Conservatives would create Office of Religious Freedom
Reference: National Post
|Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen glaze hot cross buns during a campaign stop at a bakery in Mississauga, Ontario April 23, 2011.|
By Mark Kennedy
MISSISSAUGA, Ont -- Canada will put the spotlight on religious persecution in the world through a new Office of Religious Freedom if voters re-elect a Conservative government, Tory leader Stephen Harper pledged Saturday.
Harper said the new office, to cost $5 million annually, would be located within the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
Harper said its task would be threefold:
• Monitor religious freedom around the world;
• Promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy;
• Advance policies and programs that support religious freedom around the world.
The pledge was first revealed in the Conservatives' platform released earlier in the campaign, and Harper chose to put the focus on the promise during a campaign stop Saturday at the Canadian Coptic Centre. Coptic Christians face persecution, including killings, elsewhere in the world and Harper said Canada stands by them to support their freedom.
Harper was surrounded by party supporters, including several Tory candidates from the area. Also in attendance were people who had come to Canada seeking religious freedom.
Harper praised those who had come to Canada fleeing religious persecution, some of whom had been tortured.
"Canada is fortunate to have men and women of such courage as you," he said.
"The spirit that you have shown in standing up for freedom in your own lives should inspire all Canadians."
Harper said Canada is a society where freedom of conscience does not lead to the threat of persecution or violence.
Still, he said Canadians must not forget how others are persecuted throughout the world.
"While we are thankful to live in a country that spares us such tests, we must not let our comfort be an excuse to shirk our commitment to the cause of freedom."
Harper paid tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister of minorities, who was shot to death earlier this year. He had been a strong defender of religious freedom and had visited Harper in Ottawa shortly before his death in his homeland.
Harper called him a champion of freedom and told the crowd that Bhatti had asked Canada "to shine a light on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan and around the world."
Harper said the new Office of Religious Freedom will "call attention to the religiously persecuted and condemn the persecutors."
"It will signal to religious minorities everywhere that they have a friend in Canada."