Harper announces religious freedom office

Posted By: Canadian Press · 2/19/2013 2:29:00 PM

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his government's long-awaited Office of Religious Freedom.

Andrew Bennett — a public servant and academic who has worked for the Privy Council Office — has been named ambassador to the office.

Speaking at a mosque and community centre north of Toronto today, Harper said violations of religious freedom are widespread and increasing around the world.

He said in the face of these injustices and atrocities, Canada will not be silent.

The announcement comes 22 months after the Conservatives first promised to create a religious freedom branch within the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians have complained the office is a misguided attempt to inject religion into foreign policy.

They also question what the new office can accomplish with a $5 million budget.

The Conservatives promised the office in their campaign platform during the last federal election, but apparently had been unable to find a commissioner to take the job.

Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Dr. Andrew Bennett as he is named ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom, in Maple, Ont., north of Toronto, Tuesday, Feb.19, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn"

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