May 27 & 28, 2013
McGill University, Montreal
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Dec 09 2013 – Closing Remarks from Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton

Please click here for a PDF version of closing remarks from the Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton delivered on May 28, 2013 at Bridging the Secular Divide.

June 13 2013 – Reflections on Bridging the Secular Divide

By Jennah Khaled, from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

The Bridging the Secular Divide: Religion and Canadian Public Discourse Conference was held at McGill University, co-hosted by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The conference steering committee was composed of a significant group of religious community leaders who reflected the collaborative achievements and willingness for peaceful discourse among a wide range of multi-faith groups from across Canada. Dean Ellen Aitken, Dean of McGill’s Faculty of Religious Studies, provided welcomes and devotions each morning as Sikhs, Muslims, Protestants, and Baha’is congregated in the Birks Building Chapel—an act of openness and welcoming on the part of Dean Aitken that resonated with the pluralist group who gathered to discuss critical questions regarding religious integration & tolerance in Canada’s new, diverse demography.

The BTD Conference, ambitious in its programming, tackled topics from Quebec’s secular tradition, to the subject of whether religious institutions should play a role in the development of public policy. Breakout sessions addressed the issues of public schooling, youth engagement, and First Nations spirituality. Not only was the array and breadth of topics impressive– but the willingness of participants to address them thoughtfully and honestly was notable. Questions ranging from the practical, to the contentious, to the deeply philosophical were debated fiercely but respectfully by an interdisciplinary, multi-generational array of participants. Archbishop Christian Lepine addressed the Conference in a special plenary session, emphasizing the value of a free and pluralist society as the foundation for individuals and communities to practice their beliefs. Parliamentarians Mark Adler, Joe Comartin, and the Hon. John Mackay instructed religious community leaders on how best to engage with elected leaders to best disseminate their policy recommendations. Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women questioned the role of religious authorities as representatives of their communities in engaging with government, asking participants to critically explore their definitions of hierarchy and political representation in this particular context.

Canadians have long struggled to define a cohesive national identity. As we seek to designate the common values that epitomize Canadian citizenship, the words of several BTD Conference participants come to mind. Ambassador Bennett from the newly established Federal Office for Religious Freedom reminded the audience that 75% of the world’s people live under conditions that place high restriction on religious freedom, conditions that many new Canadians are thankful to have escaped. Anne Leahy, Former Ambassador of Canada to the Holy See, told participants that she valued Canada’s long history of protecting people worldwide from violations of these freedoms, and discussed instances in which Canadian foreign policy has expressed this aim. And it is not only immigrants who see religious freedom as a bastion of strength– Louise Profeit LeBlanc taught the group that Aboriginal peoples saw spirituality as a source of resilience, and not of oppression.

At this conference, the Canadian values of tolerance, open discourse, and freedom from fear were on display. At it’s best, Canada can be the embodiment of a pluralist society in which individuals can share their heritage and traditions without worry of persecution—and be welcomed by an engaged and supportive audience. Conferences like Bridging the Secular Divide will help entrench these values, and indicate to our broader society that religious leaders, scholars, and devotees can be willing and active participants in fostering an equitable and modern society.

June 7 2013 – Conference Proceedings Available Online

Video recordings from Bridging the Secular Divide are now available. To watch the proceedings click here or visit the Program section of our website!

April 4 2013 – Ambassador Andrew Bennett to Speak at Conference!

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Andrew Bennett, the Ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom, will be a keynote speaker at our conference, speaking on religious freedom and Canadian foreign policy!