Conservatives to force decision on Office of Religious Freedom

OTTAWA – The Opposition Conservatives will try today to force an answer from the government on the future of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom, the diplomatic post whose mandate and funding is set to expire this month.

The Liberals have said while they remain committed to having the government play a role in protecting religious freedoms globally, they aren’t sure the office, with an official ambassador and $5 million in annual funding, is the way to go.

Current ambassador Andrew Bennett has already seen the writing on the wall – though he remains in his position, last week he accepted a voluntary position at public policy think tank Cardus to lead efforts to promote religious freedoms through there.

But the Opposition is putting forward a motion in the House of Commons today calling for the office’s mandate to be renewed and it will eventually go to a vote.

Edmonton MP Garnett Genuis, who brought forward the motion, says with all the talk on Parliament Hill about diversity, inclusion and human rights, the office should stay open.

It was set up by the previous Conservative government in 2013 and Bennett was the first ambassador, travelling globally to talk about freedom of religious but also funding projects in several countries to support religious tolerance.

Questions about its future could be answered with Tuesday’s federal budget though, given the need for the office’s annual funding to be renewed if it is to continue operating in its current form.