New religion office could put Canada in hot water

February 20, 2013 - 8:02am
Canadian Press
Canadian Press

Canada could be walking on thin ice after announcing its new Office of Religious Freedom, according to the chair of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan.

Ahmed Shoker thinks it's a great concept, but the office needs to have a clear agenda and representation from different faiths.

"The whole world is a small village now so I think it's important to support religious freedom all over the world, human rights and so on," he said.

"It might be a sensitive issue. Who is going to call the verdict if the office believes there have been atrocities done to Muslims or anybody elsewhere?

It would be difficult to apply your principles on others especially if there is difference in faith."

A Ukrainian-Catholic has been picked to lead a new federal office with a mandate to promote religious tolerance globally. Stephen Harper named Andrew Bennett as ambassador of the Office of Religious Freedom on Tuesday, which will operate as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"It seems to me that it would be a duplication of the Human Rights Act which in general, Canada spearheads anyway," said Shoker, adding he thinks it's important to know who is monitoring global abuses like religious persecution and understand how they situations are being verified before Canada chooses a side.

"My feeling is that we're getting almost entangled in something that may put Canada in some hot water."

Shoker has reservations about Bennett whom Shoker said he believes will be biased towards Christians, especially in Middle Eastern countries. The U.S. office has been accused of this, yet Harper insisted the Canadian office would not be modeled after its American counterpart.

"He may be out to sort of give them protection. That -- in my judgment -- creates immediate bias. I'm not sure if that will create good bridges with these countries," he said, adding he isn't against protecting religious minorities.

"We as Muslims, I can tell you, we are equally mistreated."

With files from Canadian Press

See related: Harper announces new religious freedom office

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