Canada to unveil religious freedom office next week
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will unveil the governments Office of Religious Freedom and name Canadas first religious freedom ambassador at a Toronto-area Ahmadiyya Muslim community center on Tuesday. The announcement will fulfil a two-year-old pledge that has generated its fair share of controversy since it was first proposed during the 2011 federal election.
The government has pointed to a growing body of information linking religious freedom with democratic rights and societal well-being to justify making the safeguarding of religious minorities abroad an important tenet of Canadian foreign policy. But critics have worried about the government picking and choosing which religions the $20-million office defends, and using the institution as a tool for domestic political advantage.
The fact the office has taken so long to take shape, and that the details remain largely unknown, provides some reason to temper expectations. Gerald Filson of the Bahai Community of Canada said, We will have to see what happens with the office and what the mandate is. We havent seen the mandate and we dont know who the ambassador is.
The ambassadors identity could indicate how the Harper government sees the office functioning, which may explain reports it had a hard time finding someone to take the position. Filson said, Its probably a difficult appointment, a delicate appointment. Anything to do with religion is delicate. Its a very tough appointment.
Similarly, it remains unclear exactly what the office will do, or how it will fit into Canadas dealings with the rest of the world. Kathryn White, executive director of the United Nations Association of Canada said, The potential (for the office) is great. But there remain lots of potential pitfalls in terms of how the office actually conducts its mandate.
The Conservative government plans to spend $5 million a year on the initiative over the next four years. Documents show $500,000 will go to the office; where the rest will go is unclear.
Posted by: ryuge 2013-02-16