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Freedom of religion or belief

Freedom of religion or belief, including the ability to worship in peace and security, is a universal human right. It is enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other key human rights documents. Discrimination against religious and belief communities, as with all forms of discrimination, causes suffering, spreads division, and contributes to a climate of fear, intolerance, and stigmatization. The right to freedom of religion or belief is intrinsically linked to other human rights, such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, which are foundational to safe, prosperous, and inclusive societies.

The promotion and protection of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, is an important aspect of Canada’s constructive engagement in the world. Canada’s multi-cultural and multi-faith experience is reflective of Canadian efforts to champion inclusive and accountable governance, pluralism, and respect for diversity in all spheres of society. Efforts to advance freedom of religion or belief internationally focus primarily on:

  1. advocating on behalf of persecuted religious and belief communities under threat;
  2. opposing religious hatred, discrimination and xenophobia; and
  3. supporting dialogue among different faith and belief communities.

Recognizing the universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of human rights, Global Affairs Canada continuously looks to broaden its approach to advancing freedom of religion or belief and fostering collaboration with less traditional partners. Freedom of religion or belief, which protects believers and non-believers alike, empowers people in all their diversity, either individually or in community with others, to decide for themselves what they believe and how they wish to live.

Canada has made the promotion of pluralism and inclusion, and the recognition of and respect for diversity a priority, both at home and abroad. In line with this commitment, Canada works with partners to enhance the international promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief. Canada will continue to stand in solidarity with all faith and belief communities against all hatred and intolerance and their desire to build a more just and inclusive world.

Multilateral engagement

International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief

On June 15, 2015, Canada launched the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (ICG-FoRB) bringing together a diverse, cross-regional group of over twenty countries and international organizations to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief around the world. By mobilizing a diverse group of countries committed to freedom of religion or belief outside of their traditional blocs, and allowing for frank discussion and the pursuit of areas for action, the ICG provides Canada and international partners with a useful platform to help address the growing repression of the individual right to believe and worship freely.

Since its inception, ICG participants have engaged in a number of cooperative actions, including: jointly advocating with governments to promote best practices to make progress on freedom of religion or belief, including those impacting minority populations; encouraging the reform of restrictive laws; and collaborating with a range of non-governmental partners, including faith and belief organizations, civil society, and academia.

Domestic engagement

Given that Canada is  a multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic society, enriched by  vibrant Indigenous Peoples and heritages, linguistic duality, and a rich history of immigration and integration, Global Affairs Canada draws upon domestic voices and expertise to champion freedom of religion or belief on the international stage.  Protection of human rights must begin at home, which is why we are actively working to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all other forms of discrimination, exemplified through the appointments of a Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism and a Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, as well as Canada’s Federal Anti-Racism Strategy. Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion serves as the focal point for engagement with faith and belief communities to consult on issues of particular concern and to hear from Canadians their views on opportunities to advance freedom of religion or belief and human rights more broadly.

For example, on December 15, 2022, the Honourable Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, hosted an Interactive Dialogue on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Ottawa. The event, which featured Dr. Nazila Ghanea, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, brought together representatives of a diverse cross-section of Canadian faith and belief communities and civil society organizations, aimed leveraging their insights on the state of, and opportunities to advance, freedom of religion or belief globally. Participants were drawn from a variety of traditions, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Bahá’í, Sikh, Buddhist, and Secular Humanists, alongside a number of civil society organizations.

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