Multifaith group puts its faith in Canada

June 4, 2014

From left, Nadia Kidwal, Amer Parwana and Navy Padre Lt. Darryl Levy, panelists at the MMC AGM May 28.

By James Buchok

The Manitoba Multifaith Council promotes interfaith dialogue, understanding and collaboration, so no surprise its members react to an idea such as the Quebec Charter of Values with shock and sadness.

The MMC held its annual general meeting May 28 at Singh Sabha Winnipeg, a place of Sikh worship, and heard a panel discussion on Religious Symbols, Public Spaces: After Quebec, What Next?  The Quebec Charter of Values would have banned Quebec’s civil servants from wearing any religious oriented garb or symbols while on the job.

John Harvard, former journalist, Member of Parliament and Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba from 2004 to 2009, chaired the panel describing himself as a secularist, yet a supporter of the MMC. Harvard asked since the Quebec Charter of Values had been “soundly defeated” by Quebeckers in the April provincial election “should we stop worrying about this arising again? No, we have to remain ever vigilant.” He compared those who would support such a charter to “small children who want no part of food they have never tasted. Canada is multicultural. There will be differences and we have to work to stop those differences from becoming barriers.”

Panelist Nadia Kidwal, a Muslim and  co-designer and facilitator of the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute in Winnipeg, was born and raised in the United Kingdom and began wearing a hijab, or head scarf, when she was 18. “It was my choice,” said Kidwal, and she committed to it one month before 9/11. After the attacks, Kidwal said, “I became a walking, talking ad for Islam. I had to know all the answers. I never had a negative experience. The only silver lining to 9/11 is it opened a dialogue, it showed the importance of asking questions and stepping out of a comfort zone.”

Kidwal, who was educated at Oxford University, is a writer, filmmaker and former consultant on issues related to multiculturalism and immigration. She currently works at CBC Manitoba. She said the Quebec charter was “alien to me. In Manitoba we are so blessed, I felt like I was living in a little bubble,” compared to attitudes in other parts of the world, including the UK. She said she tried explaining the Quebec charter to her boys, ages 5 and 7, and did her best to be non-judgmental. “My five-year-old asked me ‘is Quebec in Canada?’ He didn’t realize the profound nature of his question.”

“I want my boys to grow up as proud, confident Muslims and proud, confident Canadians,” Kidwal said. “Part of what I do with the Canadian Muslim Leadership is empower our community to strengthen Canada as a whole.”

Panelist Amer Parwana is a Sikh working in corrections who wears a turban, including at his place of work, the Manitoba Youth Centre for young offenders. Parwana said his initial reaction to the Quebec charter was “sadness, I couldn’t believe it was happening in Canada.”

Parwana said the charter would have produced a great loss in skilled labour. “If  I wear a turban and I work in a factory, or I’m a doctor in a hospital, then  I can’t come in here and do my job? Our responsibility is to teach our children about other faiths. If you’re my neighbour, I don’t want to tolerate you. I want to replace the word tolerance with understanding.”

Parwana said while studying criminology, a classmate told him he should never be in the RCMP because the turban “desecrates the uniform. We discussed it and had to agree to disagree, but I will always defend his right to have that opinion. Let’s talk about it.”

Lt. Padre Darryl Levy, a Chaplain at 17 Wing in Winnipeg, served in the Golan Heights in 2005 and 2006, and in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010. Levy described a Protestant/Catholic dominated chaplaincy that existed in the Canadian military dating back to 1899 and the Boer War. Not until the early 2000s did a multifaith approach emerge “almost overnight” with an influx of Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis. “Things were changing, we needed to change,” he said. “Canada can be proud that no religion is put ahead of another.”

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