Salt & Light Conference


John McKay, M.P., Scarborough East, to the Salt & Light Conference


October 26, 2001

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  The topics you are discussing are very important and extremely timely.

  • Will Civil Society Save the World?

  • Christians in Civil Society

  • Christian NGOs as Essential Partners in Building Civil Society

  • The Role of Civil Society in Keeping Government Accountable.

I’m heartened that you have chosen to talk about these issues at this time – post September 11th.

The tension between the Christian community and the larger society has always existed and will presumably always exist.  “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.  “Being Salt and Light in this world” Speaking to the “Men of Athens”.  All of these phrases are shorthand for the tension between the Christian community and the larger community.

How can Christians speak into the marketplace of ideas and not be marginalized?  Each generation has to reinvent itself so that it engages in the dialogue and moves society in a direction that is healthy and free for all.

Some days are more successful than others.  Some day’s success is hard to measure and some days we are discouraged.

Civil society has grown out of the frustration that the dialogue has broken down with government – those that are elected and those that are not.   It has also grown out of the circumscribing of the role and influence of the elected representatives and the dumbing down of the civil service.  Governments simply do not have the expertise that they used to – the pay is lousy and job security really no better than any other line of work.

Into this vacuum has stepped civil society.  People who have a heart and passion for a particular issue (i.e. third world/globalization trade issues, etc.) and some expertise – but who in the long run represent no one other than themselves and their like-minded fellow travellers.   Civil society therefore has as its greatest strength people who are knowledgeable and passionate but its greatest weakness is a limited legitimacy.

Civil society engages elected representatives and other government agencies.  The engagement meets with varying degrees of success.

How then does a Christian be part of civil society and use that as a vehicle of engagement? 

Let me speak to a constructive example.  I sit on the Justice Committee.  Presently, we are dealing with C-36, The Terrorist Bill.  This is easily the most important legislation this Parliament will ever see.  Possibly the most important Bill I will ever see as a legislator.

This Bill roles back significant rights and freedoms which Canadians have come to take for granted.  It has implications, which we on the Committee are only beginning to see.  There is enormous pressure to pass this Bill, not only from the government, but also from the Opposition.  Canadians seem to be quite willing to trade their rights and freedoms for greater security (a mess of pottage if ever there was one).

I have a very good working relationship with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – an NGO, a member of civil society, a Christian group that purports to represent 3 million people from Churches and para-churches – NGOs

Frequently, I’ll phone Janet Epp-Buckingham and ask Janet what is it I think about an issue – the beauty is that she’ll tell me what it is that I think about an issue.  I trust Janet’s judgment – it’s solid – it’s reasoned – it comes from a Judeo-Christian view of the world similar to my own.

This week, I phoned Janet to alert her to the implications of C-36 for Charities and NGOs – then suggested that this is what she should think.   That led to a phone call from my friend Terry Carter, the Chair of the Charities Section of the CBA-O and former legal counsel to the CCCC and a lawyer whose practise is devoted to charitable and religious issues.

I see the phone calls among Terry (lawyer) Janet (Counsel for a Christian NGO) and me (a legislator) as good interaction - a positive interaction.

I respect their judgment and they respect my political realities.  Our respect and trust has been built over time.  We have not always enjoyed success.  I dare say they have not always seen our Liberal government as God’s special gift to Canada .

So why should I be concerned enough about C-36 to phone Janet and get Terry involved?  Because in our mad rush for the illusion of security there are implications which will intrude into the lives of Canadians generally and in particular into the activities of Charities.

The definition of “terrorist group” reads as follows:

  • an entity that has as one of its purposes or activities facilitating or carrying out any terrorist activity, or

  • a listed entity, and includes an association of such entities.

  • For the purposes of this Part, a terrorist activity is facilitated whether or not

  • the facilitator knows that a particular terrorist activity is facilitated;

  • any particular terrorist activity was foreseen or planned at the time it was facilitated; or

  • any terrorist activity was actually carried out.

Why should you be concerned?  Let me give you an example.  World Vision is a well-respected well-known Christian NGO doing good works around the world.   It has projects in Palestine.  Nothing happens in Palestine without the explicit/implicit permission of the PLO/Hamas –well known terrorist organizations, which may well be listed by Canada as terrorist organizations.  Therefore directly or indirectly knowingly or unknowingly World Vision may be supporting terrorist organizations.  Far-fetched?  You are a pretty sophisticated group.  Operating in countries, which produce terrorists, is never neat and clean.  You are forever dealing with people about whom you have your suspicions, but you make a judgment that the good work that you propose to do outweighs the negatives of possibly dealing with people with unsavoury connections.

Will World Vision/MCC /Cause Canada etc., be swept up?  Not likely, but counsel to those organizations will now have to give advice on the Act.  It will likely be cautionary advice.  It will likely point out that Canada now has a list of organizations that have been Gazetted and operating in countries that harbour these terrorists is an additional risk.

Charity Chill?  Limited resources – go where the terrorists are not.

Civil Society – Christian organizations – good causes do not receive not blanket exemption.

The irony will be that withdrawal by civil society/Christian organizations – good causes will add to the conditions that create terrorism in the first place – ignorance and poverty.  How ironic.  How necessary it is to hear from you.