New religious-freedom watchdog faces uphill battle
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jun. 07 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
Last updated Friday, Jun. 07 2013, 6:12 AM EDT
After he was released from more than a week of detention by Sri Lankan police last month, Muslim leader Azath Salley personally telephoned Ottawa’s High Commission in Colombo to thank Canada for condemning his arrest.
It was an unusually quick success for Andrew Bennett, the Harper government’s newly minted Ambassador of Religious Freedom, whose denunciation of the imprisonment a day after the arrest made Canada one of the first countries to speak out publicly in defence of Mr. Salley’s rights.
Already, China, a key trading partner, has registered concern about the office. Mr. Bennett said he seeks a constructive dialogue with Beijing, but he doesn’t think Zhang Junsai, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, was pleased to learn he plans to meet with critics such as Tibetan Buddhists.
Taped to Mr. Bennett’s office computer monitor at the Department of Foreign Affairs are the pictures of two Syrian Christian archbishops, abducted from Aleppo in April – another reminder of what’s at stake in his role as a defender of religious minorities around the globe.
A Ukrainian Catholic, the 40-year-old said he’s still considering whether to become a priest someday. He spent six months at a seminary in Ottawa several years ago, before deciding he would return to the public service.