(Staff) THE OFFICE of Religious Freedom was closed by the Liberal government on March 31st despite a last-minute Tory motion to extend its mandate. The Office had been established by Conservative Prime Minster Stephen Harper in 2013 to monitor religious oppression and protect freedom of religion internationally.
Harper reported that Chinese diplomats were upset that he had “singled out religious persecution in China” during his announcement of the establishment of the office.
Critics feared the Office would focus primarily on minority Christian groups, since it was inspired by the death of Christian activist Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan. Yet Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim groups in Canada praised the work of the Office.
Andrew Bennett, who had worked previously as a Catholic college dean and a civil servant, served as its first ambassador and managed its $5million budget.
In a 2013 Globe and Mail article, Bennett was quoted saying, “Freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have a particular religious faith…” But he continued, “The vast majority of people being persecuted are people of faith. They are the ones that are being killed. They are the ones that are facing legislative and regulatory restrictions.”
On March 21st a Tory motion to renew the mandate of the Office was voted down 226 to 90, with the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green party leader Elizabeth May joining the Liberals in opposing the move.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion insisted the Liberal government remains committed to strengthening and enhancing Canada’s fight for religious freedom, but within the context of its broader foreign policy.TAP
Article originally appeared on The Anglican Planet (http://anglicanplanet.net/).
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