Posted by Tahira Saliha
The Muslim Times’ Editor’s comment: The headline has been changed by us.
Prime Minsiter Stephen Harper (center) with Andrew Bennett the new Ambassador and Lal Khan Malik, National President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Canada
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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the long-awaited announcement at a Vaughan mosque Tuesday, 22 months after Conservatives promised to create the office during the 2011 federal election.
Bennett, 40, did not speak to the crowd that packed the Ahmadiyya Muslim community centre and mosque, but briefly answered questions on what exactly his office can achieve on their $5-million annual budget, before being whisked away by public relations staffers.
“My role is not to get involved at all in the aspects of Canadian foreign policy and commercial policy,” Bennett told a throng of media. “It’s building awareness about the issue of religious freedom abroad.”
“It says a lot about the government wanting to promote this aspect of human rights.”
Bennett, a Catholic, is dean of Augustine College, a private Christian liberal arts institution in Ottawa which serves as a bridge between high school and university for roughly 20 students. He teaches the history of Christianity. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Edinburgh, a master of arts in history from Montreal’s McGill University and previously worked for the Privy Council Office.
In his introduction, Harper said violations of religious freedoms are widespread and increasing around the globe. He called Bennett “a man of principle and deep convictions,” but made no mention that the search, headed up by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, had approached at least three other candidates before Bennett.
Harper spoke to the plights of Christians, Ahmadis, Shiites, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus abroad, and closed his speech by focusing on one of the key contributing factors to the creation of the office — the 2011 assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs and the only Christian minister in the Pakistani government.
Bhatti had met in 2011 with Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who was also at Tuesday’s announcement, just weeks before Bhatti was gunned down by Islamist militants on his way to a cabinet meeting in Islamabad.
Bhatti had hoped Ottawa could push his Pakistani government to provide more protections for religious minorities. His brother, Peter, was at the mosque in support of the new office.