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Quebec Mayor Vows to Continue City Hall Prayer Despite Legal Threats By Tim Waggoner

Reform rights commissions: B'nai Brith; 'Sounding Alert'; 'It was a different debate that was raging several months ago'

Sikh worker files human rights complaint; Apology sought from TransAlta over beard

Lifeguard fights for right to wear hijab swimsuit

World

Bush Calls For Religious Freedom in China

Canada

Quebec Mayor Vows to Continue City Hall Prayer Despite Legal Threats By Tim Waggoner

LifeSiteNews.com - August 7, 2008

SAGUENAY, Quebec (LifeSiteNews.com) - The mayor of the Quebec city of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, says those seeking to take him to court for praying before City Hall meetings are not acting democratically. Despite criticisms, including a Human Rights Commission (HRC) ruling and further possible legal action, Tremblay has expressed his intention to hold fast to his religious convictions, reaffirming that he will continue to pray before monthly City Hall meetings. He has said he will defend his position in court if called upon. "My religion has always been more important than my career. I go to Mass every day. I have no intention of betraying my faith, I'd be too ashamed to show up 'on the other side' in front of side in front of God," said Tremblay, as reported by Cyberpresse.

On May 15, Tremblay was ordered by the Human Rights Commission to stop praying before the meetings after citizen Christian Joncas filed a complaint.

"I don't know why we would stop. Prayers are what we have that's most precious. To subject ourselves to the whim of some people, very few of them, just two ... is to kneel down rapidly, and we don't have the intention to stop," was his May response after learning of the HRC's order.

Alain Simoneau has since filed a second complaint on behalf of the Mouvement laïc québécois, which may involve a $100,000 lawsuit.

Tremblay says he has been praying for the two men. "I pray for Mr. Simoneau, to reflect a little on what he is doing. I also pray for Christian Joncas, and I'm convinced that it has helped.

"In a democratic system, it is the majority that imposes its law. I am in politics and a politician, who rules his case in the elections. I will not fold for one individual," explained Tremblay, after confirming he would stop reciting a prayer before meetings if that was the will of the majority he represented.

When asked about potential court costs, which would come out of taxpayer's money, the Mayor alluded to other costs that are incurred for the sake of justice. "To ensure the triumph of justice, we pay a fortune. We are building a brand new prison at Roberval, new Courthouse across Quebec. Why religion is less important, why should we be shocked? So far, this issue did not cost a penny to the municipality. I have always defended alone," said Tremblay.

Tremblay compared any possible court issued punishment regarding his religious convictions to something one would see in a communist country. "You could see it in China or Russia, not here. It is currently exceeding the limits with that case," he said.

Mayor Tremblay is an outspoken defender of Quebec's traditional Catholic Christian heritage. In 2007, he denounced the landslide of secularism that has overwhelmed Quebec since the 1960s and told a government commission that Quebec must revive moral values and needs to retain its Catholic heritage.

See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Quebec Mayor Vows to Continue Prayer Despite Human Rights Commission Order http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/may/08051610.html

Quebec Mayor Says Province Needs Catholic Heritage and Revival of Moral Values http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/sep/07092402.html

Reform rights commissions: B'nai Brith; 'Sounding Alert'; 'It was a different debate that was raging several months ago'

National Post - August 1, 2008

By Joseph Brean

Canada's human rights commissions are in urgent need of reform to prevent complainants hijacking them as political platforms, according to B'nai Brith Canada. "We are sounding the alert now that the commissions must, if they are going to have any validity in the years to come, must really undergo a major, significant change in the way they operate to ensure there isn't the kind of abuse that is too easily brought about today," said Frank Dimant, the Jewish human rights group's executive vice-president.

The call marks a notable milestone in the debate over Canada's human rights bureaucracy because B'nai Brith Canada has long been co-operative with and supportive of the quasi-judicial human rights legal system.

