to the point that most of the city's residents who see the Orange Hall during the Fringe Festival probably think it has something to do with NDP support for the arts.

Just the same, there's a lot of ugly homophobia that's been motivated by Christian religious belief, which in many cases is quite sincere belief. So just imagine, if the Government of Canada had certified the ordination of evangelical Christian pastors with an eye to what most Canadians now think, the Wildrose Party might be the government of Alberta today!

Another point in favour of the government certifying clergy for all religions, it seems to me, is that it would answer the objection raised to the Conservative Senators' maunderings by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, that the idea "really bears the hallmarks of racial and religious discrimination."

This is obviously true if only one religion is singled out for this kind of treatment. But no one could say that's the case if it were applied to all religions equally -- especially the major religion that has the longest and darkest history of spreading extremist ideology and messages right here in Canada, and that would be the one that contains the title of Jesus in its name, although many of its branches have precious little to do with His teachings.

As an aside, I would say the government of Canada should also certify newspaper copy editors, since the ones at the National Pest apparently don't know the difference between the meaning of "bears" and "bares." Perhaps Lord Black could advise them on that. But that will have to be a topic for another day.

Other countries -- notably communist and post-communist Russia and communist China -- have already tried something along the lines suggested by the Senators with varying degrees of success, attempting to exert a degree of control over appointments at the senior clerical level. Perhaps this is where the Tory inmates of the "Red Chamber" got their inspiration for the considerably more ambitious approach they are suggesting.

I grant you, extending their plan even further, to all religions, would make the certification process quite complicated, what with 19 major religions, 270 large religious groups and 34,000 Christian denominations alone, most of them determinedly Protestant. But, seriously, people, why not? With the Tories' skills managing the economy apparently significantly wanting, this would be an excellent job-creation scheme!

What's more, if we consider that many of the martial arts, of which there must be at least another 34,000 streams, are quasi-religious in nature, whole new fields for government certification are available! These groups, almost by definition, think constantly about and train for violence and mayhem. One that I have personally trained in was strongly influenced by a man qualified as a kamikaze pilot!

Of course, there is the matter of our fundamental freedoms and our constitutionally guaranteed rights, but it's pretty clear that these are of no concern to our Conservative government, having already passed Bill C-51 to stamp out or at least render criminal such extremist ideologies as belief in the merits of clean water and reduced carbon inputs to the atmosphere.

We have been told repeatedly that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't apply to Bill C-51 -- although I've never seen it actually explained how that is supposed to work -- so why should it apply to the case of An Act To Keep All Canadians Safe From Ideas That Aren't Exactly The Same as Stephen Harper's Ideas?

Presumably that's the actual point of the Senate's exercise, since we already have a thing called the Criminal Code, which outlaws and severely penalizes murder, most forms of mayhem and counselling to do the same thing at home and abroad.

Now, the Senate's Big Idea does seem like a change in direction for the Harper Government in one regard. Not so long ago, at any rate, it established a body called the Office of Religious Freedom to protect citizens of other countries against just this sort of activity.

I thought yesterday morning to inquire what the OORF's position on the government certification of clerics might be. After all, its mandate is to "to protect and promote religious freedom around the world," and Canada remains in the world even if under Prime Minister Stephen Harper it is no longer of the world, diplomatically if not theologically speaking.

Assuming that Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Canada's first "Ambassador for Religious Freedom" and a cantor at the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Shrine in Ottawa, would be busy, I directed this query to the media information line at the Department of Foreign Affairs, which according to the Government of Canada's OORF Website oversees the operations of the office, whatever they may be.

Alas, at press time (or, more accurately, electron time, if belief in the existence of electrons is still permitted by the Senate and the PMO) this evening there had been no reply from the OORF. When it is received, which I can hardly believe won't be in a timely fashion, I shall pass it on to readers immediately.

In the mean time, I would suggest that, all kidding, aside, there is one inescapable conclusion from this situation: The time to abolish the Senate is right freakin' now!

NOTE: To those of you who were awaiting the response of the Office of Religious Freedom, I have now received it, and Canadians will need to look for some other country’s Office of Religious Freedom for assistance. Here is the message from Amy Mills, spokesperson for the department of Foreign Affairs: “The Office of Religious Freedom’s mandate is to advance religious freedom overseas as part of Canada’s principled foreign policy. This Office forms an integral function as part of our efforts to promote human rights, encourage protection of religious minorities around the world, and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance. The Office has no domestic mandate and as such, does not have a position on this issue.” (Filed at 1:15 p.m., Friday, July 10.) This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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