Liberal Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez told a House of Commons committee on Monday that incoming “online safety” legislation will address a two-year string of church burnings across Canada.
After initially claiming that his mandate doesn’t include faith-based communities, Rodriguez told Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu that proposed online hate laws will tackle the issue which has gone largely unaddressed by the federal Liberals.
“You said that faith based communities was not in your mandate letter. So I’m looking at the December 16, 2021 mandate letter that is out on the web for you,” said Gladu, pointing to the direct reference of faith-based communities.
“So if you weren’t aware that was in there… What I would say is we’ve had 68 Christian churches burned to the ground, multiple attacks on synagogues and places of worship. I would ask that you government take some action.”
In response, Rodriguez claimed that he initially misunderstood her question.
“The way I understood it is that you were talking specifically if we had a program for what happened to the churches, which is totally unacceptable. But I would bring it to another level and this is why we need a bill, such as the one that’s coming – the online safety bill. A lot of it, not everything but a lot of it starts on the web and that should not be there,” claimed Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’ testimony came only a week after two men were arrested on arson charges after a nearly 120-year-old church was lit on fire in Grouard, Alberta.
As a result of the fire, St. Bernard Catholic Church was completely burnt down.
To date, over 70 churches have been vandalized, defaced or burnt down since the media sensationalized the apparent discovery of residential school grave sites in Kamloops, BC nearly two years ago.
In 2021, the Liberal government launched a consultation process to help draft a pending online safety legislation which aims to tackle issues such as online hate, disinformation and misinformation.
Critics of the effort have accused the Liberal government of further cracking down on the internet with concerns that any proposed law would infringe on Canadians’ rights to freedom of expression.