Calls made to re-open Canadian Office of Religious Freedom

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  • March 10, 2021

OTTAWA -- Conservative MPs are calling on the federal government to re-open an office advocating for religious freedom around the globe, 10 years after a Pakistani politician was murdered for speaking in favour or religious freedom around the world.

Conservative MPs Garnett Genuis and Candice Bergen have both called on the federal government to re-open the Office of Religious Freedom, a short-lived office created by the previous Stephen Harper government that was shuttered and replaced by a more general human rights office by the Liberals in 2016.

Genuis said during a March 3 video prepared for the Religious Freedom Institute that Pakistani politician Shahbaz Bhatti’s legacy is a shining example of someone who lived by his principles and sacrificed his life for the good of others by insisting that religious freedom and religious minority rights are fundamental core values that must be protected.

“As a politician, I often reflect on the legacy of Shahbaz and others for the example they set of being willing to sacrifice for fundamental principles in defense of human dignity, pluralism and human rights,” Genuis said, adding it was a visit by Bhatti to Canada that was one of the inspirations for the Office of Religious Freedom.

Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, was murdered on March 2, 2011, after numerous threats had been made on his life for his support of Pakistani Christians. He was killed by an organization that claimed he had committed blasphemy for his support of Asia Bibi, a Christian who was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy. 

Genuis said the Pakistani lawmaker stayed true to his principles even though he knew he was putting himself in danger.

“That is an example that all of us in public life should reflect on,” Genuis said.

Bergen, the Conservative deputy leader, told the National Post in a statement that “reports coming out of Pakistan of Christian and Hindu girls being abducted, raped, forced into marriages and coerced to convert from their faith are deeply concerning and need to be addressed,” adding that she calls on “the prime minister to re-establish the Office of Religious Freedoms” and work with allies to end religious persecutions.

A Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said Canada is raising concerns surrounding religious minorities with Pakistani officials, but groups like International Christian Voice out of Mississauga, Ont., run by Bhatti’s brother Peter, said these conversations came to a close with the end of the Office of Religious Freedom.

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