Canada Reiterates Commitment to Religious Freedom

Read the transcript or download the video.

Location: Ottawa, Canada

Description: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird delivered a statement via video recording on September 26, 2012 reaffirming Canada’s strong commitment to promoting the right to religious freedom at an event co-hosted by Canada on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. Guillermo Rishchynski, Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, co-chaired on behalf of Baird who had to be in Ottawa for a vote.

Duration: 4:42

File Size: 33 MB


Hello from Ottawa.

I deeply regret that I am not able to join you in person; I had hoped to be part of today’s discussion but have to stay here for a vote in our Parliament.

Canada is very committed to a person’s right to freedom of religion or faith. We have made it a foreign policy priority to protect and promote this universal right and to promote pluralism generally.

That’s why were happy to co-sponsor this event with our Dutch and Senegalese friends.

We see strong linkages between religious freedom, pluralism, and peace and security -- pillars of strong democratic and prosperous development.

As Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, “Pluralism is the principle that binds our diverse peoples together. It is essential to our civil society and economic strength…Most of the world's nations are, like Canada, composed of diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious populations…Pluralism allows individuals to retain their cultural, linguistic and religious heritage within a framework of shared citizenship. “

Canada is a country of many ethnicities and religions, but we all share one humanity—one of respect, one of acceptance, one of peace and security.

History has shown us that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable.

We also know that societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other universal rights and fundamental freedoms.

We have long been building the conditions in which people live with the dignity others crave -- built around our fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

It is why our government established the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award, to recognize individuals who show exceptional leadership in defending human rights and freedom

The Award was bestowed last year on Shabhaz Bhatti, a tireless defender of religious minorities in his homeland of Pakistan.  Tragically, Mr. Bhatti paid the ultimate price for his dedication and courage. 

But his life should serve as an example. Despite the risks, we must defend the rights of the afflicted, and give voice to the voiceless

And the world needs to hear that voice – today more than ever.

Indeed, restrictions on religious freedoms are on the rise.

A new report by the Pew Forum indicates that restrictions on religion are rising in each of the five major regions of the world.

They have found that over one-third of the world’s population lives in countries where governments, social groups or individuals restrict the ability of people to freely practice their faith. 

This is something we cannot, and do not, condone.

Canada is deeply concerned about the situation in various parts of the world where individuals, including Ahmadis, Baha’is, Chaldeans, Christians, Copts, Falun Gong practitioners, Jews, Muslim Rohingyas, Sufis, and Zoroastrians experience difficulty in their ability to worship and practice their faith.

We strongly condemn all attacks on places of worship, whether at temples, synagogues, shrines, mosques, gurdwaras, or churches.  It is of utmost importance that every individual is able to practice their faith in safety and security.

Time and time again, Canada has spoken out against discrimination, and violations of freedom, including freedom of religion.

We don't see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defense in the same way persecuted religious minorities are.

We speak of the right to worship  and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.

That is indeed a choice any or all are free to make for personal reasons.

We speak of the right to be free of oppressive forms of extremism in favour of the rule of law for all.

We will continue to stand for what is right, not what is easy, and to defend the principle of freedom of religion and conscience, in Canada and around the world.

That is why our Government has committed to establishing a new Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

This office will advance policies and programs that protect and promote freedom of religion and belief

It will focus on advocating values of pluralism and tolerance abroad,

It will oppose religious hatred and intolerance.

In other words, it will reflect the very best of our society, and more, it will show the world that we are determined to work for the day that everyone enjoys the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society.

Enjoy the discussion. It is an important topic. And I look forward to hearing what comes of it.

Thank you./Merci.