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Baird Honours Human Rights Defender

2013 John Diefenbaker Award recognizes His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong

October 31, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, accompanied by Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today presented this year’s John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award to His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

“With this award, Canada honours Cardinal Zen for his unwavering commitment to human rights, democracy and religious freedom in China. Cardinal Zen has remained steadfast in his defence and promotion of human dignity,” said Baird. “His calls for justice, human rights and reform have earned him international acclaim and a reputation as the ‘new conscience of Hong Kong.’

“I am deeply impressed by this man and his belief that ‘a path will appear when enough people walk on it.’

“Canada stands with the defenders of human rights for all—people who courageously seek to promote and protect fundamental freedoms around the world.”

“Freedom of religion is a universal right,” said Ambassador Bennett. “Cardinal Zen has defended that freedom both in Hong Kong and in mainland China. He has been vigilant against violations of religious freedom on the mainland and has criticized the unilateral ordinations of Catholic bishops by government officials.”

For more information, see Address by Minister Baird at Third Annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award Ceremony.

A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder - Diefenbaker Award and Recipient

His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong

Joseph Zen is a Chinese cardinal of the Catholic Church who served as the sixth Bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009. Cardinal Zen has become known as the “new conscience of Hong Kong” for his continued defence of human rights, political freedom and religious liberty.

Cardinal Zen is known to be a strong voice for freedom and has spoken out on the issue of human rights violations, including restrictions on religious freedom in mainland China.

Born in Yang King-pang, Shanghai, in 1932, Cardinal Zen was ordained in 1961. Following further studies in Rome, he returned to Hong Kong, where he held a number of teaching positions and worked in the Salesian communities.

Cardinal Zen retired from his bishopric in 2009 but has remained active in the area of human rights.

John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award

The Diefenbaker Award was created in 2010 to honour individuals or groups who show exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedom. The award was named in recognition of former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who during his time in office championed human rights both in Canada and around the world. His determination to secure rights for all led to the passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960.

Potential candidates for this award around the world are identified by Canada’s global network of diplomatic missions, in consultation with key government partners. Candidates are carefully screened on the basis of their human rights contributions. The final selection is made by the foreign affairs minister.

This non-monetary award is presented annually as part of Canada’s larger commitment to promoting freedom around the world.

For information on previous awards, please see 2012 John Diefenbaker Award Ceremony and Minister Cannon Presents First Annual John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award.