The new liberal Canadian government has decided it will no longer fund the office of religious freedom, and allowed it to close by the end of last month.
The government voted against a Conservative motion to renew the funding of the office for another term on March 21.
The office was set up by the Conservative Party when it was in power in 2013, and was managed by a few employees with a $5 million budget.
The department promoted religious freedom and tolerance worldwide through education and youth movements.
The organization has worked to distribute children's books to promote pluralism among Bangladeshi children in collaboration with Aga Khan Foundation, documented injustices faced by non-Muslims in Pakistan, and engaged with youth in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria to increase inter-religious dialogue for promotion of religious freedom.
The Religious Freedom office also incorporated Holocaust awareness events and genocide prevention into international educational curricula, conducted exchange programs to bring together Ukrainian youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, mediated conflict in Nigeria's Plateau State, and promoted journalist sensitivity in Myanmar to combat hate speech and religious intolerance, among its many other programs.
However, the new government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that it will take a non-religious approach towards human rights, but has not stated any new projects or offices as yet.
“We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom,” Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told WORLD Magazine. “This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) urged the government to not close the office, given the importance of religion in society.
"The Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom and the Office of Religious Freedom were an important signal to the international community and to Canadians - as well as a reminder to our civil servants and our country's diplomats - of the singular importance of religious freedom, and of the unfortunate lack of voices in society prepared to come to its defence," said a CCCB statement.
"Religious freedom and freedom of conscience have a pivotal status among human rights," the statement continues. "Religious freedom is more than the right of an individual to believe and pray. It equally involves a faith community's identity as well as its interactions with society."
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who established the office, had dedicated it to a Pakistani politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who raised his voice in support of religious minorities including Christians and Hindus in his country. He was assassinated in Pakistan in 2011, when he returned to his country after visiting Canada.