TORONTO—Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the new Office of Religious Freedom Tuesday and named Dr. Andrew Bennett as its head.
The office will be within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and will focus on promoting freedom of religion and belief around the world.
“Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread and they are increasing,” said the prime minister.
Harper said Bennett is a man of “principle and deep convictions” charged with promoting religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy.
The new office will become the primary avenue for Canada to advance freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, said a statement from the government.
The office will monitor abuses and advocate for religious freedom. It will also provide analysis and create programs to protect religious minorities under threat and oppose religious hatred.
In the face of these injustices and atrocities, Canada will not be silent.
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Priority will be put on countries and situations where “egregious violations” are taking place, including violence and systemic discrimination.
Bennett was previously in the Privy Council Office and has held several roles inside and outside government, including dean at Augustine College in Ottawa and a researcher with the University of Edinburgh’s Institute on Governance where he focused on the process of devolution in Scotland.
Bennett is also a subdeacon and cantor with both the Holy Cross Eastern Catholic Chaplaincy and St. John the Baptist Ukrainian-Catholic Shrine, both of which are in Ottawa.
Speaking in the Aihan Tahir Community Centre at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque, Harper spoke of religious persecution that is both widespread and increasing.
“In Iran, Christians and Bahá’ís face harassment, imprisonment, and, in some cases, death. In Pakistan, Ahmadis, Shiites Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus are vulnerable to persecution and violence.
“In China, Christians who worship outside government-approved boundaries are driven underground and their leaders are arrested and detained while Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners are subjected to repression and intimidation.”
“The list, appallingly, goes on,” he said. “In the face of these injustices and atrocities, Canada will not be silent.”
Harper noted efforts Canada has taken to accept refugees and support religious freedom through international venues like the G-8 and Commonwealth of Nations.
“But we are compelled to do more by the sheer number and gravity of the offences against this fundamental right,” he said.
Harper said the growth of democracy depended heavily on religious pluralism, and that Canada was built by people seeking freedom from tyranny and oppression from around the world.
Canada would not forget those abroad who still suffered, he promised.
“We will use our freedom to plead for yours. And we will not rest until the day you can exercise, fully and without fear, your birthright as members of the human family.”
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