Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom and the appointment of Andrew Bennett as its Ambassador at the Aiwan Tahir Community Centre in Maple, Ontario February 19, 2013.
Credits: REUTERS/JOHN BLACKER
OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says the federal government's move to introduce an Office of Religious Freedom reflects a serious reality - that there is a "growing wave of persecution against people on the basis of faith."
Kenney joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Toronto-area mosque Tuesday to unveil the long-awaited office, which has been 22 months in the making.
It was also revealed that Dr. Andrew Bennett, a professor at Ottawa's Augustine College, will lead the office.
"We need to be a strong champion of human dignity, freedom of conscience and part of that is freedom of religion including for people who chose to have no faith," Kenney told reporters in Toronto on Monday.
"It is about defending the right of people to believe what they choose to."
Kenney also dismissed critics who suggested the office will infuse a religious focus on foreign policy.
Ottawa has yet to name who will lead the office, but NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar and other critics have raised concerns about finding an appropriate person.
"If you appoint someone from any particular faith by design, it's going to be a bit of a controversy," Dewar said Friday outside the Commons. "We said there's nothing wrong with the promotion of religious freedom, but it should be done in the context of human rights in general."
Liberal MP and leadership hopeful Joyce Murray introduced a new platform on Monday to suggest she would cancel the office.
Murray argues the government should instead focus on re-engaging "multilaterally in the world with an emphasis on democracy-building."