Conservative government to announce long-delayed Office of Religious Freedom Tuesday

Published: February 19, 2013

MIKE BLANCHFIELD  
THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ahmadiyya Muslims

A Pakistani Ahmadi man prays at a graveyard in this file photo. Ahmadiyya Muslims have regularly faced persecution over the years and are an example of a group Canada would want to protect with its new Office of Religious Freedom, set to open Feb. 19, 2013. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

OTTAWA — The Harper government is planning to announce its long-awaited Office of Religious Freedom in an event at a Toronto-area mosque next Tuesday.

The announcement — which the government refused to acknowledge Friday — comes 22 months after the Tories first promised to create a modest, religious freedom branch within the Foreign Affairs Department.

The pledge was unveiled in the Conservative campaign platform during the last federal election, but Foreign Affairs has been unable to find a commissioner to take the job.

Human rights groups and opposition critics have said the office is a misguided attempt to inject religion into foreign policy.

They also question what exactly the new office can accomplish with a modest $5-million budget.

However, a spokesman for a major Jewish organization invited to Tuesday’s event said the fact the Harper government is holding it at a mosque shows its commitment to persecuted religious minorities the world over.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community centre and mosque, a complex in Vaughan, Ont., has been selected as the venue.

Len Rudner, spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the location makes an elegant statement about the Conservatives’ commitment to shining a light on religious persecution through its new office.

“The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a very important community, and frankly it is a community that has known its fair share of persecution as well,” said Rudner, who has received an invitation to Tuesday’s event.

“It’s very commendable that the government looks for opportunities, not only in terms of the words that it speaks, but also the place where it plants its feet to show it is serious about religious freedom for all faiths and all communities.”

Rudner said he’s excited about hearing more details about the new office.

He called it a worthy initiative that will help expose abuse suffered by religious minorities in all corners of the globe.

“There is a real need for people in the world to speak out in support of religious freedom and speak out in support of those who are denied that freedom in countries around the world,” said Rudner.

“It’s good for the Jewish community worldwide, but I think it’s good for all religions.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird won’t be on hand for the announcement because he’ll be in the middle of a six-country Latin American trip.

But his cabinet counterpart, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, is expected to attend because the mosque is in his riding.

Baird has been involved in many high-level meetings with religious figures over the last 18 months.

His consultations have taken him to the Holy See in Rome, the Aga Khan, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey and the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

The Tories have pointed to the fact that the U.S. State Department’s religious freedom office was created in the late 1990s under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.

In an interview with The Canadian Press last year, Baird cited persecution of Baha’i practitioners in Iran, Coptic Christians killed in Egypt and Roman Catholic priests who have been forced underground in China.

A 2011 briefing note to Baird, obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information, laid out three priority areas for the new office: protecting, and advocating on behalf of, religious minorities under threat; opposing religious hatred and intolerance; promoting the Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

Government sources said the Conservatives had a hard time finding someone to lead the office. Its modest $5-million price tag includes $500,000 for operations.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Friday he’s curious to see who runs the office, and what their religion is.

“If you appoint someone from any particular faith by design, it’s going to be a bit of a controversy, because you know, why not another religion? … We warned them about this,” Dewar said.

“We said there’s nothing wrong with the promotion of religious freedom, but it should be done in the context of human rights in general.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes after many fits and starts that saw government officials touting the imminent creation of the office over the course of the last year.

But the plans for the announcement were well under way with invitations sent out to a select group of people.

Toronto Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis wasn’t on the invite list, but he told The Canadian Press that senior officials of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community centre told him they were ready to host the event.

“The Conservatives probably wanted to have a tight ship,” Karygiannis said Friday.

Karygiannis said the Conservatives took too long to set up the office. He said the government’s main motivation in setting it up was to win votes in key Toronto-area ridings during the last federal election.

