Today Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom. The office will be headed by a public servant lauded for his “deep convictions” — to promote freedom of religion around the world.
Speaking at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Centre in Toronto Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:
“Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread and they are increasing,”
“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 practise their faith without fear of violence and repression.”
Harper first promised the new branch of the Foreign Affairs Department during the last federal election campaign.
Andrew Bennett, 40, is a former federal bureaucrat and a Ukrainian Catholic sub-deacon. He is also the dean of Augustine College, a Christian liberal arts college in Ottawa. Bennett has a PhD in politics from the University of Edinburgh and a master of arts in history from McGill University in Montreal.
Before his appointment at Augustine College, Bennett was a government bureaucrat, working for the deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs. He later worked at the Export Development Corporation, and at the Privy Council Office.
Speaking to a group representing various religions, Harper told the story of meeting Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian cabinet minister from Pakistan whom the prime minister described as someone who took great risks to defend persecuted religious minorities in his country, including his fellow Christians. Three weeks after that meeting, Bhatti was assassinated in Islamabad, Harper said. A militant Islamist group took responsibility for his killing.
Harper said that Canada is “a very different country.” He added, “Obviously, one of the reasons we’re holding this event here today and being hosted by the Ahmadiya Muslim community is to make it very clear that this is not an office to promote a particular religion, this is an office to promote religious diversity and religious tolerance around the world.”
“Our Government is dedicated to promoting the freedom and prosperity of the people it serves,” added the Prime Minister. We will work with other countries and all people of goodwill, to promote the principles we share.“
At Tuesday’s announcement at the mosque in Vaughn, Harper was accompanied by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino.