Religious freedom office unveiling expected next week

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces his plans for a religious freedom office at Trinity Hall, Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga on April 23, 2011.



OTTAWA - The Conservative government is expected to unveil its long-awaited office of religious freedom - and its ambassador - next Tuesday.

A raft of invitations went out last week to religious groups across Canada for an event at an Ahmadiyya Muslim - an often-persecuted Muslim minority sect - community centre in suburban Toronto.

The office was first promised during the 2011 election campaign.

Despite meeting with numerous religious stakeholders, the department struggled to nail down the details of the $5-million project meant to promote human rights and encourage protection of religious minorities worldwide.

Now it appears it's a go.

On Friday, the Ahmadiyya Muslim organization referred all media questions on the event to the feds, but earlier in the week its national spokesman told Embassy newspaper: "It's a whole announcement of the office of religious freedom."

Don Hutchinson, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship Canada, said he was invited and expects the ambassador to be introduced.

"We're hopeful whoever is appointed would be someone well known and accepted in the community of individuals and organizations in Canada that engage on religious freedom as an international concern," he said.

International Christian Voice's Peter Bhatti, whose older brother Shahbaz Bhatti was a former Pakistani minorities minister assassinated in that country in 2011, also received an invitation.

"This is a big event," he said. "Definitely we'll go."

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office wasn't confirming the announcement.

"I have nothing to announce at this time," said spokesman Rick Roth.

In January, the government said the office was slated to open in early 2013.

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