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Baird visits Bartholomew, highlights commitment to religious freedoms

By Evan Sotiropoulos      

Former International Trade minister Peter Van Loan led a mission to Istanbul and Ankara late last year and didn't pay a courtesy call to the Patriarchate. But Foreign Affairs Minister John of Baird visited the archbishop of Constantinople last month.

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TORONTO—I write following my recent column “Time to put Conservative campaign rhetoric to the test” (The Hill Times, July 18, p. 2) to applaud Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird for visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Baird, like U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took time after the Contact Group on Libya meeting in Istanbul to go see His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

This is an important and significant first step: not only does it allow Baird to better understand the plight of the 1,700-year-old Patriarchate, the dialogue also helps to inform the Office of Religious Freedom’s formation.

Going forward, however, Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper—like Bill Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama have done before them—should strongly consider calling for the reopening of the Halki Seminary, a purely religious institution kept closed by Turkish authorities since 1971.

While political commentators easily condemn Parliamentarians, they are generally less generous when it comes to commending them.

When, for example, former International Trade minister Peter Van Loan led a mission to Istanbul and Ankara late last year and didn’t even pay a courtesy call to the Patriarchate, I wrote in these pages that “human rights seem to have completely fallen by the wayside during his tour of Turkey.”

Using the same standard six months later, I write in support of Baird’s actions in Turkey which help highlight his commitment to religious freedoms.

Here’s hoping it continues.

Evan Sotiropoulos is a freelance political columnist.



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