David Anderson has served the Saskatchewan riding of Cypress Hills-Grasslands since 2000. He announced this month that he won’t be seeking a seventh term in Parliament. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

David Anderson steps down from federal politics after carrying religious freedom torch

  • March 25, 2019

OTTAWA – David Anderson had been a popular Conservative MP in Saskatchewan for more than a decade when an assassination half a world away inspired him to pick up the torch for religious freedom.

Anderson, 61, who has represented the Saskatchewan riding of Cypress Hills-Grasslands since 2000, has announced he will not be running in October’s federal election.

Anderson said he was inspired to make religious freedom his focus after the 2011 assassination of Pakistan Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Christian to serve as a cabinet minister in the Pakistani government. Anderson had met Bhatti when he visited Ottawa, just weeks before armed gunmen assassinated the Catholic politician in Pakistan for his stance against his country’s blasphemy laws.

“I was looking for something relevant to faith issues,” said Anderson, who is an evangelical Christian, noting he was inspired by “people like (former MP) Joy Smith doing a great job on human trafficking.”

“There wasn’t a focus in the Canadian Parliament at all on religious freedom,” he said.

Bhatti’s commitment to religious freedom, despite knowing he was risking his life, inspired Anderson to ask himself if there is “something I can do to participate, to help” in furthering the cause.

“Without David’s leadership, we would not have today in Parliament such a robust group of MPs dedicated to the cause of religious freedom around the world,” said former Ambassador of Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett, who now heads the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute.

“Through David’s unique diplomacy, his passion, his ability to engage across partisan lines, he demonstrated that religious freedom is not an ideological issue but a human issue.” 

Anderson launched the Annual Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom in 2012 that brought in guest speakers, drew MPs and Senators from all parties, and a public audience for discussion. After seven forums, it will now be up to other MPs to carry on the event. 

In 2014, he was involved in the development of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief that now has hundreds of parliamentarians from around the world actively involved in fighting religious persecution and promoting freedom.

Anderson also wrote a religious freedom motion that his colleague Conservative MP Bev Shipley introduced to the House of Commons in 2012.

Motion M-382, passed unanimously by the House of Commons, said the government should “continue to recognize as part of Canadian foreign policy” the right to “freedom of religion and conscience, including the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to manifest religion or belief in teaching, worship, practice and observance.”

The motion also called on the foreign affairs minister to denounce violations of religious freedom in the world and called on Canada’s commitment to the creation of an Office of Religious Freedom to promote the protection of the rights of religious minorities globally.

Anderson credited former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney for being the driving force behind the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom that named Bennett as Ambassador of Religious Freedom. Bennett served from 2013 to 2016 when the new Liberal government folded the ORF into a foreign affairs body focusing more generally on human rights.

Bennett created the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief that still exists, Anderson said.

“I think we’re in good hands in the Canadian Parliament,” he said. “Certainly it’s been a great privilege for me to be part of the process.

“It’s gotten to be such an important issue that had been ignored for so long,” he said.

Anderson said he and his wife Sheila had a discussion on whether they had the energy for another campaign, describing the toll serving in the House of Commons takes on family life. 

Travelling to his riding can take 24 hours a week in order to spend time at home.

“We have some little people in our lives, some grandchildren we want to spend some time with,” said Anderson, who serves in the Conservative Opposition’s shadow cabinet as the secretary for human rights and religious freedom. 

“That’s one of the main things. We don’t have anything specific. Nobody’s come to us with any great offers and opportunities, but we’re trusting God will give us some direction when the time comes.”

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