The Canadian Race Relations Foundation has been working with representatives of Canada’s religious communities on a project funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “Interfaith and Belonging,” that aims to promote dialogue and civic engagement among faith-based communities. The Baha’i Community of Canada, along with a number of other religious, ethnocultural and citizenship organizations, was invited to join the project’s advisory committee.
In October, the Race Relations Foundation hosted a national symposium in Halifax, “Race, Faith and Belonging: Strengthening Citizenship Engagement in Canada,” as part of the project. The symposium attracted some 250 representatives of organizations working across Canada to advance more inclusive education programs, employment strategies that respond to Canada’s diversity, practices that promote youth dialogue, civic engagement, greater cultural competency in policing, and better ways of handling competing human rights before conflicts escalate to expensive and embittering legal battles.
The lively and informative sessions were led by a range of Canadian organizations. Religious communities, Aboriginal rights associations, municipal and police officials, provincial education directors, city managers, academics, representatives of provincial Human Rights Commissions, youth programs, and employment and legal agencies were among the participants.
At the invitation of the Foundation, several Baha’is attended the symposium, including Dr. Gerald Filson, Baha’i representative to the “Interfaith and Belonging” project, members of the Halifax Baha’i community, Peter Cromwell, African-Canadian representative to the Annapolis Valley School Board, Professor Michael Kiefte of Dalhousie University, and Robert Leek, active in Baha’i community activities. Farah Mocquais, invited independently of her membership in the Baha’i community, and currently serving as the Inclusion Consultant to the City of Lethbridge, Alberta, gave a presentation on the program of the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism.
Over the past few years several governments around the world have stepped up their interest in fostering mutual understanding and respect between members of different religious communities, and in their developing sound citizenship practices. Though research has shown that members of religious communities are generally among the most engaged citizens volunteering more hours to the community than other citizens – a fact often overlooked by the media and popular opinion – governments may be responding to concerns about the rise of religious extremism and sectarian conflict in recent years.
Several initiatives have been launched by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s “Interfaith and Belonging” project to help young people embrace the rich vitality of Canada’s diverse religions. Posters, a youth video competition, and a production on religious diversity by the National Film Board are among the strategies being pursued.
Engaged in a variety of interfaith work, the Baha’i Community of Canada has lately been making efforts to learn, together with other religions, how best to understand and articulate the role of religion in contemporary society in order to effectively promote the well-being of the whole community. This involves a commitment to applying to the most pressing public issues of the day concepts and language drawn from a shared understanding of genuine religion.