February 1, 2016
Letter to Hon. Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
Dear Minister Dion,
We were pleased to hear your statement in the House of Commons this week that “freedom of religion is something that we will fight for very strongly.” However, we are very concerned to read media accounts indicating you may not renew support for the Office of Religious Freedom.
We urge you to continue the important work of the Office of Religious Freedom.
The Office of Religious Freedom allows for a focus and expertise on a particular fundamental human right. Religious freedom has been called the first freedom because where it is limited, so too are other rights. Religious freedom does not operate in isolation or to the detriment of other human rights. Its guarantee entails freedom of conscience, of speech, of expression and assembly. A focus on the fundamental right to religious freedom will promote the observance of other fundamental rights and freedoms. Just as a focus on gender equality or improving the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples strengthens all of Canada, a focus on religious freedom can improve the observance of other human rights. The Office mandate notes that it “will be an important vehicle through which Canada can advance fundamental Canadian values, including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide.”
The need for focus and expertise on religious freedom is particularly critical now. Not only has the media reported horrific incidents of religious persecution in recent years, but the amount of religious persecution around the world is increasing. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of the world’s population (77%) was living with high or very high levels of restrictions on religion in 2013. This was an increase from 68% in 2007. In its 2015 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom nearly doubled the number of countries it designated as being of concern due to particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Freedom of religion warrants focused attention.
The Office of Religious Freedom is widely recognized for its excellent work. It has received support across faith groups, including most recently a letter of support from organizations representing Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim Canadians. Its Ambassador is well respected across religious lines and brings an expertise to the Ministry of Global Affairs and to the Government of Canada which is vital to Canada’s international engagement.
We note the Prime Minister’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, “As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.”
We urge you to continue the excellent work underway in the Office of Religious Freedom to do just that.
Bruce Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada