The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) applauds Prime Minister Harper’s initiative to institute Canada’s first-ever Office of Religious Freedom. Only the second such office of its kind in the world, the new institution seeks to promote religious freedom as a key Canadian foreign policy priority.
In a teleconference call on February 21st that UMD Canada and various ethnic media participated in, the Hon. Jason Kenney, Canadian Minister of Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, took questions from his riding office in Calgary. He stated: “We see a growing wave of religious persecution around the world, and we also see religious freedom as a fundamental right. If a state seeks to control or restrict how the people believe, it affects all of the other rights that (a) citizen has, and it becomes a totalitarian state.”
Minister Kenney stated numerous examples of state oppression against religious minorities worldwide, and praised the choice of Dr. Andrew P. W. Bennet as “an esteemed public servant and scholar.” With a yearly budget of approximately CDN$5m, the Office will focus on advocacy, analysis, policy development and programing, on behalf of protecting religious minorities under threat, opposing religious hatred, and promoting Canadian values of pluralism and diversity abroad.
“It’s a very timely decision for Canada to devote resources to addressing the rising number of people who are denied the right of belief around the world,” said UMD Director of Canadian Operations Jim Daikos. “For years, UMD has been at the forefront of advocating for the religious freedom of Macedonian Orthodox Christians in Greece, who cannot worship in peace, nor can they use their native Macedonian language in religious ceremonies without state retribution.”
Last October, UMD hosted a delegation to North America composed of Greece’s Macedonian Orthodox religious leader Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias and UMD Greece Representative Eugenia Natsoulidou. The delegations held high-level meetings in Washington D.C., including with the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, and in Ottawa, to highlight how the Greek government systematically oppresses the native Macedonian community in Aegean Macedonia, northern Greece.