Mr. Dimant said a legal brief was being prepared and would be submitted to Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor who was recently appointed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to review their hate speech mandate. But the B'nai Brith review will take a wider view than Prof. Moon's, and focus not only on hate speech but also the issues of investigator training to prevent nuisance cases, recuperation of legal costs for successful defendants, and the question of simultaneous multiple complaints in different jurisdictions. "We cannot have several human rights commissions investigating the same charges," Mr. Dimant said. "Otherwise the system is going to become clogged by individuals or organizations who seek to undermine the real purpose of the human rights commissions and create political forums." He also said there should be a mechanism by which a respondent's costs would be paid by complainants "whose aim it is to harass, and that's where educated investigators become very important."

Mr. Dimant said B'nai Brith did not raise these concerns in the spring, when the debate about the conflict between human rights law and freedom of expression was at its height, for fear of having its message drowned out. Back then, the debate was focused on a complaint that the Canadian Islamic Congress brought against Maclean's magazine in three jurisdictions. It was rejected in Ontario and federally, and was heard in British Columbia with a decision pending. "It was a different debate that was raging several months ago. It was very specific and very narrow, and we quite frankly didn't want to muddy the waters on that debate. Ours is a different strategic approach. We're talking about major reform and overhaul," he said.

Sikh worker files human rights complaint; Apology sought from TransAlta over beard

Edmonton Journal - 2008.07.25

By Keith Gerein

EDMONTON - A Sikh man who served as a contract employee for TransAlta Corp. says he has filed a human rights complaint against the company in a dispute over his beard. "I'm going to take this as far as I have to until I get an apology," said Av Singh, now home in England after cutting short his eight-week assignment at TransAlta's Sundance power plant west of Edmonton. "I think the way I was treated was completely unfair."

Singh, 24, was sent by his company in early May to Sundance to serve as a turbine technical adviser. When he first arrived, he was given a "fit"

test to ensure a respirator mask formed an adequate seal around his bearded face. The masks are used for protection when there is a release of a noxious substance. Singh passed the test. But five weeks later, a different safety supervisor arrived at the site and made the beard an issue, suggesting it was too long for the mask to properly fit. Singh said the man told him to shave or leave the work site. Since removing the beard is against his religious beliefs, Singh chose the latter option. The supervisor never offered to give him the fit test again, he said. He said none of the employees in his work area ever wore or carried respirator masks while he was there, so he doesn't understand why he was singled out. "I feel like I was picked on. No options were ever given to me."

TransAlta spokesman Michael Lawrence said the company has not yet received any notice of Singh's human rights complaint. "But we will co-operate fully if there is an investigation and we look forward to the facts of the matter being revealed." He said the company believes the safety supervisor acted appropriately because there was legitimate concern that Singh's beard had grown too long for the mask over the five weeks he'd been at Sundance. "His primary concern was Mr. Singh's safety," Lawrence said. Lawrence said the supervisor had no chance to offer the fit test again because Singh left the work site too quickly.

However, such an offer was made two days later - before Singh left Edmonton - in an e-mail to Singh's company, Lawrence said.

Singh denied that his beard was substantially longer than when he first started at Sundance. He said he never heard of TransAlta's offer to redo the fit test.

Marie Riddle, director of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, would not discuss Singh's case, saying it is the commission's policy to keep disputes confidential until a hearing is required. She said when a complaint comes in, the commission first goes through a private conciliation process that tries to reach some understanding between the two parties. If this fails, an investigation is launched. Then, if the complaint is deemed to have merit, another round of negotiation is conducted before a human rights panel hearing is held. On average, it takes about a year before a case proceeds to a hearing, Riddle said.

The commission is currently getting set to hear a case similar to Singh's involving a Canadian Sikh who refused to shave his beard to work at a Syncrude Canada worksite in Fort McMurray.

Lifeguard fights for right to wear hijab swimsuit

The Chronicle-Herald - August 8, 2008

MONTREAL (CP) - A Montreal lifeguard has filed a human rights complaint against a local YMCA after the club told her she couldn't wear her hijab on duty. The 21-year-old woman has been swapping her traditional Muslim headscarf at the poolside for a "burkini," a swimsuit that covers everything but the face, hands and feet.

The Montreal YMCA said the hijab puts lifeguards at risk from the grabbing hands of panicked swimmers in rescue situations. Before reaching its decision, the Y sought advice from the Lifesaving Society, an organization that oversees safety and lifeguarding. The lifesaving group suggested the YMCA consider the burkini, which has been approved for use by beach lifeguards who work in the powerful surfs of Australia.

