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

crime-British Columbia

Three arrested after Surrey RCMP-involved shooting in Newton

AMY REID SURREY NOW NEWTON — Three people are in custody following a police-involved shooting in Newton Friday afternoon. Shortly after noon, plainclothes officers attempted to…
Continue Reading »

Immigrant-language test

Woman loses Canadian citizenship for failing language, knowledge tests after it was granted in error

ADRIAN HUMPHREYS POSTMEDIA NEWS A would-be Canadian who received a grade of zero out of six on her citizenship language test and four out of…
Continue Reading »

India-Kashmir-Obama

Pakistani PM Sharif asks Obama to play role for resolution of Kashmir issue

MUNIR AHMED THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ISLAMABAD — Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday asked the U.S. President Barack Obama to play a role in…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

crime-British Columbia

Three arrested after Surrey RCMP-involved shooting in Newton

AMY REID SURREY NOW NEWTON — Three people are in custody following a police-involved shooting in Newton Friday afternoon. Shortly after noon, plainclothes officers attempted to…
Continue Reading »

Whitecaps2

Spice Sports: Whitecaps announce new USL PRO team!

GOPI AND THE GORA FOR VANCOUVER DESI An exciting announcement was made this morning at UBC’s Gerald McGavin Rugby Centre. Soccer fans in Vancouver will…
Continue Reading »

Immigrant-language test

Woman loses Canadian citizenship for failing language, knowledge tests after it was granted in error

ADRIAN HUMPHREYS POSTMEDIA NEWS A would-be Canadian who received a grade of zero out of six on her citizenship language test and four out of…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

desi bride loaded in gold

Indian bride draws flak for wearing $700,000 jewellery at her wedding

CEN AGENCY An Indian sweet maker made sure his daughter was the golden girl at her upcoming wedding by covering her in gold jewellery worth…
Continue Reading »

India

Video: Bear mauls Indian farmer to death, injures second man (Warning: Graphic Content)

VANCOUVER DESI An Indian farmer was mauled to death and another left seriously injured after a terrifying and unusual bear attack in Karnataka on Monday,…
Continue Reading »

Spiderman

Video: India’s real-life Spiderman scales buildings with bare hands

VANCOUVER DESI A 27-year-old man in India who is nicknamed the “real-life Spiderman” has become one of Karnataka’s leading tourist attractions for his ability to effortlessly…
Continue Reading »

desi victim

Victim of ski accident to open spinal-cord recovery centre in Richmond (w/video)

NICK EAGLAND VANCOUVER DESI Dhruv Kapoor realized he was in deep trouble as he barrelled down a ski run in Russell, Man., on an icy…
Continue Reading »

op-ed

Aziza Sindhu: How do you grieve for a tyrant father?

AZIZA SINDHU CALGARY HERALD My father, Salim M. Sindhu, passed away on Nov. 10. As a child, I wished he smiled at me, as a…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Bollywood

Aamir Khan and Deepika Padukone the next hit Bollywood couple?

HINDUSTAN TIMES Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Deepika Padukone are known to deliver hits on their shoulders alone. Now, audiences may be in for a…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood sex video

I can’t take nonsense: Sonakshi Sinha on why she lashed out at KRK on Twitter (w/gallery)

HINDUSTAN TIMES Some Bollywood stars tend to be diplomatic about controversies, and choose not to react. Sonakshi Sinha isn’t one of them. Last month, she…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood wedding reception

Photos: Khan-tastic wedding reception for Salman’s sister Arpita

VANCOUVER DESI While celebrities have reached the wedding reception for Salman Khans sister Arpita and businessman Aayush Sharma to wish them their best, photos have…
Continue Reading »