By Don Hutchinson
Last week in the House of Commons, the following statement was made by Mrs. Nina Grewal (MP, Fleetwood—Port Kells):
Mr. Speaker, Christmas is approaching and again the forces of political correctness continue with the relentless attack on the traditional traditions: judges remove Christmas trees from the court houses; school concerts are postponed to take away the Christmas theme; the lyrics of Christmas carols are changed; the distribution of candy canes is banned; and all the references to God, Christ and the Lord are removed.
Traditions are the foundation of society, culture and the faith. If we eliminate or water them down, we erode the glue that holds us together.
To embrace a diverse, secular, multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, there is no need to preclude the celebration of Christmas. Rather than diluting the traditions, they should be celebrated, whether they are Vaisakhi, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Eid, Hanukkah or Christmas. [my emphasis by underlining]
We must proudly put the spirit of Christmas back in Christmas.
I wish everyone a merry Christmas.
I agree with Mrs. Grewal. I don’t mind if someone wishes me a “happy holidays” or offers “season’s greetings.” I do, however, get annoyed with over exuberant political correctness, whether brought on by an order from on high or by fear of offending the easily offended. Call it a holiday tree if you must, but don’t ask me not to refer to it as a Christmas tree. While we’re at it, let’s put up a Hanukkah menorah alongside that Christmas tree in public spaces.
I heartily offer a Merry Christmas to bus drivers, retail store staff, Parliamentarians and others; with a “Happy Hanukkah” reserved for those I know who celebrate that holiday. At the appropriate time of year, I will wish a “Happy Eid” (a Muslim holiday), “Happy Diwali” (a Hindu/Sikh holiday) or “Kung Hei Fat Choi” (Chinese New Year) to other friends. It’s part of adjusting to 21st Century Canada with an increasing awareness of living in a multicultural and multi-religious society.
That brings me to reflect on the complaints I have seen, read and heard in the last week about the Prime Minister’s Christmas card for 2011, which bears the words “Happy Holidays” along with a photograph of the Harper family. Complaints about the Harpers’ choice of photograph or choice of words are, in my opinion, unnecessary and un-newsworthy. It’s really up to the Harpers what they decide for their cards. If the card says “Merry Christmas” there is likely to be an uproar that the Prime Minister is favouring one religion’s celebration over others. If the card says “Happy Holidays” then he’s assessed by others as somehow letting down “the baby Jesus.” I just think it’s nice that the Harpers share a family photo and the cards are sent out. Like any Canadian family, that’s their choice.
The media’s Christmas card analysis is taking place in the midst of what seems now the annual public squabble about whether or not civic facilities should celebrate atheism (empty), seasonal holidays (non-descript decoration), Hanukkah (menorah), Christmas (tree, manger scene), other Christmas (Santa and reindeer), etc. While ‘religion or not’ is featured in public discourse and in the same week as the Christmas card comments, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney (MP, Calgary Southeast), announced that the faces of those seeking Canadian citizenship would be required to be visible when taking the oath of citizenship; an announcement that was immediately cast as another entry into the “religious” fray.
At no point in the announcement does Minister Kenney mention the niqab or burka, and yet that became the focus of public and media commentary. And with the media focused on the niqab, Minister Kenney was confronted with questions about the niqab, period.
When I think of the oath of citizenship, the images that spring most immediately to my mind, and perhaps yours, are of flags waving and rows of people publicly declaring their commitment on Canada Day. But there are a variety of permissible ways for the oath of citizenship to be administered. In fact, relatively small and more private ceremonies take place for numerous reasons. One would anticipate that similar accommodation will continue to be forthcoming; in the instance of the niqab the accommodation would be for those whose religious beliefs preclude them from revealing their faces to the general public.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled:
Freedom of religion is triggered when a claimant demonstrates that he or she sincerely believes in a practice or belief that has a nexus with religion. Once religious freedom is triggered, a court must then ascertain whether there has been non-trivial or non‑insubstantial interference with the exercise of the implicated right so as to constitute an infringement of freedom of religion under the Quebec (or the Canadian) Charter.
It is a reasonable requirement that the official who has been authorized by the Minister (e.g. a citizenship judge) be able to verify the identity of the prospective new Canadian and verify that the candidate is reciting the oath in one of our two official languages. A number of imams have stated that it is permissible for those who wear the niqab for religious reasons to reveal their face to an appropriate government official for identification purposes; which might readily include the celebration of citizenship with government officials, family and friends. This type of citizenship ceremony seems a workable accommodation of religious belief that would fit with the Supreme Court’s decision and in the multicultural society guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution Act and would align with existing citizenship practices.
The facial display requirement for taking the oath of citizenship might eliminate the opportunity to participate in a public ceremony on Parliament Hill on Canada Day. It does not prevent taking the oath in another way. Such recognition and respect, it seems to me, is the same kind of respect that we desire be demonstrated for Christmas decorations and concerts, Hanukkah celebrations, and other expression by Canadians in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guaranteed “free and democratic society”.
Whether Prime Minister or not, express yourself with cards that say Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Let the children sing I Have A Little Dreidel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Away In A Manger. Let compliance with the requirements for the oath meet the needs of both nation and new citizen.
By accepting choice of cards and respecting religious beliefs we, as Canadians, demonstrate that we “embrace a diverse, secular, multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.” Merry Christmas to you, Nina Grewal, and all Canadians! And a Happy New Year!