Religious freedom office replaced with new 'office of human rights'

Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has decided to replace the Office of Religious Freedom created by the previous Conservative government with a new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion.

Religious freedom ambassador Andrew Bennett was appointed by Stephen Harper in 2013

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced by press release Tuesday that Canada's Office of Religious Freedom has been replaced with a new office to take a more comprehensive approach to promoting human rights. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has replaced the Office of Religious Freedom created by the previous Conservative government with an office focused more broadly on human rights. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced the creation of the new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion in a release late Tuesday.

Andrew Bennett was appointed as Canada's ambassador for religious freedom in 2013. The new office will expand on his work "under a comprehensive vision that includes all human rights," the release said.

The budget allocated for the previous office now has been tripled to $15 million.

Andrew Bennett was appointed Canada's ambassador for religious freedom in 2013. He announced earlier this spring that he's accepted a position as a senior fellow at a think tank with a religious focus. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The fate of Bennett's office — a showpiece of the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper's approach to foreign affairs — was uncertain after the change in government last fall.

His mandate had been extended to the end of March, but a change in approach had been expected.

Bennett announced in March that he'd accepted a position as a senior fellow at Cardus, a Christian research group that focuses on faith in Canada.

Comprehensive approach

"The struggle for religious freedom is, at its heart, a struggle for the universal and inseparable freedoms Canadians cherish," the release from Global Affairs Canada said. 

"Promoting acceptance and protecting the differences that make each and every one of us so unique cannot be divided into separate, but equal, efforts," the release said.

The government argues that a more comprehensive approach would do more for religious freedom because Canada would be doing more to advance all human rights, at home and abroad.

The new office will have three divisions:

  • Human Rights and Indigenous Affairs.
  • Inclusion and Religious Freedom.
  • Democracy.

All Canadian heads of mission (ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general) will include human rights among their core objectives and priorities, the release said. Human rights advancement will be a "critical part" of Canada's "re-engagement" with the United Nations.

Global Affairs Canada director general Richard Arbeiter will head the new office. Giuliana Natale will serve as director of inclusion and religious freedom.

The existing external advisory committee on religious freedom as well as Canada's chairmanship of the International Contact Group on the Freedom of Religion or Belief will continue.