Save the Office of Religious Freedom

Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post

In June 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (now Global Affairs) set up an advisory committee to advise the Office of Religious Freedom and its ambassador, established in 2013. The committee was an expansion of the outreach of the office to various religious traditions – and to non-believers as well – as the membership was widely drawn from across the religious diversity that is found in Canada. Moreover, it was intended to provide the office with additional resources, as many of its members are part of communities with extensive links to countries where religious freedoms are in peril.

Our inaugural meeting was in June and we were scheduled to meet again this winter. However, since the federal election in October, the advisory committee has not been convened. We know from media reports that the status of the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) itself is under review, but have received no information from Global Affairs. Given that the ORF mandate expires at the end of March and no formal announcement on its future has been made, there is much speculation that it will be shut down in a few weeks. We have received no request for our advice. As this is a matter of grave importance, we wish to make our views known publicly.

We firmly believe that the Office of Religious Freedom should be renewed. The foreign policy challenges of the 21st century require our diplomats to know more, not less, about religion and religious freedom. The very positive response from our diplomats to the training offered by the ORF is evidence that they are aware of this need. It is not possible for an effective foreign policy to ignore the critical role of religion, as the Syrian refugee crisis, the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the war in Ukraine make clear, to mention just three pressing issues currently engaging Canadian foreign policy.

Religious persecution, often violent and sometimes lethal, is a growing phenomenon. Canada’s ORF, with a few staff and a small budget, has managed to do admirable work in just three years, not only calling attention to the plight of the afflicted, but also providing practical aid. We note the recent joint letter from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, which aptly summarizes our view.

“Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world are the target of threats, discrimination, state persecution, or violence every day simply on the basis of their religion. While we acknowledge that diverse communities are subject to persecution as a result of multiple factors, the suffering of religious minorities in numerous countries is particularly acute and often qualitatively different from other forms of discrimination.

“The Office of Religious Freedom, under the capable stewardship of Ambassador Andrew Bennett, has proven an effective advocate in highlighting the issue of religious persecution, partnering with Diaspora communities in Canada, and raising our country’s profile as a world leader in human rights promotion on the international stage. Perhaps most importantly, we are grateful that the Office is engaged in a series of on the ground programs and initiatives to alleviate religious persecution in various countries (toward which the majority of the Office’s modest $5 million is allocated). While these projects do not always make headlines, we believe they laudably reflect a practical and effective role Canada can play in mitigating the plight of persecuted religious minorities around the world.”

Christian voices, including the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, join Canadian Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists in recognizing the value of what Canada has begun. To step back from that good start now would be to signal, at precisely the wrong moment, that religious freedom will occupy a diminished place in Canada’s foreign policy. Some of those persecuted overseas will materially suffer from such a decision. And all those who noted with approval the decision Canada took three years ago will question whether our foreign policy will be less animated by the robust defence of religious liberty, which is often a cause and predictor of broader human rights and freedoms.

To heighten our focus on religious liberty when it is particularly threatened no more diminishes the importance of other human rights than fighting against climate change diminishes the importance of working for the development of poor nations. Indeed, it is actually impossible to fight for human rights in general; it is always a particular human right that needs to be defended or advanced. In any case, our foreign service officers are both numerous and talented; they can do more than one thing at a time.

We believe that religious freedom ought to be an issue of multiparty consensus. The Office of Religious Freedom was established by a Conservative government; to have it renewed by a Liberal government would demonstrate that Canada’s commitment to religious freedom is not a matter of partisan politics, but an essential part of a principled foreign policy.

:: National Post

The following co-authors are all members of the External Advisory Committee of the Office of Religious Freedom, of which Fr. de Souza is the chairman: Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., Peter Bhatti, John Gill, Carl Hétu, Pastor Rich Kao, Tsering Tsomo and Christine Williams

Comments Policy
  • BrewstertheRooster

    Canadian Prime Minister has stated that he has no desire to help Christians in the Isis war torn Middle East. Also he kept quiet to the electorate prior to elections that he had converted or become a Muslin and it has been shown that his choice of Parliamentary Secretary has in fact ties with radical elements of Islam. PM Trudeau’s’ actions since taking office prove he is not in the least interested in any religion than Islam and Shariah Law. Department of Defence documents show he plans on housing
    6,000 refugees on 7 Canadian militry bases every six months at a cost of 80 million every six months until he brings in 50,000 refugees. During this time many of our canadian troops wil be booted of the bases and some if not most have already received notice. Sounds to me PM Trudeau plans on arming our Military bases with Muslims.

    • Sylvia

      I have to agree with your assessment of Trudeau’s actions and his motives are becoming quite clear. Why has there been no civil outcry against using military facilities to house and support possible Islamic Muslim Supremists?? Built in bomb shelters would shelter them in the event of disaster. Short of a major earthquake, those shelters would guarantee Muslim survival and let come what may to the rest of us.

      • BrewstertheRooster

        Only the media news source has published bout these refugees in our 7 main eastern Canada Bases, All other Canadian media is silent. Like minded Canadians like you and I are the few who are drumming a relentless beat, of the 10’s of thousands who are aware. What hasn’t occurred in the minds of most Canadians “yet” is just how far is JT willing to go with arming these Muslims when Western Canada starts down the rod of separation. In my opinion he is building his own home grown militia.

        • Sylvia

          You’re probably right. Who among us is even armed any more. I no longer have a shotgun let alone a rifle.
          But it is not past our four western provs. to accise if necessary.

          • BrewstertheRooster

            A shotgun would be like bringing a “knife to a gun fight”. I am a Christian. I know compassionate peoples first instinct is anger when we hear of the brutal atrocities Isis and the like are doing to Christians, and to think this scourge could be upon us in a matter of a few months. “If you live by the swore you shall surly die by the sword”. ” forgive those who spitefully abuse you and forgive them and judge not so that you will not be judge, Let God judge them and cast them into the fire with their god the devil Satin.

  • mamazee

    i don’t understand why churches are not allowed to help their co-religionists? Churches in my town have tried to bring over Syrian Christian refugees, who are, a lot of them, avoiding the refugee camps where there are many Isis sympathizers. The government is forcing churches to instead bring over and support Muslim families. We don’t want to import Muslim violence. We want to help our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Paul Taalman

    The CIJA needs to contact its brothers and sisters working at CBC, CTV, Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star etc. and ask them why the organizations they’re working for aren’t being truthful…I saw a report on the CBC where an Israeli security guard shot a 12 year old Palestinian boy in the legs. What the CBC didn’t show however, is that 30 seconds before that, the video shows that same 12 year old Palestinian boy walking up to an 80 year old Jewish lady walking peacefully on the sidewalk and stabbing her to death. That was the real story but it doesn’t follow the CBC’s narrative. So where are the Jews in those organizations? Why aren’t they demanding truth in news reporting. Hey; if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. Every deviant group in Canadian society today has the right to speak their views (except white Christian males and Jews it would seem) even though they preach hatred and violence – like Wahhabis Imams. Our governments protect their rights to spread hatred and violence while we are not allowed to stand for a FREE and God loving Canada? What is going on in this country and more so, in the Western world?

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