Canadian Parliament Seeks to Declare April 2nd ‘Pope John Paul II Day’

Nine times out of ten, the religious shenanigans that take place in the United States make Canadian non-theists look across the border, skeptical eyebrows cocked, and say, “For real, you guys?”

But every now and again, there will be a religious brouhaha here in Canada that keeps us Canucks aware of the need for vigilance against the encroachment of religion into governance.

Here’s an example:

Our House of Commons recently passed a bill declaring April 2 “Pope John Paul II Day.” (The date was chosen based on the anniversary of the pontiff’s death in 2005, and not for its proximity to April Fools’ Day.) It’s no joke; Canada’s parliament is serious about honoring this longtime leader of the Catholic Church.

The bill received support from all parties, with only 42 Members of Parliament voting against it, compared to 217 for it. (All 42 opponents were members of the New Democratic Party; you may wish to remember that come election time.) The bill was proposed by Wladislaw Lizon, MP for Mississauga East-Cooksville, who argued that the bill was not religious in nature, but aimed at recognizing all the good acts of the late pontiff:

“… this is a bill to recognize Pope John Paul II’s legacy, which goes well beyond his role in the Catholic Church. He stood for religious tolerance and freedom, and he spent a great deal of time encouraging inter-religious dialogue. To me, this represents a big part of what it means to be Canadian.

“Pope John Paul II proved that nothing is impossible. He stood up for populations that were oppressed by totalitarian regimes. He will be remembered for his role in the collapse of several stifling dictatorships, and for the way he inspired peaceful opposition to communism in Poland, leading to its eventual collapse in Central and Eastern Europe.”

While it’s true that John Paul II did speak up against totalitarian government, particularly in his native country of Poland, the former pope’s legacy is a lot more mixed than Lizon’s oratory suggests.

The list of criticisms leveled at John Paul II is long and includes a wide variety of charges. Some of the most well-known include his opposition to contraceptive use, even condom use, in AIDS-ravaged African communities; his anti-abortion views; his rejection of women as candidates for priesthood; his characterization of gay people as ‘objectively disordered’; and the institutional failure, on his watch, to protect children from clerics’ sexual abuse.

In the later years of his pontificate, John Paul II even lobbied then-Prime-Minister Jean Chretien to prohibit same-sex marriage and restrict abortion and contraception access. The irony is pretty piquant; this pope was known as a tireless fighter against totalitarianism in Communist countries during the Cold War… but would have had no qualms about imposing his own brand of authoritarian rule when it came to the bedrooms of the nation, and worked hard to restrict the freedom and equality of women and LGBT Canadians.

Moreover, John Paul II was a figurehead for a religion that teaches that everyone needs Jesus and the Catholic Church to be saved from eternal torment. That’s par for the course; one hardly expects the leader of a major religion to proclaim the utter irrelevance of his system of belief. But the government needn’t proclaim a national celebration for a religious leader whose teaching excludes Canada’s many Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Unitarians, Pastafarians, and all the rest. Nor was that exclusionary belief incidental to the work he did as a world figure; rather, it was central to his role on the global stage.

Officially, church-state separation is not part of Canada’s constitution. Maybe it should be. Christians already receive favor in many ways under Canada’s statutory framework. Christmas is a statutory holiday; Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Fitr are not. Some provinces provide government funding for a Catholic school system running parallel to public schools; other religions’ schools are not government-subsidized. This is just one more piece of the puzzle that is Canadian Christian privilege. Special celebration of a uniquely Catholic leader, in the absence of similar recognition for notable leaders of other faiths or no faith, continues to alienate non-Christian Canadians and undercut the official policy of multiculturalism that makes Canada such a vibrant, exciting place to live.

A supporter of the bill, Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, called John Paul II “a model for future generations,” citing as an example the 800,000 people — mostly teens and young adults — who came to see him in Toronto for World Youth Day 2002. (This author, a then-Catholic 19-year-old, was one of them.) Valeriote opined:

“In an age when engagement, particularly youth engagement, is in decline and people are identifying less and less with any religion, it was a powerful and telling testament to his position as a peacemaker and his influence as a leader.”

