The Parliament of Canada just passed a Bill to establish Pope John Paul II Day in Canada. In response to the Bill’s introduction by Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon, CSA member Karolina Sygula sent him following letter. A variant of the letter was sent by the CSA to NDP MPP Peggy Nash, who also supported the Bill. Mr. Lizon did not respond to the letter. Ms. Nash provided a response that is included below
Dear Mr. Lizoń:
As a Board Member of the Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA), a non-profit, public policy research organization advancing church-state separation and the neutrality of government in matters of religion, I ask that you withdraw your Private Member’s Bill to designate April 2 Pope John Paul II Day in Canada. The CSA believes in church-state separation – the idea that the government of Canada should not favour one religion over others or religious belief over non-belief. Our goal is not to promote atheism – rather, our commitment is to liberal-democratic principles of equality, fairness, and justice for all under the law, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof.
As I’m sure you know, 25% of Canadians are non-religious, as determined by your own party’s recent household survey. And while I recognize that most of your Polish-Canadian constituents likely view themselves as ‘culturally Catholic’, there is no reason to believe that a similar statistic does not apply to them as well. Frankly, many people of Polish descent, both in Canada and elsewhere, are embarrassed at the Catholic Church’s interference in state matters, and view this as a real barrier to progress in Poland. Even believers want Church reform, and the secular movement is rapidly growing, as I had the opportunity to witness personally during a month-long stay in Poland last summer during the Euro Cup. In fact, did you know that the first ever Atheists and Agnostics March in all of Europe took place in Kraków in 2009?
We at the CSA believe that secularism is the only true guarantor of religious freedom for everyone, and that the Canadian government has no business designating a specific day to honour the former head of a particular faith. Among other things, this would set a terrible precedent, one that could be cited in future attempts by the faithful of other denominations to have similar honours conferred on their preferred religious leaders. I’m sure that setting the stage for such a quagmire is not your intent, and a consequence that would not sit well with either the Polish-Canadian electorate, or with the larger voting public, no matter how positively the works of Pope John Paul II are viewed in certain quarters.
If your goal is to have the significant achievements of people of Polish descent recognized by Canadian society, may I suggest that you do so by promoting the rich cultural tradition of your home country instead? My mother, husband and I were sitting in the pew next to yours at the recent Piotr Rubik concert in Brampton, and my husband and I were very pleased that you sent a note of support to the latest installment of the EKRAN Polish Film Festival. As a great lover of theatre, I would welcome the government’s sponsorship of the staging of classical Polish plays (with surtitles) in Toronto. However, if your heart is truly set on designating a particular day to honour the contributions of a member of the Polish diaspora to Canadian society, may I suggest Janina Fialkowska Day instead? Ms. Fialkowska is a Polsih-Canadian concert pianist of international renown, and an eminent Chopin interpreter. We hope to see you at her upcoming concert with Tafelmusik at Koerner Hall at the end of May.
Please reconsider your Private Member’s Bill, and redirect your influence and energies to the promotion of social justice, environmental and secular initiatives in the Parliament of Canada. These are the areas that truly merit your attention and would be the hallmark of your legacy as an elected official should you be successful in moving them forward.