Canada's Office of Religious Freedom

Vaughan, Ontario
19 February 2013

In 2011’s Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to promoting religious freedom and speaking out on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities abroad. To this end, on February 19, 2013, Prime Minister Harper announced the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and announced the appointment of Dr. Andrew Bennett as Ambassador to the Office.

The Office of Religious Freedom will promote freedom of religion and belief, consistent with core Canadian values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. 

The Office – which is now operational – will build on Canada’s proud tradition of defending fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and promoting respect for religious pluralism as an inextricable cornerstone of democratic development. It will focus on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to: protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat; opposing religious hatred and intolerance; and, promoting Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad. 

The Office – which will be operated by a team of five full-time employees, including Ambassador Bennett – will have an annual budget of $5 million. It will support programming aimed at raising greater awareness of threats to religious freedom and by promoting pluralism. 

In addition to leading the Office of Religious Freedom, the Ambassador will undertake broad outreach, speaking publicly both domestically and abroad, to raise awareness of religious freedom and call attention to its violations. 

The establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom was a commitment in the Speech from the Throne from June 3, 2011. 

Canada’s Efforts to Defend Religious Freedom Abroad

Canada has been a strong and committed supporter of the individual’s right to freedom of religion and conscience. The Government of Canada has taken measures to defend these rights around the world, and will continue to work with its international partners to this end. 

Some of Canada’s efforts include: 

  • Rallying support for religious freedom among leaders of the G-8 and the Commonwealth;
  • Successfully pushing for the inclusion of a reference to the right of worship in safety and security in the G-8 Deauville Summit declaration;
  • Providing a refuge in Canada to approximately 20,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Chaldea Catholics, driven from their homeland under threat of death;
  • Consistently condemning attacks on people in religious places, including the shocking attacks on Muslim worshippers in the Nigerian village of Dogo Dawa, the killing and injuring of those worshipping Eid al-Adha in a mosque in northern Afghanistan, and the attack outside two mosques in Hangu, Pakistan, this month which killed at least 20 while injuring several more;
  • Speaking out against the discrimination by the Burmese regime towards Buddhists and Muslims;
  • Co-sponsoring the European Union-led United Nations Human Rights Council and United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the elimination of religious intolerance;
  • Co-sponsoring a high level event entitled “Freedom of Religion or Belief: an Individual’s Choice” with the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and Senegal, on the margins of the September 2012 United Nations General Assembly;
  • The Canadian High Commission in London co-hosting, in December 2012, a meeting with the United Kingdom and the Wilton Park organization which examined best practices in combating intolerance and promoting freedom of religion;
  • Creating an award, the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award, to recognize individuals or groups who show exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom;
  •  Collaborating with our network of missions abroad and with key partners to deliver programming to further our efforts to promote freedom of religion;
  • The participation by Minister Baird in an international meeting on freedom of religion or belief in London on January 22, 2013.