Lasts words in Canada’s Centre Block for a decade highlight the concerns of Pakistani Christians
British Pakistani Christian Association Chairman Wilson Chowdhry and BPCA Canada Representative Keri-Lynn Gibbs visited Ottawa the second week of December to meet with various Canadian officials to discuss asylum for Asia Bibi and several major concerns for Pak-Christians. Despite an extremely busy week on Parliament Hill as the House was rising for Christmas several senior officials and parliamentarians met with our delegates.
Within the discussions held, an overwhelming reassurance was given by the Canadian authorities that they were one of several countries that were willing to provide asylum. They reiterated what we have been hearing from global diplomats that a concerted effort is being co-coordinated by a very analogous international body who are adamant that Asia Bibi’s life should be protected at all costs. Moreover, it was made very clear that significant engagement was being undertaken with Pakistan to ensure they followed through with their end of the diplomatic process/ bargain.
British Pakistani Christian Association is very aware of the whereabouts of the family and the plan for their safety but has been asked not to share any sensitive details. We will not endanger the life of Asia Bibi and her family and will not share anything more with any international media or our regular members. So far countries such as Holland, Italy, Australia, France, Germany, Canada and Spain have openly declared their willingness to provide safe asylum to Asia Bibi, but many more have also made offers. The UK is not one of the countries that has offered asylum to Asia Bibi and her family but they have been very involved in the diplomatic process in helping secure her expected future freedom. We can confirm that Asia Bibi will be required to be in Pakistan till a petition submitted by Tehreek-e- Labaaik is heard in Pakistan’s Supreme Court and we are praying for the hearing to be completed soon and for the Supreme Court judges to make a just decision in maintaining her acquittal, by enacting an automatic dismissal. Senior Supreme Court judges are expected to sit at the hearing and it is believed that their knowledge of jurisprudence, the safety and assurance offered to them and an overriding passion for justice will ensure Asia is soon to be free to leave her homeland.
Without sharing too much, I can confirm that the family of Asia Bibi are now safe and that they are no longer having to run from house to house to escape the multitude of irate Muslims seeking to capture them in retaliation for the perceived blasphemy of Asia Bibi and in an irrational fear of her imminent freedom. We hope this allays the fears of many of our supporters who have been seeking a solution to their forced nomadic life. I can also confirm that Asia and her husband spent Christmas together in a secret safe location, where they were afforded the best protection that Pakistani security forces can offer. Although this has its own limitations and weaknesses, we simply have to keep Asia Bibi and Ashiq Masih in our prayers and trust God will keep them safe, whatever concerns exist about previous failures by security details for Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer – may God rest their souls.
Whilst in Canada BPCA took the opportunity to speak about many other issues relating to Christians in Pakistan. We met with MP John MacKay to share our general concerns about issues faced by Pakistani Christians and the Asia Bibi case and he requested more information about the asylum-seekers in Thailand. MP McKay, was mindful to consider his portfolio and registered the areas where he was most helpful. There had been reports indicating that our concerns about Pakistan being given favoured trade status which remains plausible as there has been action this year to reduce trade barriers. (click here) We mentioned these discussions that happened in February earlier this year along with efforts to ease travel restrictions between the two countries, but MP MacKay affirmed that a strict regime with regards to travel from Pakistan is still in place.
BPCA Canada representative Keri-Lynn Gibbs said:
“It was an honour to meet this elder-stateman and experience his wisdom as he graciously listened to our concerns. There was a sense of being keenly listened to by MP MacKay as Mr Chowdhry was introduced to a member the sitting Canadian government that was very heart-warming.”
Government MP John MacKay graciously welcomed Chairman Wilson Chowdhry
In the historic Parliamentary Library – the only section of the original parliament building to survive the great fire of 1827 – on the last day it was to be opened for a decade due to a wholesale refurb of the parliament building we met with parliamentary aid David Bhatti and MP Garnett Genuis. Despite a hugely important bill passing through Canadian Parliament on Organ Harvesting our meeting was not cancelled such was the importance given to Asia Bibi’s safety.
Due to time constraints we combined the meeting to include Michael Hettrick Assistant to MP Kelly Block who is co-chair for the Committee on Freedom of Religion and Belief, so it was very apt that the meeting was held amongst the annuals of French Civil Law kept for the reference of lawmakers, to dialogue about the plight of Pakistani Christians.
R-L: Parliamentary Aid David Bhatti, BPCA (Canada) Vice-President Keri-Lynn Gibbs, Chairman Wilson Chowdhry, MP Garnett Genuis, Assistant to the Co-Chair of Freedom of Religion & Belief Committee Michael Hettrick stand in the Parliamentary Library together under a statue of Queen Victoria under whose reign the Dominion of Canada was established
BPCA offered to provide a free copy of our most recent reports to help the work of MP Kelly Block in her capacity on the international freedom panel. Assurances were made that Canada like many countries in the west were determined to help Asia Bibi and the many other Christian victims of Pakistan.
When we exited the library, Mr Bhatti pointed out the Parliamentary Library marred door frame where a bullet hit in 2014 as a terrorist armed with firearms charged the Centre Block of the Parliament in an attempt to harm the politicians inside. David Bhatti, nephew of slain Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti spoke poignantly of the bravery of the Canadian parliamentarians on that day.
Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Omar Alghabra met with our team to discuss several concerns we brought before him and BPCA. MP Alghabra expressed the Canadian Government’s keen interest in eliminating gender discrimination and debilitating childhood diseases like Polio in the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, he wanted us to be confident that Canada always desired to be “first in line” to speak up against the blasphemy laws and to come to the aid of those suffering from the draconian penalties under such allegations. At the meeting we were introduced to two officers representing Canadian Global Affairs and we have submitted copies of two reports on persecution with hope that it will help them to realign their recommendations for Pakistan and help them devise practical steps the Canadian government can take to better support those under threat.
BPCA asked Mr Alghabra to ensure foreign aid given to Pakistan has measurable results which concentrate on clear deliverables, in the areas of gender equality and human rights. He stated clearly that no aid was given directly to the Pakistani Government and that it was distributed multilaterally through Non-Government Organisations.
Mr Chowdhry, described how legislation in Pakistan can be ratified into law without any actual enforcement and how the provincial national curriculum is causing the transmission of hatred from one generation to the next. Mr Chowdhry discussed the national curriculum extensively and BPCA asserted that without clear efforts to eliminate the dehumanizing content of therein, that any claims that Pakistan is a state that does not persecute Christians could not be taken seriously.
We were pleased to express that our BPCA (Canada) non-profit organisation has been established and when it is ready to submit our application as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder for the Community Sponsorship programme for asylum seekers, that Mr Aghabra would be supportive. He confirmed he could help us with submitting our application with the Minister of Immigration once we apply. Many existing Sponsorship Agreement Holders do not employ the authority that we have to identify a refugee that may fall through the cracks of the UNHCR process. BPCA (Canada) wants to use this opportunity to help those asylum seekers who have been failed by the international system.
Ms Gibbs, who is familiar with the private sponsorship program, explained her concern for the Pakistani Christians trapped in Thailand and described her personal angst as a refugee sponsor caused by the recent crackdown there. Many of the asylum seekers we know are already UNHCR refugees, male asylum seekers in particular have no hope of bail and are left to languish in congested captivity with little hope of release, some have even died of preventative ailments. Young families are left unsupported and without a means of survival and BPCA has a campaign to help some left destitute by the incarceration of the primary breadwinner.
The marred door frame where a terrorist bullet hit the entry to the Parliamentary Library in 2014
Ms Gibbs said:
“As I looked at the bullet mark that scarred the door on the Parliamentary Library it was not lost on me that extremism can touch us even here. I hope that by reaching out to our elected representatives that the plight of some of the most vulnerable targets of extremists will have their voices heard and be able to receive the much need assistance that they warrant.
“All of the efforts for Pakistani Christians on Parliament Hill this week are some of the very last events before the Centre Block is sealed for the next decade, and will be open to only to the craftsman and workers engaged in renovations.
The questions now have been asked and the needs expressed, so I look forward to this decade being one filled with solutions and promise.
“Far from just having goodwill, I hope that Canada has the pragmatism to match their ideals making their well-wishes and good intentions a reality.
“Mr Alghabra pointed out that Canada is a place that welcomes everyone; my desire is that the Bangkok asylum seekers will not have long to wait until countries like Canada, Australia and other democracies open their doors to them.”
“In Thailand, these asylum seekers are treated as illegal immigrants and are routinely hunted down by Thai immigration authorities. If caught, they are fined, arrested, and put into Immigration Detention Centres where a lack of basic necessities has led to the death of many detainees.
“More than 250 people have been detained over the last two months and are now facing threats of deportation. If deported back to Pakistan, they face clear dangers to their lives.
“In response to this dire situation, the Pakistani Christian community in Canada has gathered signatures for a petition asking Canadian parliamentarians to intervene…”
Tuesday 11th of December a Christmas party was also held with Pakistani Christians in the Centre Block where carols were raised and speeches made. Mr Peter Bhatti of International Christian voice along with other Pakistani Christians submitted their petition to Parliamentarians as mentioned at a previous gathering attended by Ms Gibbs on the 9th of November in Mississauga, Ontario. (click here)
Wilson Chowdhry said:
“I was heartened to see that the persecution of Christians in Pakistan is being taken so seriously by Canadian politicians.
“Canada became a beacon of hope and won the whole-hearted affection of the global Pak-Christian diaspora through the previous efforts for Rimsha Masih; and indeed, is still one of the few countries offering asylum to Pakistani Christians fleeing religious persecution.
“Our work with the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board in enhancing their risk assessment tool for Pak-Christians (click here) made the process of asylum for Rimsha Masih one that was enacted with consummate ease.
“We hope to continue working in partnership with Canadian Authorities as we strive to help millions of beleaguered Christians in the Pakistani homeland and the thousands stranded in Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
“In the current parliament bipartisan efforts demonstrate there is a firm grasp on the dread created by the blasphemy laws and the need not just for their reform but for their abolition. It was an honour to meet each esteemed Member of Parliament.”
While in Pakistan Wilson Chowdhry met with senior members of the Pakistani origin Muslim Canadian Community including Tarek Fateh and Farzana Hussain two well-known columnists (click here) and were gifted with several publications from the two scholars. We also spoke at a Canadian Indo-Pakistani Christian Church (click here) bringing greater focus on the need for prayer for our Christian family in the homeland.
British Pakistani Christian Association, continues to provide advocacy and humanitarian aid to Christians in Pakistan and the Pak-Christian diaspora. We cannot do it without your help please donate by clicking (here).