Celebrating Canada’s Multiculturalism in Alberta

You’ve heard it before: Canada is a mosaic. A multicultural society with people from around the world. There’s even a photographer in Toronto who’s been photographing people from 190 countries — and they all live in Toronto. Talk about a multicultural city!

Although our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, and we are all are equal under the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s not that simple.

It was a lot more simple when our choices were limited. Like when the only choices were vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

You could go to public school or Catholic school. Church or synagogue. In some of the larger cities you could find a mosque or a Buddhist temple. But that’s all changed.

Now we have public schools and private schools. Religious and not religious. With instruction in English, French, and languages from countries around the world that aren’t English or French.

We can still go to church and synagogue. But now it’s a lot easier to find a mosque, a temple, and houses of worship with congregants from major and minor religions around the world.

Want to be a Pastafarian and go to a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? You can do that too.

And even though we’re equal under the law and the Charter, the religious observances and traditions of some Canadians are a little more equal. They receive tremendous attention, while others are shunned or ignored.

Now, sure, there’s only so much time in a day, and only so much space for news articles in any day.

But there’s 365 days in a year, and many of those are taken up with religion. And if you want to be sure of the day, you can consult the Saint of the Day app for iPhones.

I haven’t seen anyone do that, but I have seen many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid religion. Or at least trying to get other people to avoid it.

For years now we’ve been told not to wish anyone a “Merry Christmas”. It might offend someone. And it’s just not acceptable any more. Yet every year — and it gets earlier and earlier every year — we see all manner of trees decorated for Christmas. How long before we see Halloween pumpkins decorated for Christmas?

In the meantime, we don’t have to look at our smart phones to find to what time the sun will set. Sunset hours are announced on radio stations and published in major media throughout the month of Ramadan. How is it, though, that Friday sunset — the weekly start of the Jewish Sabbath — isn’t given the same attention at any other time of year?

In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that religious prayer at city council meetings is unacceptable. It’s just unacceptable. The justices of Canada’s highest court said that, when the Mayor of Saguenay opened a public meeting by reciting a prayer, it violated an atheist’s freedom of conscience and breached the state’s duty of neutrality.

The decision was important to move Canada towards becoming a more inclusive country. But maybe that ruling and the separation of church and state only applies to the City of Saguenay or to the Province of Quebec. What else can it be, now that the Legislative Assembly of Alberta is formally recognizing Ramadan in a taxpayer-funded public celebration, hosted by the Speaker’s Office represented by Heather Sweet, MLA, and Deputy Chair of Committees, with remarks by the Honourable Irfan Sabir, MLA, and Ric McIver, MLA.

In almost 30 years of living in Alberta I don’t recall a time when Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur were recognized by any of Alberta’s political parties or systems — unless you consider that a modest ad placed in the local community newspaper is equivalent to a public event.

So where’s the problem? Where’s the balance? And where’s the neutrality?


Sharon Polsky

Vice President, Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association

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