Susanne Tamás, Director of Government Relations for the Baha’i Community of Canada, answered journalists’ questions at a media scrum following the launch of the Office of Religious Freedom on 19 February 2013 in Maple, Ontario at the Baitul Islam Mosque.
“We look forward to cooperating with the Office of Religious Freedom and the new Ambassador, Dr. Andrew Bennett, as he works with the Department of Foreign Affairs to learn how best to advance religious freedom around the world,” Ms. Tamás said. “Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief are human rights issues that require the attention of governments and civil society everywhere.”
The opening of the Office generated considerable media attention across Canada. More than 80 newspaper reports about the Office included a reference to the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, along with many other religions that experience serious violations of their members’ rights. Reports by the Pew Forum have indicated that up to 75% of the world’s population lives in countries where peoples’ ability to freely practice their religion is restricted.
While the Baha’i community did not advocate for the establishment of an Office of Religious Freedom, it has worked with the Government of Canada for many years to advance this human right. Its official submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated:
Central to Bahá’í belief is the conviction that the vitality of religion and the progress of society require that individuals be free to independently search for truth. …
Protecting religious freedom helps to create the public space for diverse views, whether arising from religious, atheist, or agnostic standpoints. Truly democratic processes require participants to freely contribute their views – from whatever perspective they may hold – and see the spark of truth emerge through the clash of differing opinions. The promotion of religious freedom should therefore not be a concern for the faithful alone because an open, prosperous and democratic society rests upon the protection of this essential value.
Contact the Baha’i Community of Canada for the full text of the submission.
Religious freedom lies at the heart of Baha’i belief and practice. The independence of an individual’s search for meaning is a central teaching of the Baha’i Faith, which was founded in Iran in the middle of the nineteenth century. That the Baha’is in Iran have faced more than a century and a half of unrelenting persecution and lack of religious freedom, circumstances that have become especially severe since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, explains the acute perspective that Baha’is bring to questions of religious freedom.
Baha’is participated in consultations related to the Office of Religious Freedom in a number of ways. Representatives attended multi-faith discussions with government officials in Toronto and Vancouver, and Ms. Tamás was invited to serve as a panellist at the official consultations in Ottawa in 2011. Geoffrey Cameron, Principal Researcher for the Baha’i community, shared perspectives on the issue in editorials published in Embassy magazine and on the website of the Canadian International Council. Gerald Filson, Director of Public Affairs, was interviewed by Sun Media, Post Media, Embassy, responded to the Globe and Mail, and appeared on CTV’s Canada AM national morning program.
In media interviews, Ms. Tamás and Dr. Filson both noted the appreciation of the Baha’i Community of Canada for the Government of Canada’s consistent, 30-year-long defence of the Baha’is of Iran.
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, 63 Members of Parliament have raised the topic in 71 sittings of the House of Commons. These MPs come from 10 provinces and territories and represent every political party.
“Canada has been an advocate for the right to freedom of religion or belief for many years, under different government leadership,” said Ms. Tamás. “The establishment of this new Office of Religious Freedom is an opportunity to carry this work forward within a strong human rights framework.
“The positive influence of religion on the world is related to the freedom of each person to follow their conscience. It is our hope that Canada’s efforts will make a real contribution to the security and prosperity of people around the world.”