I’m grateful to be a citizen in a country where my human rights are respected, including the right and privilege to practice my Christian faith in the way I believe best.
Not everyone around the world has that freedom. In certain religious hot spots, life is excruciatingly difficult for some faith communities. Depending on where they live, members of the Bahá’í, Christian, Bhuddist and Muslim faiths – and many other religious minorities, are discriminated against, imprisoned and often killed simply because of their religion.
Not only are members of such religious groups made victims. Those defending their rights are also targeted. On March 2, 2011, Pakistan's Minister of Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for defending religious groups such as Christians, whom he had observed were targeted by the country's blasphemy law. He would not be the only person to lose his life in defence of a religious minority in Pakistan. Those sorry facts – and what Canada can contribute to help change them – are being debated in a new government office in Ottawa – not a copper-roofed building or glass-sided skyscraper, but a group of individuals with a vital mission called the Office of Religious Freedom.
The Office, created to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief, is a result of a pledge made to Canadians during our spring election campaign. Since then, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and some of his fellow cabinet ministers and staff have met with Canadian and global religious representatives to discover how best to keep our pledge to do what we can to protect religious minorities.
Canada has been outspoken in decrying violations of freedom around the world, and the government believes that defending religious freedom is a crucial issue.
Minister Baird explains why: “Societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms. They are typically more stable and more prosperous societies. This view has been reinforced in consultations I’ve had around the world so far.”
Along with the Minister, I believe it is critically important that Canada does everything possible to protect and promote religious freedom around the world. It is our common duty to defend the rights of the afflicted, and to give voice to the voiceless – no matter their faith, or their country. This new Office of Religious Freedom gives us a vehicle to do so.
No matter how unpopular or inconvenient, I’m pleased to be part of a government that is willing to be known on the global stage for doing the right thing: for standing for justice and high principles.