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Harper names Christian college dean as ambassador for religious freedom office

Andrew Bennett, dean of the Ottawa-based Augustine College and a former civil servant, has been named the ambassador for the new Office of Religious Freedom. The office will have an annual budget of $5-million and have five staff members, including Bennett.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque and community center in Vaughan, north of Toronto today. Harper noted that violation of religious freedoms are increasing throughout the world and stated that Canada would not remain silent in response to these injustices and discrimination. 

Photo of Andrew Bennett from Augustine College website 

Bennett has served as the dean of Augustine College since 2011, and teaches the history of Christianity. He has also worked for several years as a political risk analyst for Export Development Canada and also as a policy analyst in the Privy Council Office in Ottawa.

Below is the news release provided following the announcement:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which will be dedicated to promoting freedom of religion or belief around the world. He also announced the appointment of Dr. Andrew Bennett as Ambassador to the Office. The Prime Minister was joined by Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation.

“Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread and they are increasing,” said the Prime Minister. “Dr Bennett is a man of principle and deep convictions and he will encourage the protection of religious minorities around the world so all can practice their faith without fear of violence and repression.” 

Under Ambassador Bennett’s leadership, the Office – which is now operational – will promote freedom of religion or belief as a Canadian foreign policy priority. The Office will be an important vehicle through which Canada can advance fundamental Canadian values including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide. 

“Our Government is dedicated to promoting the freedom and prosperity of the people it serves,” added the Prime Minister. We will work with other countries and all people of goodwill, to promote the principles we share.“

Specifically, the Office will focus on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming relating to: protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat; opposing religious hatred and intolerance; and, promoting Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad. Activities will be centred on countries or situations where there is evidence of egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion, violations that could include violence, hatred and systemic discrimination. 

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