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Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaks at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The government will not renew the mandate of the controversial Office of Religious Freedom, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.

Mr. Dion confirmed the office's closure at a global affairs conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

"Our government shares the same conviction as the previous government, but it assesses the consequences of its chosen method of promoting this conviction differently. I am referring to freedom of religion or belief, which we will defend tooth and nail, but not through the office that the Harper government specifically set up for this purpose," said Mr. Dion during a speech at the University of Ottawa.

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The Liberals have previously indicated their intention to close the office. The office's mandate expires March 31.

Last week, the Conservatives tabled a motion in the House of Commons to renew the mandate of the Office of Religious Freedom. The Liberals voted against the motion and it was defeated 225 to 90.

Prior to the motion, Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett, who was appointed by the Conservatives in 2013, accepted a position as a senior fellow at Cardus, a leading Christian think tank. He will also serve as chair of the think tank's Faith in Canada 150 program while he completes his term at Global Affairs Canada. His new position is voluntary and unpaid with support of Global Affairs Canada.

Mr. Bennett's three-year term was originally set to end in February, but the Liberals extended it to March 31 to coincide with the expiration of the office's mandate and $5-million in annual funding. While Mr. Bennett's future at Global Affairs Canada is unclear, the minister's office has applauded his work as ambassador.

The Conservatives first promised to create an Office of Religious Freedom during the 2011 election campaign. The office's mandate is to "speak out and to protect and promote religious freedom around the world."

While the Conservative initiative was criticized for mixing politics and religion, certain religious groups supported it. In a letter to Mr. Dion in January, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim organizations asked the Liberal government not to scrap the office.

On Tuesday, Mr. Dion reiterated the government's thinking in determining how to best defend various rights.

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"We believe that human rights are better defended when they are considered, universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, as set out in the Vienna Declaration," said Mr. Dion.

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