Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.
In a speech promoting Ottawa's plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the "moral call" that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.
"And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just," he said in a draft of the speech. "Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that's what's needed."
Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington's busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada's Embassy.
Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada's plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.
The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.
Mr. Baird said the office will "help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom."
His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.
Mr. Baird's speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha'i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.
He spoke of the pogroms against Jews in the Spanish Inquisition, said 6 million died in the 1930s and '40s because of their religious identity, and said the world cannot risk appeasing "Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran" now "in the same way the world appeased the Nazis."
He said that Canada now will "stand with the Jewish state."
Christians now "face particular persecution in countries around the world," he said, citing persecution in Iran, attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, among other examples. He pointed to a program to resettle Christian and other minority refugees from Iraq as an example of Canadian action.