Reinvigorating Canada's human rights agenda

News Release

May 17, 2016 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada

As part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights at home and abroad, the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced the creation of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion (OHRFI). The new office expands on the work undertaken by Andrew Bennett as head of the former Office of Religious Freedom by bringing those efforts together under a comprehensive vision that includes all human rights.

From today, all Canadian heads of mission (ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general) will make the promotion of “human rights, freedoms and inclusion” part of their core objectives and these priorities will be included in their annual performance commitments. Canada’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, Switzerland, will have a clear mandate for the advancement of human rights, which is a critical part of Canada’s re-engagement with the United Nations. Furthermore, the budget dedicated to the promotion of human rights, including religious freedom, will be as much as $15 million for OHRFI, three times the amount originally committed to the former office.

The struggle for religious freedom is, at its heart, a struggle for the universal and inseparable freedoms Canadians cherish. This enhanced approach takes as its departure point a notion Canadians hold dear: people are stronger not in spite of their differences, but because of them.

Promoting acceptance and protecting the differences that makes each and every one of us so unique cannot be divided into separate, but equal, efforts. A comprehensive approach to human rights, freedoms and inclusion will do more for religious freedom because Canada will be doing more for the cause of all human rights everywhere: at home and throughout the world.

OHRFI will work closely with Canadian and international members of civil society, religious groups, academia, and non-governmental organizations—a crucial network that will allow Canada to truly leverage its pluralistic experience as a multicultural and multi-faith country.

OHRFI will have three divisions: Human Rights and Indigenous Affairs, Inclusion and Religious Freedom, and Democracy. OHRFI will be led by Richard Arbeiter, Director General, and a single point of contact, Giuliana Natale, Director of Inclusion and Religious Freedom, will be available for direct outreach to key stakeholders.

The current mandate of the External Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom and Canada’s chairmanship of the International Contact Group on the Freedom of Religion or Belief will also be maintained.


“The Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion will address all human rights across Canada’s foreign policy. Canada is first and foremost an inclusive, diverse, multi-faith society, and today’s decision reflects these values and our ongoing commitment to advancing them at home and abroad.

“I want to personally thank Andrew Bennett, who has shown remarkable ingenuity, sensitivity and competency in serving as head of Canada’s Office for Religious Freedom since its beginning.”

- Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs


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