Canadian government establishes ‘External Advisory Committee to the Office of Religious Freedom’

China Aid
By Rachel Ritchie

(Midland, Texas—July 1, 2015) China Aid applauds and supports the formation of the external advisory committee to the Office of Religious Freedom of Canada and is especially encouraged by the the appointment of committee members Dr. Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute and Pastor Richard Kao of the Five Stones Church in Vancouver.

External Advisory Committee to the Office of Religious Freedom

On June 22, 2015, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced the establishment of an External Advisory Committee (EAC) on religious freedom.

The Committee comprises 23 prominent leaders from a wide variety of Canadian faith and belief communities representative of Canada’s diversity. It will advise the Office of Religious Freedom on the exercise of its mandate to promote and defend religious freedom internationally as a central element of Canada’s principled foreign policy.

The inaugural meeting of the EAC was hosted on June 22, 2015, at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada in Ottawa by Minister Nicholson and Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.

The EAC will meet semi-annually. It is chaired by Father Raymond J. de Souza, a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston and Chaplain at the Newman Centre, Queen’s University. Corinne Box of the Bahá’í Community of Canada and Malik Talib, President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, serve as vice-chairs of the EAC.

Both Minister Nicholson and Ambassador Bennett are pleased that the following individuals have agreed to serve on the External Advisory Committee:


Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is a Roman Catholic priest and well-known newspaper columnist. Since 2006, he has served as the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary Parish on Wolfe Island—the largest of the Thousand Islands—and since 2004, has served as chaplain at Newman House, the Roman Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s University. In 2011, he was appointed consultant to the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty—the lead committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in defence of religious liberty at home and abroad.


Malik Talib serves as president of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, the social governance body for the Ismaili community in Canada, composed of volunteer leaders from across the country. The president also serves as an ex officio member of the National Committee of Aga Khan Foundation Canada, a non-denominational Canadian international development agency. Mr. Talib is currently the CEO of the Talmont Group of Companies. He holds a BSc from McGill University and an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School.


Corinne Box has served as director of government relations on behalf of the Bahá’í Community of Canada since June 2014. Her work focuses primarily on advocating at the national level for Bahá’ís in other countries who are experiencing state-sponsored religious persecution. This has included working closely with officials at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and with parliamentarians. A finance and marketing graduate of McGill University, she has held various management positions in both operations and commercial lending for one of Canada’s largest banks.

Committee members

Imam Sayed Nabil Abbas is the imam of the Lebanese Islamic Centre in Montréal. He chairs the Lebanese Islamic Centre’s religious committee, ensuring the implementation of its religious functions and ensuring the Centre’s activities are consistent with Islamic rites and beliefs.

Eric Adriaans is national executive director of Centre for Inquiry Canada, a national charity providing education on secular humanism, reason, science and critical thinking. Mr. Adriaans has been a charitable sector professional since 1991, working with Canada’s most respected organizations. At CFI Canada, Mr. Adriaans has led an organization renewal program, with a focus on human rights, education and health sciences. These programs are aimed at supporting new Canadians and helping them access international events and opposing blasphemy laws throughout the world through the founding of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws.

Peter Bhatti is the president and founder of International Christian Voice. He was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and obtained his diploma in associate engineering in mechanical power, immigrating to Canada in 1997. Mr. Bhatti is passionate about helping the suffering and victimized religious minorities of Pakistan and around the world. He follows in the footsteps of his late brother, Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, to promote religious freedom. Through International Christian Voice, Mr. Bhatti continues to raise awareness on religious freedom issues in Pakistan and around the world and has been playing a vital role in helping newly arrived Pakistanis integrate into Canadian society.

Rabbi Reuven Bulka is a rabbi, writer, broadcaster and activist in Ottawa, Ontario, and former co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He received his Rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Rabbinical Seminary in New York City and his PhD from the University of Ottawa in 1971. He previously served as the rabbi of the Machzikei Hadas congregation in Ottawa from 1967 to 2013. Rabbi Bulka is an active leader in the Jewish and civic communities. He is the author and editor of more than 30 books and countless articles.

Dr. Aslam Daud has championed humanitarian causes for the past 30 years. As the chairman of Humanity First Canada, he leads many international humanitarian relief programs around the world. As the national vice president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada, he actively promotes religious freedom, peace and tolerance. He leads a team that assists members of religious communities abroad who face persecution by engaging relevant governments and authorities and also by assisting persecuted refugees to resettle in safer places. He is also a federally appointed director with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. By profession, Dr. Daud is a medical doctor and works as a health care information technology consultant.

Kulbir (Colin) Singh Dhillon is the chair of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada, a director for a global automotive company, a college lecturer in the field of design and innovation and a husband and father. Having emigrated from England in the early 1990s, Mr. Dhillon has worked tirelessly to break down societal and community barriers through his work and by adhering to the values bestowed onto the Sikh community by their gurus of “recognizing all of humanity as one.” In 2012, Mr. Dhillon was a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his service to Canada.

John Gill is the director of Minority Groups United and the president of Canadian Christian Association. He is also the founder and adviser of the Canadian Asian Christian Business Professional Association. Mr. Gill, who is an engineer by profession and an expert in project management, applied his expertise in engineering and financial business while working as an infrastructure consultant for organizations such as World Vision International and the United Nations Development Programme.

