Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

God knows

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The Harper government's Office of Religious Freedom may be well-intentioned, but it is hard to escape the observation it is more about politics than effective policy and value for money.

Andrew Bennett, a Christian college professor, will have a staff of four and a budget of $5 million to monitor and report on religious persecution around the world, which, God knows, is responsible for much bloodshed as well as being an impediment to the building of peaceful societies and democracy.

Religious freedom, however, falls under the rubric of human rights, and there is no shortage of government and non-government agencies that speak forcefully on those issues.

The UN Human Rights Council, for example, expends considerable effort promoting human rights and drawing attention to violations. It deploys special rapporteurs, representatives, independent experts and working groups that "monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries."

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a long list of other agencies are also involved in similar tasks.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, with hundreds of operatives on the ground around the world, is also keenly interested in human rights, funnelling information up the chain to the prime minister's office for action.

If Mr. Bennett can contribute to this effort, so much the better, but it seems unlikely he will accomplish much more than publish yet another annual report on human rights violations.

Persecuted minorities do not need another report. What they really need is for leaders like Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speak out the next time he visits countries where the abuse is occurring.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2013 A14

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