Liberals’ replacement for Office of Religious Freedom will promote broader range of rights | National Post

Less new than meets the eye and unclear regarding resources(there was an existing Human Rights Division with 14 people) so it may be more repackaging and reorientation:

The Liberals have unveiled a long-awaited replacement for the Office of Religious Freedom, which will now include championing the rights of indigenous peoples abroad.

Canada has a “duty” to speak up for and help indigenous peoples around the world who may be struggling for their rights, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in an exclusive interview to mark the launch of the new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion on Tuesday.

“If we are improving, as we hope, the situation of indigenous people in Canada, we have the duty to try to do the same around the world,” Dion said from Vienna. “The situation of indigenous people around the world is worrying. There is a lot of room for improvement, to say the least.”

The emphasis on indigenous rights creates a potential conflict with Canada’s commercial interests, especially in Latin America and Southeast Asia where local populations have opposed Canadian mining operations. But Dion said he believed most Canadian mining companies would welcome the new approach.

“I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of the mining industry of Canada will welcome this focus and will say it’s exactly what they want,” he said. “In order to do good business, you have to have the support of the populations. … So they will be willing to work with this office, I’m sure.”

The new office effectively replaces the Office of Religious Freedom, which the Conservatives established in 2013. Representatives from some faith groups had urged the Liberals to keep the religious freedom office open but the government let its funding expire in March.

Dion described the new office as a “pooling” of the former Office of Religious Freedom’s resources with Global Affairs Canada’s work on human rights promotion. He said the new office will have a budget of $15 million — three times that of the religious freedom office.

Dion said it was a “mistake” to “isolate” freedom of religion from Canada’s broader human rights efforts. The new office’s mandate will include promoting religious freedom, and an official will be in charge of interacting with faith groups and other stakeholders. But the work will fall under the broader rubric of inclusion.

“Inclusion is not only the freedom of religion,” Dion said. “It could be sexual exclusion. It may be political exclusion. So inclusion includes freedom of religion with other aspects of our society. Pluralism. Rights of women. Rights of refugees.”

Source: Liberals’ replacement for Office of Religious Freedom will promote broader range of rights | National Post

Liberals to let religious freedom office expire on March 31

Expected:

Mr. Dion confirmed the office’s closure at a global affairs conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

“Our government shares the same conviction as the previous government, but it assesses the consequences of its chosen method of promoting this conviction differently. I am referring to freedom of religion or belief, which we will defend tooth and nail, but not through the office that the Harper government specifically set up for this purpose,” said Mr. Dion during a speech at the University of Ottawa.

The Liberals have previously indicated their intention to close the office. The office’s mandate expires March 31.

Last week, the Conservatives tabled a motion in the House of Commons to renew the mandate of the Office of Religious Freedom. The Liberals voted against the motion and it was defeated 225 to 90.

Prior to the motion, Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett, who was appointed by the Conservatives in 2013, accepted a position as a senior fellow at Cardus, a leading Christian think tank. He will also serve as chair of the think tank’s Faith in Canada 150 program while he completes his term at Global Affairs Canada. His new position is voluntary and unpaid with support of Global Affairs Canada.

Mr. Bennett’s three-year term was originally set to end in February, but the Liberals extended it to March 31 to coincide with the expiration of the office’s mandate and $5-million in annual funding. While Mr. Bennett’s future at Global Affairs Canada is unclear, the minister’s office has applauded his work as ambassador.

The Conservatives first promised to create an Office of Religious Freedom during the 2011 election campaign. The office’s mandate is to “speak out and to protect and promote religious freedom around the world.”

While the Conservative initiative was criticized for mixing politics and religion, certain religious groups supported it. In a letter to Mr. Dion in January, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim organizations asked the Liberal government not to scrap the office.

On Tuesday, Mr. Dion reiterated the government’s thinking in determining how to best defend various rights.

“We believe that human rights are better defended when they are considered, universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, as set out in the Vienna Declaration,” said Mr. Dion.

The remaining question is the degree to which future projects focused on religious freedom  will be funded within existing Global Affairs program funds. I expect not absent any declaration to the contrary.

Source: Liberals to let religious freedom office expire on March 31 – The Globe and Mail