The Conservatives have maintained that the seed of the idea came after Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shabhaz Bhatti, shortly before he was shot to death by extremists in Islamabad in 2011. The extremists accused Bhatti, a Christian, of violating Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

Bhatti’s brother, Peter, has been invited to Tuesday’s event, according to a report in the weekly publication, Embassy.

“I am very excited,” Bhatti said in the report. “His sacrifice in not going to be in vain.”

16:48ET 15-02-13

[+]

Tags: , , , ,





Featured

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered as ‘one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

A man reads the latest issue of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo bearing a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed at a French bookseller in Abidjan on January 19, 2015. SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Mumbai police arrest newspaper editor for reprinting Charlie Hebdo cartoon

VANCOUVER DESI Mumbai police have arrested and since bailed out the editor of an Urdu language newspaper for reprinting a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the…
Continue Reading »

Indian spectators watch as a float carrying a sign that reads "Congratulations! It's a Baby Girl" passes by during the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. The float represented India's Ministry of Women and Child Development.  An estimated 26 million babies are born anually in India, a country considered to be one of the worst places to be born a girl because of a societal 'gender gap' that favours boys and preferences for male children. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Father in India arrested for attempted murder after trying to bury his daughter alive

VANCOUVER DESI A father in India has been arrested for attempted murder after he tried to bury his 10-year-old daughter alive, according to Britain’s Daily…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered as ‘one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

Opposition Muted to Harper’s New Anti Terror Bill

BY Ujjal Dosanjh Special to Vancouver Province I smell an election coming. Not in October 2015; much sooner than that. Harper has just unveiled the…
Continue Reading »

Opposition parties treading carefully on new anti-terror legislation

By Stephanie Levitz THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — Anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the Conservative government Friday received a cautious reception by the opposition parties who…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Vancouver-BC

Raise your hand, send us a selfie and make a statement against racism (with video)

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi’s digital anti-racism campaign, Raise Your Hands Against Racism, officially kicked off Thursday, with people across the Lower Mainland sending in selfies…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Curry chicken on rice. Sam Leung/PNG

Spicy treats on menu as 8 chef teams battle for Vancouver’s second-annual Curry Cup

VANCOUVER DESI A group of Lower Mainland chefs are set to go head-to-head with their South Asian cooking skills as they gear up for Vancouver’s…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sonu Sood and Boman Irani in a still from the Bollywood film Happy New Year.

Indian expat avoids stalking conviction by blaming Bollywood for his behaviour

IANS Sydney  – An Indian man’s excuse that Bollywood love stories encouraged him to excessively approach and stalk women helped him avoid conviction in the…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Commuters hang by doors of a crowded local train in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Three men were killed on Monday after they attempted to take a selfie by a moving train near Agra. AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

College students killed while attempting train selfie in India

VANCOUVER DESI Three college friends on their way to India’s Republic Day celebrations were killed by a speeding train after they tried posing for a…
Continue Reading »

Screen shot of Shah Rukh Khan's first video tweet. Submitted.

Shah Rukh Khan sends out India’s first tweet using Twitter’s new mobile video camera

VANCOUVER DESI Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was the first-ever Indian to use Twitter’s freshly launched mobile video camera. Twitter announced the new feature on…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Akshay Kumar

Askhay Kumar offers martial arts training to visually impaired girls

PRASHANT SINGH HINDUSTAN TIMES Last year, Akshay Kumar — who was a professional martial arts trainer before he started acting — launched an initiative to…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan (L) and Kajol (R) are rumoured to be appearing in the next Rohit Shetty film. Getty Images.

Rohit Shetty tightlipped on SRK, Kajol casting rumours

IANS Mumbai — Bollywood’s blockbuster director Rohit Shetty is remaining tightlipped on rumours he’s managed to rope in a casting coup of Shah Rukh Khan…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood sex

Sonam Kapoor never planned to use her father’s fame to jumpstart her Bollywood career

IANS Mumbai  – It’s always thought that Bollywood’s star children have it easy, but actress Sonam Kapoor says that at the start of her film…
Continue Reading »