"Based on their research, our estimation at this time is if it's good in Australia, why won't it be good here?" Lifesaving Society's general manager Raynald Hawkins said Thursday.

Hawkins said the lifeguard, who has not released her name, contacted him a week after he heard from the YMCA. He told her the society merely suggested the burkini. "For us, we don't have any specific position,"

Hawkins said. "This is a tool, this is a kind of bathing suit you can use if you want."

YMCA Montreal spokeswoman Katia Bouchard confirmed details of a report published in Montreal La Presse, but said the group would not grant interviews Thursday on the subject. The report said the lifeguard, who converted to Islam last September, has been working at the Y for three years.

World

Bush urges religious freedom

TheStar.com - World - Bush urges religious freedom As U.S. president, family attend Beijing church, some faithful are left outside on street

August 11, 2008

Bill Schiller

Asia Bureau

BEIJING-As U.S. President George W. Bush worshipped with his family in Kuanjie Protestant Church here yesterday, Liu Peiqin was out front on Di'anmen Ave. E. with a few hundred other faithful, wishing she could be inside.

"This is pitiful," the 60-something Christian woman said. "I live far away and came here because I wanted to share prayers and worship God with President Bush."

But on arrival here yesterday, she learned the special early morning service was by invitation only.

Liu doesn't actually belong to the Kuanjie congregation. But she does belong to something called the "home church" movement; she is precisely the type of independent believer for whom Bush has been calling all week for greater religious freedom in China.

Kuanjie Protestant Church is a state-approved, state-registered church, operating under the watchful eye of a government-controlled association.

By contrast, the "home church" movement to which Liu belongs is not approved by the government - and, as a consequence, is frequently persecuted by it.

In a country where the Communist party seeks to control just about everything - even religious belief - independent religious movements are sometimes seen as potential threats.

Nevertheless, Bush used his Sunday worship to continue to press for greater religious freedom in China.

He sat with wife Laura, daughter Barbara and father George H.W. Bush, in a pew in the upper left nave of the sanctuary and heard a children's choir sing "Amazing Grace" in both English and Chinese.

Afterwards he emerged smiling on the steps of the church with a group of Chinese worshippers - one of whom he'd slung his arm around - and announced, "Laura and I just had the great joy and privilege of worshipping here in Beijing.

"You know, it just goes to show that God is universal and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion."

Later, before lunching with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders, Bush told the media he had enjoyed a moment of "full spirituality."

According to Article 36 of the Chinese constitution, "religious belief" is not a privilege, but a right.

However, the state recognizes just five official religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. To practise any other faith in China is illegal.

Still, by anyone's measure, it's an improvement.

After Mao Zedong created what the Chinese call "the New China," in 1949, all religious belief was suppressed. Even today, the Communist party remains officially atheist and its members are prohibited from holding religious beliefs.

But following Mao's death in 1976 and the eventual ascendance of Deng Xiaoping, who initiated the Reform and Opening policy of 1978, religious belief was gradually tolerated and today Christianity is flourishing - although under strict government supervision.

The government estimates there are 130 million Christians in China today, or 10 per cent of China's 1.3 billion population. In 1949, there were 8 million to 9 million.

And last year, a surprising survey by two Shanghai sociologists estimated that more than 31 per cent of all Chinese 16 and older hold "religious beliefs."

Following yesterday's service, 73-year-old Li Shiyong said he was thrilled Bush had come to the church - he and his 13-year-old granddaughter, Li Meige, got to shake the president's hand.

"It was a blessing from God," the former railway baggage handler declared afterwards.

But among the throngs of people on the street waiting for the president's cavalcade to speed off so they could enter and begin their worship, not everyone was a fan.

"The elder Bush - he is a very kind man," said Li Qishou, an articulate 87-year-old who proclaimed he had been a Christian for "70 years."

And the president?

"I'm not a fan," Li said, agitation growing in his voice. "He killed the most, according to the newspapers I read. And whether or not he'll be saved by God is open to question."

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