OTTAWA, October 5, 2011 – League President Phil Horgan represented CCRL at an invitation-only roundtable hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird October 3, 2011, regarding the establishment of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom at the headquarters of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa. Mr. Baird welcomed close to 100 religious leaders, association representatives and experts from across Canada to give their input as the government plans priorities for the new initiative.

‪”It is our common duty to defend the rights of the afflicted, and to give voice to the voiceless,” Mr. Baird said. He added, “Our positions will not soften, our determination will not lessen, and our voices will not be diminished until all citizens can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and true.”

This is one of several consultations the government is conducting across the country and around the world. The commitment to establishing an Office of Religious Freedom was included in the Speech from the Throne on June 3, 2011, and again in Mr.Baird’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2011. Its mandate will be to promote and monitor religious freedom around the world.

Panelist Father Raymond de Souza argued for a broad interpretation of freedom of religion, noting it is much more than freedom of belief or of worship, as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently said. It is freedom to build places of worship, to control one’s internal governance, to build schools and establish universities and welfare agencies, he said. Defining religious freedom only in terms of worship “impoverishes the language” of religious liberty, he said.

American diplomat Thomas Farr, a religious freedom expert with the Berkeley Centre for Religion Peace and World Affairs, urged the new office to be proactive, rather than reactive, in responding to case-by-case persecution.

Farr said that although a reactive approach does save lives, “it’s like trying to empty the ocean with an eye-dropper.”

About 70 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with limited religious freedom, he said. A substantial proportion of religious minorities face violent persecution. Countries that do not have religious freedom nurture violence and conflict and export terrorism, he said, adding that religious freedom is linked to democracy, stability, and women’s rights.

Office of religious freedom talks launched, Catholic Register, Oct. 4