Bob Dechert, MP Speaks at Coptic Solidarity Conference Thursday, June 26, 2014
Remarks by PS Bob Dechert
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Coptic Solidarity Conference
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
It is an honour to be here on Capitol Hill to represent Canada at this prestigious and timely event.
I would also like to the thank “Coptic Solidarity” for organizing such an event so that people from all over the world can come together in order to support those in Egypt working for democracy, freedom and the protection of the human rights of all Egyptian citizens.
As you are all aware, the situation on the ground in Egypt is very fluid and the current realities could change by the time I finish my remarks today.
A great deal of change has taken place in Egypt since the Arab Spring Protests in Tahrir Square only 3 years ago.
Egypt is in the midst of trying to forge its own path and create its own form of democracy.
That is why events such as this are so important, they provide the international community with an opportunity to review the most current information, compare our respective views and policies and voice our opinions about the current direction of Egypt.
Ultimately, the path towards democracy will lie with the Egyptian people; however it is important that the international community does not stand idly by and remain silent as people’s fundamental human rights are being ignored.
No transition to democracy can proceed if it means that fundamental human rights are being ignored or trampled on.
On June 4th, the Egyptian people elected a new leader; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as President.
Canada recognizes that the new President will have many difficult challenges in leading Egypt toward a more democratic, inclusive, secure and prosperous future, but such a future is in the interests of all Egyptian citizens and the international community as a whole.
Canada has and will continue to stand with Egypt in its efforts to confront terrorism, including in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian security personnel are confronting a dangerous insurgency.
President El- Sisi will not be alone.
Our Government remains committed to supporting Egypt in making a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy, based on respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms including religious freedoms and the rule of law.
With respect to the state of rule of law in Egypt, we are very disappointed with the verdict in the case of Canadian citizen Mohammed Fahmy and other journalists earlier this week.
We are concerned that the judicial process that led to his verdict is inconsistent with Egypt’s democratic aspirations.
I believe that this democratic transition represents an important opportunity for Egypt, one that can provide the Egyptian people with the stability and economic prosperity they desire.
As you may be aware, our Government recently announced the establishment of a new office which deals exclusively with religious freedoms around the world.
The Canadian Office of Religious Freedom was created within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Development.
I understand our Ambassador of Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett was here last year to address this very same conference.
The Canadian Office of Religious Freedom was created in order to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief as a key Canadian foreign policy.
Why did we need such an Office?
I think many of you here today understand why, but unfortunately too many in Canada and other liberal democracies do not, in my view, understand the gravity of the situation.
15 years ago, I was one of those Canadians that didn’t understand the situation. I blissfully believed that, although some nations did not adequately protect the rights of their citizens pursuant to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that not everyone had the same level of religious freedom that I enjoyed in Canada…I assumed that each year, it got a little better.
Sadly, Pew Forum’s data indicates that 74% of the world’s population live in Countries where there exist high or very high levels of social hostilities directed towards people of faith and/or high to very high government restrictions on religious practice.
Most shockingly, this figure is significantly higher than just a half decade ago when 45% of the global population lived in such countries.
Over the last half decade, we have seen the condition of religious freedom around the world get worse not better.
This flies in the face of all of the other advancements we have made over the last 50 years.
We have made tremendous strides in technology, medicine, diplomacy and prosperity, however when it comes to religious freedom, it appears that the situation is not improving.
This is precisely why Canada established the Office of Religious Freedom and our Government deemed the protection and promotion of this core human right a priority for our Government.
We decided that it was time to put a greater emphasis on monitoring and assisting religious minorities around the world.
Canada, like the United States has always been a refuge for people from around the world fleeing religious persecution.
Religious Freedom is a core Canadian value and as such, it is both appropriate and imperative that we promote it as a foreign policy priority.
We will no longer turn a blind eye to religious persecution and just “go along, to get along” in the international community.
We will hold our international partners to account for the way in which they protect the religious freedom of their people.
The other reason we created the office of religious freedom is that our Government holds a fundamental belief that societies which protect religious freedom are more likely to protect other fundamental freedoms.
Throughout history we have seen how religious freedom is often a barometer of the overall freedoms enjoyed throughout a given society.
Once the freedom of religion begins to disappear we often see other core freedoms fall by the wayside.
As Canadians, we enjoy the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society.
But we are also aware of the struggles that religious minorities face around the world.
That is why our Government continues to speak out for what is principled and just.
That is why we have always condemned killings and the hatred and extremism done in the name of religious intolerance that has only lead to violence, pain and suffering.
It is no accident that Prime Minister Harper announced the creation of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom at the Canadian Coptic Centre in my City of Mississauga, Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area.
We specifically had the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in Egypt in mind when we created this office.
That is why Canada condemned the attack in Giza outside a Coptic Orthodox Christian Church that killed four people, including two girls, an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old.
That is why Canada condemned the attacks of Nag Hammadi, where innocent civilians congregating for a religious celebration were viciously attacked and killed.
That is why our Government sent a high ranking delegation to Cairo including myself to witness the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II.
That is why we deplored the bombing that occurred in Alexandria, which resulted in the lives of over 20 worshippers being taken away and another 70 injured.
That is why, Canada has offered refuge to thousands of Copts fleeing religious violence in recent years.
And that is why, throughout the ebb and flow of democratic and constitutional developments over the past number of years, we have continually made it clear that the democratic transition must respect the rights of all religious minorities in Egypt.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and a vital building block for healthy democracies.
People of faith must be able to practise and worship in peace and security.
They must be free to choose and change their religion, practice and teach their religious beliefs in public and in congregation with others and they must be allowed to build their churches and places of worship without unreasonable restriction.
The persecution against the Coptic community in Egypt must stop.
Our Government has been very clear; the destruction of places of worship and the violence directed toward a community because of their faith is unacceptable.
As Canadians, and as those living in a more mature democracy, it is our duty to defend the rights of the vulnerable, and to give voice to the voiceless.
As Minister John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated “Our positions will not soften, our determination will not lessen, and our voices will not be diminished until all citizens can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and true.”
Canada stands by the people of Egypt, including the Coptic community, as they work toward a peaceful and democratic transition.