Joseph Brean, National Post, Feb.19
Andrew P. W. Bennett, Canada’s first ambassador of religious freedom, is a Christian academic studying toward a theology degree in Ottawa, an expert on Scottish devolution, and a government policy analyst with experience in the Privy Council, Export Development Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
With four staff and a $5-million annual budget, his new role is to promote freedom of religion, belief and conscience around the world by ensuring it is reflected in Canada’s foreign policy.
“I’m very much looking forward to taking on this great challenge,” he said yesterday at an Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque north of Toronto, chosen for the announcement because the minority sect, which believes in a Messiah who died in Punjab in 1908, is persecuted as heretical in Pakistan.
By viewing problems as diverse as the oppression of Tibetans in China, the disenfranchisement of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and violence by Islamists against Christians in Nigeria, through the prism of religious freedom, he said he expects to give a louder voice to foundational Canadian values in a noisy world.
“This is not an office to promote any particular religion. It is an office to promote religious diversity and religious tolerance around the world,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
“People who choose not to believe, that’s a valid religious and democratic perspective that we all must also accept and promote. We’re not trying to oppose, we’re trying to respect people’s own religions, their own faith choices, or non-faith choices, and not impose those choices on others. Just as it is important that religion be respected in a pluralistic and democratic society by those who don’t share religion, it is likewise expected in a very religious society that those who don’t share faith will be respected.”
He cited as examples of persecuted religious minorities: Christians and Bahais in Iran, Shia Muslim pilgrims in Iraq, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Christians in Nigeria, Uighur Muslims in China, and others.