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Harper pledges to create watchdog office for global religious freedom

In this file photo, Stephen Harper tours a Coptic Christian Church in Mississauga, Ont., with Fathers Pishoy Wasfy, left, and Angelos Saad on January 13, 2011.

Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press/Mike Cassese/Reuters

Stephen Harper is dangling a promise to create an office within Canada's foreign affairs department to act as a watchdog for religious freedom around the world, a measure the Conservatives hope will win favour in immigrant communities.

The Conservative Leader, who is betting on winning more votes from new Canadians, made the announcement at a Coptic Christian community centre in the Greater Toronto Area Saturday.

He praised Coptic Christians in his announcement Saturday.

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"Canada is fortunate to have men and women of such courage as you," he told the crowd.

"The spirit you have shown in standing up for freedom in your own lives should inspire all Canadians."

The pledge would cost $5-million a year and create a bureau called the Office of Religious Freedom. The Tories say this would monitor treatment of believers worldwide, "promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy.

No religious minorities are named in the promise, but Coptic Christians, under attack in Egypt, are surely at the top of the list.

Perhaps the biggest concentration of Coptics in Canada is in Mississauga, including the riding of Mississauga-Erindale, which Conservative Bob Dechert won by just 397 votes in 2008.

Mr. Harper said Canada is fortunate in that belief is not persecuted here.

"While are thankful to live in a country that spares us such tests, we must not let our comfort be an excuse to shirk our commitment to the cause of freedom."

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