2016/12/09 Leave a comment
Bennett’s comments are not surprising, as the intent of the merger into the human rights division was to encourage a more integrated approach to all rights, which ultimately means a lower profile for religious freedom than provided by a separate office.
Same thing happened when multiculturalism moved from Canadian Heritage to IRCC in 2008 under then Minister Kenney, where it withered away in terms of personnel, funding and importance, and has yet to recover despite its move back to Canadian Heritage:
I agree fully with his call for greater religious literacy among officials (not just diplomats), given the place that religion plays in many peoples lives:
Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom launched thinly veiled criticisms at the new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Senate’s human rights committee, Andrew Bennett, now a senior fellow with Christian think-tank Cardus, said the “ill-defined and thoroughly vague” concept of “inclusion” could muddy the water and distract from specific religious persecution issues faced by minorities abroad.
Bennett implied the Liberal government’s new office, which replaced his Office of Religious Freedom earlier this year, has a vaguer mandate less focused on specific issues of religious persecution than it did under the Conservatives.
He said more training is needed because there is a “relative ignorance” of religion in the public-service ranks and a “false understanding of separation of church and state” still seems prevalent. To ignore the fact that religion plays a role in public life is “out of step,” “historically inaccurate” and a “very serious diplomatic blind spot,” he said.
“Allies are wondering why there has been a diminishment in focus on religious freedom,” Bennett added, arguing that religious freedom is fundamental and that to prioritize it does not deny attention to other human rights.“Certain human rights need to be brought to the floor and actively and persuasively championed when they’re most being challenged,” he said. His office could have been louder, Bennett noted, when it came to specific issues, such as the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists in China, of Christians in Saudi Arabia and of Shia Muslims in Pakistan.
Bennett said he worked with the new office as part of a transition process, including extending his own network of contacts, until June. But, in the context of a question about the transition period, he said, “unfortunately I was never afforded the opportunity to brief the minister on the work of the Office of Religious Freedom.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, said however that the two had met earlier, on Feb. 10, when they “discussed the work of the office.”
In an emailed follow-up statement to the National Post, Bennett said the meeting was held with “no more than two hours’ notice” and that Dion requested “advice on the political sensitivities of the non-renewal of the office” and his relationship with the office’s External Advisory Committee. “But that was not a structured, formal briefing on the office itself.”