Canada’s new Liberal government decided the country no longer needs an office dedicated to religious freedom, allowing it to expire on Thursday.
“We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom,” Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told me. “This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time.”
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper advocated for an office dedicated to international religious freedom, finally opening it in February 2013. But newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly shut the door on the operation. Trudeau’s administration vows to take a broader approach to global issues of human rights—devaluing a focus specifically on religious freedom.
With a budget of $5 million and only a handful of employees, Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom was able to have a hand in various efforts in countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan. It focused on promoting religious tolerance through education and helping religious minorities under threat in hostile areas.
“That office was punching above its weight,” said Phil Horgan, president of Canada’s Catholic Civil Rights League. “The decision by the Liberals to effectively shut it down in favor of, well, nothing, is rather disappointing.”
Trudeau’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion, said on Tuesday that closing the office does not mean Canada doesn’t care about religious freedom. He said the Liberals will continue to defend all human rights, including the freedom of religion and belief, “tooth and nail,” but did not mention any new initiatives.
Harper originally dedicated the office to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani politician who stood up to Muslims on behalf of Christians and Hindus in his country. In 2011, militants assassinated Bhatti in Pakistan shortly after returning from a visit to Canada.
Click here for more.
SOURCE: WORLD Mag