Well, John Paul II’s influence and leadership aren’t good for much if you disagree with where the youths he “engaged” are being led. In this case, commitment to Catholicism and to John Paul II has led many people — often otherwise decent folk — to fight reproductive choice for women, degrade and shame the queer community, and defend pedophiles, all while assuming (whether smugly or sorrowfully) that their non-Christian neighbors will be thrown in hell at the whim of an omniscient, allegedly loving God.

Call me crazy, but that’s not my vision of Canada’s world-famous tolerance and pluralism.

The Canadian branch of CFI has prepared a petition for concerned readers to sign, calling for the Senate to oppose the bill and prevent it from being passed. The bill has completed the required three readings within the House of Commons and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills.

It’s not yet clear whether the CFI petition will make a difference; us Canucks may be celebrating Pope John Paul II day next spring. In which case, commenter Aliaselpha at the Lousy Canuck blog has a clever back-up plan I heartily endorse: let’s honor Pope Day by educating people about the crimes and injustices supported and enacted by John Paul II and other pontiffs throughout history!

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • newenglandbob

    Pope Pedophile Enabler, just like his successor. Someone should defile his grave.

  • Ibis3

    Of course it’s going to pass. It’s rare that the Senate nixes anything the HoC sends its way, and a feel-good piece of fluff like this (i.e. honouring people, recognising such and such a day as Whatever Day) usually gets no notice at all at any level. (Why had no one, including CFI, picked up on it before the HoC vote, for example?) For the same reason, I don’t read too much into the votes “for”. I’m sure most polis wouldn’t want to stand up in front of their constituents and tell them why they *didn’t* vote to honour their beloved former religious leader who is about to be sainted. I’m sure they do the same for all similar bills (and I think you’re probably exaggerating about Christian privilege in this case; I believe they’ve honoured likewise the Dalai Lama (still alive, yet!) and Aga Khan (also still alive!)).

    I think Evil Pope Awareness Day sounds like a good response though. If nothing else, it would please my 71 year-old mum, who went on a bit of a rant when I sent her the link to the petition.

  • Ibis3

    Well, his grave is St. Peter’s Basilica, so no. We want it in pristine condition when the whole thing is made over into a museum/art gallery.

  • captain_picard

    Let’s not forget JP2′s troubled relationship with Latin America, where he basically said, “No, Oscar Romero (et al), those poor people struggling against violent dictators are Marxists, and Communism is the worst thing ever. Don’t try to help them change things.”

  • Paul Little

    I agree with everything you said, except for your endorsement of the New Democratic Party. As a resident of Ontario, I have first hand experience of a New Democratic government. It was a disaster, and we absolutely don’t want to go down that road again.

  • Sara Lin Wilde

    This is fair. To clarify, my intention wasn’t to endorse a particular political party, but to note an interesting fact that gave me pause. It was interesting to me that none of the other political parties had any members voting against this idea. That said, the MP in my riding is also NDP and she endorsed Pope Day, as did many other New Democrats, so it’s hard to really endorse the NDP on this question. I wouldn’t say I’m encouraging people to vote NDP, but I do intend to keep this in mind when I next vote – as much for what it says about the other parties as for what it might say about the NDP.

  • Michael W Busch

    Which Aga Khan? There have been four so far, only the last of which (Karim Aga Khan) is still alive.

  • Foxhole Atheist

    This has to be some kind of a joke…that particular pontiff turned a blind eye to all of the pedophilic activities of his clergy!!!!! And continued to preach against birth control in places where that is necessary…Then again we do have an evangelical christian as head of our government…and they have established an Office of Religious Freedom ( to product the bat-shit crazies from each other…so in that context I guess this makes sense…if this comes to pass, we atheists in Canada should take that day to agitate for atheist-secular-humanist causes…as the next April 2 is a Wednesday, we could have some fun and rename it ASH Wednesday

  • Mario Strada

    This is too bad. Canada is a “promised land” of sort. Since I am married to a Canadian, I have always kept Canada in my back pocket should the fundies go really crazy here in the US. I wouldn’t want to flee the US to end up in another country on the road to fundamentalism.

    I realize that having a “pope day” is far from establishing a theocracy, but they have to start somewhere. In canada starting with celebrating a pope is certainly an easier way to reach their goal that it would be here in the US.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I say let them have it, but move it up by one day.

  • Ibis3

    Um. The one that’s still alive. [checks] Yes, that would be the one I specified. Numero quattro.

    ETA: Also the current Dalai Lama who is also the one specified, cos he’s still alive.

  • Ryan Hite

    I feel like part of this is to please the French catholic part of Canada, Quebec. “No, you’re not allowed to break away from the rest of Canada and you’re a minority, so here’s some reason to stay with us.”

  • rg57

    Ontario is trying to do the same with Bill 72, which has passed second reading in Ontario (and there is no Senate, so if it passes third reading, it’s passed).

    NOT ONE member of provincial parliament has said anything against the … man.

    Even if you’re not from Ontario, you need to let the Premier of Ontario know what sort of man we’re about to honour forever.

    More than 1/3 of Canadians live in Ontario.

    Also, don’t forget anyone you may know who speaks French. About 5% of Ontarians, and 25% of Canadians have French as their first language.

  • rg57

    Is there some reason that a defiled grave would not be in suitably pristine condition to tell the story of this guy?

  • rg57

    In Ontario, if you read Hansard, it’s clearly pandering to the Polish community. Poles make up about 3% of the Canadian population, and about 4% of Toronto (where the MPPs who spoke in favour of it mostly came from) but apparently this community is proud to be associated with a man who headed a worldwide racket that protected child rapists, while pretending to care about children. I haven’t heard anyone denounce him.

  • rg57

    You’re mistaken if you think Canada is less religious, or less explicitly Christian, than the US.

    Good Friday is a federal holiday here. Easter Monday is often considered a holiday as well, making it into a four-day weekend (a bit like US Thanksgiving).

    There is no constitutional separation of church and state here. We publicly fund Catholic religious schools. And while there isn’t a state church, our monarch and head of state is the head of the Church of England.

  • rg57

    The Harris government’s “creating a useful crisis” and exporting jobs wasn’t exactly a roaring success either. Look where it’s left us.

  • Greg G.

    Ah! Canada is making April Fools a two day event.

  • ziggy_stardust81

    Call it “Love a Pedophile Day” Unbelievable.

  • DianaMac

    Do sign the petition. Even if it passes the Canadian government needs to know they are alienating a lot of people! I signed it with a litany of the crimes this Pope committed or allowed and how that is not representative of Canada’s values or a multicultural society.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I hate to point out that the fact that the NDP mostly voted against this bill is not sufficient reason in and of itself to vote for them in a Federal election. Or a provincial one, for that matter.

    Besides, this’ll give us an excuse to partay for 2 days instead of 1.

  • The Other Weirdo

    We’re Canadians. Let’s ask permission first.

  • Epinephrine

    The NDP got a lot of blame for things that were not entirely their fault, having taken over during a recession.
    I’d be happy to give them another shake at it.

  • Forced2Register

    it is true, he protected pedophiles and dictators, but he also cured 2 people after dying!
    if you make at least 2 miracles, you get absolution from all your sins.

  • Foxhole Atheist

    yes, miracles are the catholic get-out-of-jail-free cards

  • Gerry

    Hello there! I just passed by here because an atheist friend of mine told me about this news… Very interesting indeed. Anyways… I just would like to say that if your coulmn is named “Friendly Atheist” you may not start the article with such “friendly’ expressions like “religious brouhaha” because then you are saying that the parlament has 217 of them… I don’t know… you may be a “Friendly Atheist” for other atheists but not for a theist person…. Think about it…

  • Veronica Abbass

    Ibis3 says

    “I believe they’ve honoured likewise the Dalai Lama (still alive, yet!) and Aga Khan (also still alive!)).”

    “Canada has named days in honour of only three other individuals: two
    Canadian Prime Ministers and Raoul Wallenberg, who helped rescue tens of thousand of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary”

    See CFI media release


  • michap77

    I’m atheist and I don’t see a problem. it’s not harming anyone

  • michap77

    good one faggit

  • JD Author

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