Canada Creates Religious Freedom Office

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Canada's government is establishing an office of religious freedom in its foreign affairs department.

Leaders of the ruling Conservative Party say they are committed to making the defense of religious freedom a major goal of their nation's foreign policy.

The initiative is partly due to the March 6, 2011 murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, a Christian, was the first Pakistan minister for minority affairs. He was murdered for speaking out against Islamic blasphemy laws.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Conservative Party officials met with Bhatti in Islamabad just weeks before he was assassinated, and were impressed by his determination to fight for religious freedom despite the threats against his life.

"The prime minister was deeply affected by this, as was everyone who had the chance to meet him," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the London Globe and Mail.

"His visit to Canada shortly before his assassination helped to galvanize within the government the reality of this kind of persecution," Kenney added.

Former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff also supports the new religious freedom office.

"It's a good thing provided it defends all cases of religious persecution," he told the Globe and Mail. "Not just those that are bothering domestic constituencies at home."

"And that it doesn't ignore other human rights violations, which usually accompany religious persecution," Ignatieff added. "Like limits on freedom of the press, denial of democratic rights and persecution."

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