Harper announces support for religious freedom

PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Monday announced that a re-elected Conservative government will provide support for a new three-year, $9 million program to support persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East.  The program will seek to build on the Office of Religious Freedom’s highly successful Religious Freedom Fund to work with organizations operating in the region to protect places of worship and the retention of religious artifacts that are under threat of destruction by ISIS.

“Strong democratic societies such as Canada embrace religious diversity and pluralism,” Harper said in Markham, Ontario. “A re-elected Conservative Government will continue to champion religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities as a pillar of Canadian foreign policy.”

Harper outlined the increased urgency of promoting and protecting religious diversity and pluralism in the face of religious persecution by ISIS and its followers:

* Nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries with high restrictions on freedom of religion

* Religious minorities in Iraq, Syria and nearby regions are facing major threats from ISIS, who has engaged in the mass murder of Yazidis, beheadings of Coptic Christians, kidnapping of Assyrians, and bombings of Shi’a mosques.

* ISIS and its followers have also desecrated and destroyed sacred places of worship, holy sites, and ancient religious artifacts throughout the region.

* Harper established the Office of Religious Freedom in 2013 to promote religious freedom and to protect religious minorities under threat.

* The Office’s Religious Freedom Fund provides support to organizations operating abroad who engage in work to raise awareness and tolerance on freedom of religion.

* Harper’s government has spoken out against the mistreatment, intimidation and imprisonment of religious groups who have been persecuted for their beliefs.

Harper also noted that religious freedoms are under attack in many parts of the world. He explained that this new Middle East-focused initiative will be in addition to the ongoing work of the Office of Religious Freedom to promote and defend freedom of religion around the world.

Harper’s plan also includes continuing assistance to refugees from Iraq and Syria facing religious persecution and genocide through a new commitment to accept an additional 10,000 refugees from the region over the next four years.

Harper said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair would end Canada’s mission against ISIS, and would allegedly take no steps to protect vulnerable religious minorities in Syria and Iraq from the barbaric attacks of this murderous terrorist organization.