MAPLE, Ont. – The federal government is planning to announce its long-awaited Office of Religious Freedom in an event today at a mosque north of Toronto.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney are to make the announcement this afternoon at a mosque in Maple.
The announcement comes 22 months after the Tories first promised to create a modest, religious freedom branch within the Foreign Affairs Department.
The pledge was unveiled in the Conservative campaign platform during the last federal election, but Foreign Affairs has been unable to find a commissioner to take the job.
Human rights groups and opposition critics have said the office is a misguided attempt to inject religion into foreign policy.
They also question what exactly the new office can accomplish with a modest $5-million budget.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird won’t be on hand for the announcement because he’ll be in the middle of a six-country Latin American trip.
Baird has been involved in many high-level meetings with religious figures over the last 18 months.
His consultations have taken him to the Holy See in Rome, the Aga Khan, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey and the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
The Tories have pointed to the fact that the U.S. State Department’s religious freedom office was created in the late 1990s under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.