Carl Hétu is national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). Since 2005, Mr. Hétu has been in charge of the organization’s Canadian headquarters where he manages day-to-day operations and leads public awareness and fundraising campaigns. Mr. Hétu regularly advises Catholic bishops on issues pertaining to eastern churches, religious minorities and inter-religious dialogue. He also works closely with the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches. Prior to his appointment at CNEWA, Mr. Hétu worked for 14 years in social justice and international development with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

Pastor Richard (Rich) Kao has been in the pastoral ministry for 25 years and currently serves as founding pastor of Five Stones Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mr. Kao has been deeply involved in leadership training in Asia for over 20 years. He frequently serves as a keynote speaker at conferences and provides strategic advice and input to key churches and networks in the Pacific Rim region. Mr. Kao also serves on multiple non-profit and business boards. He holds degrees in biology and immunology and is completing his doctoral studies in leadership. He and his wife Memie have four children between the ages of 16 and 23.

Antoine Malek is the chair, president and founding member of the Coptic Orthodox Community of Greater Montréal and is also spokesperson of the Coalition for Freedom in Education in Quebec. A recipient of the Governor General of Canada’s Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, Mr. Malek has appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to speak on the topic of the human rights situation in Egypt, including the persecution of Coptic Christians following the overthrow of former president Mubarak.

Jim Marino, ‎recently appointed executive director of the Niagara Foundation for Catholic Education, is an experienced broadcaster and communications adviser, having acted as press secretary to the Honourable Peter McCreath and communications adviser to the Right Honourable Kim Campbell while she was minister of veterans affairs. Mr. Marino previously served as executive director at the Niagara Children’s Centre Foundation. He is an active community and church member, president of both the Diocesan and Parish Holy Name societies and was awarded the highest papal honour for lay people granted by the Roman Catholic Church—the “pro ecclesia et pontifice” (for church and pope) medal—by St. John Paul II in 2003 for his dedication to the Catholic Church‎.

Dr. Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington D.C., distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of Religion at Baylor University, senior fellow at the Leimena Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia, and visiting professor at the Graduate School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta. He earned his PhD in political theory at York University, Toronto, is the author and editor of more than twenty books on religion and politics, especially religious freedom, and his writings have been translated into 22 languages.

Phuong Ngo is a partner in Gowlings law firm in Ottawa and practises in the areas of civil and administrative litigation in both official languages. Ms. Phuong has been an active member of Vietnamese community organizations in Canada and an advocate for human rights and democracy in Vietnam. In this capacity, she has worked with Vietnamese religious groups. Since 2011, Ms. Phuong has also been a trustee on the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Imam Abdul Hai Patel is the founder and former coordinator of Canadian Council of Imams and currently acts as its director of interfaith relations. Mr. Patel is the Muslim chaplain at the University of Toronto and with York Regional Police, a member of the Interfaith Committee and chaplain for the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. Imam Hai Patel is the founder and member of Canadian Interfaith Conversation and was also the immediate past president of the Ontario Multifaith Council.

Pandit Roopnauth Sharma is the founder and spiritual leader of Mississauga’s Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple, where he attends to a community of over 3,000 families on all religious and social matters. He is also the founder of Canada Hindu Heritage Centre (CHHC). CHHC is focused on addressing the social, economic and cultural needs of the Hindu community. Mr. Sharma is also the driving force behind projects related to family issues, poverty, youth violence and low-income housing. He is currently the president of the Federation of Hindu Temples of Canada, president of the Ontario Multifaith Council and Hindu chaplain for federal detention centres.

Dr. Mario Silva has had a distinguished career as an elected municipal and federal official between the years 1994 and 2011, as well as being an author and international legal scholar. He was appointed by the Government of Canada to serve as the 2013 chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Dr. Silva is a published author, writing on international law, security and human rights, and is the recipient of several honours, including the French Order of the Legion of Honour and Order of Merit of Portugal. Dr. Silva has held positions at Ryerson University and at McGill University, where he is currently a visiting scholar.

His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios was elected bishop on December 18, 1973, and ordained on January 27, 1974. On September 24, 1996, he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan archbishop of Toronto and exarch of all Canada. When he assumed his duties as bishop in Canada, there were 22 parishes; that number has now reached 75. He is currently the chairman of the Canadian Conference of Orthodox Bishops, which represents a diversity of international Orthodox bishops. His Eminence has composed and published the Catechism of the Greek Orthodox Faith in English and in Greek verse and prose and has been honoured with the Centennial Medal of Canada and the medal of the city of Athens, among others.

Tsering Tsomo currently serves as the president of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario and the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre, based in Toronto. In addition, Ms. Tsomo works for a not-for-profit, multi-service women’s charitable organization. For the past 25 years, she has worked for the Tibetan diaspora community, both in India and Canada, in a range of government and not-for-profit organizations.

Rukiye Turdush was born in East Turkistan (Xinjiang) China and is the former president of the Uyghur Canadian Society. While working as a broadcast reporter at the Xinjiang TV University in Urumchi, China, she was forced to quit her job after pressing for freedom of speech in her broadcast reports. In late 1998, she immigrated to Canada, and shortly thereafter, completed her studies at the University of Windsor and then worked as a senior researcher for the Uyghur Human Rights Foundation in Washington, D.C. Currently, she is working for Radio Free Asia based in Washington, D.C., and remains actively involved in Uyghur human rights issues.

Christine D. Williams is a federally appointed director with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and a member of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Task Force Against anti-Semitism. She is also public affairs and media consultant to the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. By trade, Ms. Williams is a journalist. For 15 years, she worked at CTS Television in Burlington, Ontario, as a producer and television host, winning nine international awards. Ms. Williams performs regularly at speaking engagements, as well as moderating, editing and consulting, and currently sits on committees involving finance, investments and audits.

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