On June 22, 2015, CFI Canada’s National Executive Director, Eric Adriaans, attended the inaugural meeting of the Office of Religious Freedom’s External Advisory Committee (EAC). The meeting was held at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa. The EAC is comprised of up to 23 individuals who are “highly-regarded and knowledgeable leaders within their faith communities, and reflect the diversity of religion and belief within Canada.” The complete list of members may be found on the FATDC website announcement.
Eric Adriaans says of the appointment, “My inclusion on this committee is a significant demonstration of the Office of Religious Freedom’s recognition of the diversity of perspective to be found in Canada on matters of religious freedom. Canada’s free-thinking, non-believing community should be encouraged to see evidence that the ORF has taken steps to include and welcome a representative from the growing non-believing community. It is an honour to have been appointed and an honour to represent the perspectives of the significant and growing community of individuals who may variously self-identify with such terms as humanist, secularist, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, free-thinker or skeptic.”
The EAC, whose members were appointed for an initial 1-year term, will meet semi-annually to engage the Ambassador in a dialogue on issues pertaining to religious freedom in the world and to advise him on possible approaches to addressing them. The EAC will not provide policy direction or recommendations. The current mandate of the ORF concludes on March 31, 2016.
Adriaans said about the inaugural meeting, “I was very pleased with my reception by Ambassador Andrew Bennett and fellow EAC members, including the Committee Chair, Father Raymond de Souza with whom I briefly chatted about the diversity of the CFIC community. I recognized in the committee a deep and earnest interest to oppose religious hatred and intolerance while promoting Canadian values of pluralism and respect for diversity.”
Non-Believers and Secularists Have a Voice
CFI Canada members will recall that CFI Canada had previously met with Ambassador Bennett and submitted correspondence to the Ambassador and to Federal Ministers of FATD and Justice on issues such as atheist asylum seekers, Raif Badawi’s imprisonment and torture in Saudi Arabia and Canada’s Blasphemous Libel Law (Criminal Code Section 296). Inclusion of CFI Canada’s National Executive Director on this committee is demonstration of the respect for CFIC’s voice on matters of secularism and religious freedom.
“Working for change in Canada and around the world requires CFI Canada to earn trust and respect across a variety of communities - within the diverse secularist community and with those who continue in a religious or spiritual community,” said Adriaans, ” We must take the opportunity to engage on equal footing and with full commitment to processes such as the ORF’s External Advisory Committee if we wish to see positive change on religious freedoms – and freedom from religion.”
The Office of Religious Freedom recently announced the launch of an International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief with Canada as a Chair. Meanwhile, CFI Canada was a driving force behind the formation of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws earlier in 2015. It is clear that Canadians have much to offer to the world when it comes to bringing diverse voices together – and that CFI Canada is unique in Canadian history as an advocate for secularism, free-thinking and non-belief in all of its diversity.
While in Ottawa, Eric Adriaans also met with CFIC Ottawa Branch members for an evening BBQ as well as with new friends of CFI Canada to discuss work that CFIC may undertake to provide Canadians with education regarding attacks and murders of secularist bloggers in Bangladesh.