OTTAWA - Canada's prime minister unveiled on Tuesday an office of religious freedom tasked with protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat around the world.
Housed in Canada's foreign affairs ministry, the new office will oppose religious hatred and intolerance and promote pluralism "as a Canadian foreign policy priority," said a statement.
Thus it is expected to be" an important vehicle through which Canada can advance fundamental Canadian values including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide."
At a Toronto-area Ahmadiyya mosque, Prime Minister Stephen Harper listed examples of Shia Muslims in Iraq, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Bahais in Iran, Ahmadis in Paskitan, and Christians and Falun Gong practitioners in China who faced "repression, imprisonment, and even death."
"Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread -- and they are increasing," Harper said.
"Throughout history and in our own day, governments that violate religious freedom are also prone to impose themselves in every other sphere of life," he added.
With a budget of five million dollars and five staff, the Office of Religious Freedom, according to a statement, will focus on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming.
Its activities will be centred on countries and situations where there is evidence of "egregious violations" of the right to freedom of religion, including violence, hatred and systemic discrimination.
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