On religious freedom, Canada dithers while our allies lead


National Post, 11 July 2018

Britain and the U.S. are ramping up their attention to religious freedom while the Canadian government seems to have lost interest

There is a lot of news out of London this week. Donald Trump is visiting Theresa May, who may or may not be in her final days as prime minister. And, yes, the World Cup captured the attention of a nation that has been waiting for success longer even than the Toronto Maple Leafs. (The Leafs’ last Stanley Cup was in 1967; England last won the World Cup in 1966.)

Lost in all of that was the news that the United Kingdom has appointed a Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The new envoy is Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations. He also carries a brief for combatting sexual violence in war. Lord Ahmad is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, a group that knows firsthand religious persecution.

Ahmad has worked on religious-freedom issues for some time and, given his cabinet rank and responsibility for the UN and Commonwealth files, will be able to ensure a high priority for religious freedom in British diplomacy.

The contrast with Canada is striking.

In 2013, the Harper government established an Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) in the foreign affairs department, with a $5-million budget for practical program funding abroad, and a mandate to raise the profile of religious liberty across the gamut of Canadian diplomacy.

A volunteer interfaith advisory committee of religious leaders from across Canada was established to assist the new ORF. I was appointed its chairman in 2015.

The new Trudeau government was cool to the ORF. With the prime minister’s lack of interest in religious freedom, both at home and abroad, and the hapless quality of his first Global Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, the ORF languished for a few months before being killed off entirely in March 2016.

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