Harper fulfills Tory election promise by creating Office of Religious Freedom

Source: National Post

Prime Minister Stephen Harper names Dr. Andrew Bennett as ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom during an event at a mosque in Maple, Ont., north of Toronto, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

OTTAWA — Canada has established an Office of Religious Freedom — to be headed by a public servant lauded for his “deep convictions” — to promote freedom of religion around the world.

The announcement, which stems from a Conservative election promise nearly two years ago, was made Tuesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a mosque, in Vaughn, Ont.

Harper announced that the office, located within the department of Foreign Affairs, will be headed by an “ambassador” — Andrew Bennett.

Bennett has worked for various federal departments and agencies, including the powerful Privy Council Office.

The government said Tuesday Bennett has extensive educational background in history, political science and religious studies.

As well, he is active as a religious leader in Ottawa, as Subdeacon and Cantor with both the Holy Cross Eastern Catholic Chaplaincy and St. John the Baptist Ukrainian-Catholic Shrine.

“Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread and they are increasing,” Harper said in a statement.

“Dr. Bennett is a man of principle and deep convictions and he will encourage the protection of religious minorities around the world so all can practice their faith without fear of violence and repression.”

The office – which will be staffed by five employees, including Bennett – will have an annual budget of $5 million.

The government said the new office, which is now “operational,” will promote freedom of religion or belief as a Canadian foreign policy priority.

“The Office will be an important vehicle through which Canada can advance fundamental Canadian values including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide,” said a background document released by the government.

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Categories: Canada

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