Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PC Community Flash - Minority Day 2011

On August 11th, Pakistan officially celebrates Minority Day, thanks in large part to martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, former Minister for Minorities Pakistan. The recognition of minorities did not openly occur in Pakistan’s government prior to the creation of this day.
Why August 11th? On this day in 1947, while addressing the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam (father of the nation) Mohammad Ali Jinnah announced that minorities would have equal rights in the newly created Islamic Republic (sort of – but that’s another story). Nevertheless, this event gave the minorities a positive outlook for their future; minorities without whose vote – Pakistan would not even be in existence today.
In Mississauga, Ontario on August 13th, 2011, the International Christian Voice (ICV) hosted a celebration for Pakistan’s Minority Day in the presence of chief guest Mr. Imran Ali (Deputy Counsel General of Pakistan - Toronto Consulate); elected officials from the Canadian government: Hon Tim Uppal (Minister of State - Democratic Reforms), MP Kyle Seeback (Brampton West), MP Parm Gill (Brampton-Springdale), Mr. Frank Domenichiello (President Conservative Party Vaughan) from the office of Hon Julian Fantino (Minister of State - National Defense); representatives of Pakistani political parties in Canada; church leaders and over a hundred Canadians of Pakistani Christian heritage and faith, as well as representatives of other religious minorities of Pakistan. This event highlighted the valuable and continued contributions of minorities in the development of Pakistan in various fields (judiciary and civil services, health care and education, and defense) and discussed the present situation of these Pakistanis.

The event began as most Christian events do, with scripture reading (Pastor Basharat David) and opening prayer (Pastor Samuel Ghori). After the national anthem I and my fellow MC Raheel Masih were able to introduce ourselves and begin the main portion of the evening.
Pervez Masih (President ICV) welcomed the honorable guests and audience and introduced the ICV organization. He spoke about the significance of Minority Day and the role and efforts of Shahbaz Bhatti in getting this day recognized by the government of Pakistan.
Rev. Dr. Rashid Gill shared with the audience, the role and deciding Christian vote of Christian leaders at the time of decision by West Punjab to join Pakistan. He described in details of the significant role of Chief Justice A R Cornelius and his contributions to the justice system in Pakistan and the sport of Cricket.

Phoebe Samuel a nurse educator, co-founder and principle of the first graduate nursing school in Punjab Pakistan, and specialist in Forensic Psychiatry here in Canada, defined the role of Christians in educating and caring for the Pakistani nation. She expressed her dismay at the alarmingly low literacy rate of Christians in Pakistan and raised the fact that nationalization of Christian Institution in 1972 by the PPP government deprived Pakistani Christians of many educational opportunities. Mrs. Samuel’s speech was one of the best of the night and well-appreciated by the audience for her strong delivery of the facts; and for sticking to her topic (cheers).
Rev. Luke James, a decorated, retired Pakistan Air Force officer, shared the significant contributions of Christians in the defense forces of Pakistan, particularly in her air force.
Mr. Javed Iqbal and Obeid Newton (ICV General Secretary) paid tribute to Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti and other Pakistani Christians for the services and sacrifices with well appreciated poetic renditions.
Mr. Asher Habib, a successful Pakistani Christian businessman in Canada, gave the most emotional speech of the afternoon. Audiences were teary eyes, as he described the treatment of Pakistani Christians at the hands of the majority Muslim population.
Mr. Bishan Sigh Chohan, a Pakistani Sikh, and member of martyr Shahbaz Bhatti’s All Pakistan Minority League, shared his experiences and those of his family; the persecuted life as a Sikh minority in Pakistan
We were then addressed by Hon Tim Uppal, who reiterated Prime Minister Stephen Harper and our Progressive Conservative government’s plan to open an Office for Religious Freedom; followed by the other members of the Canadian government who offered their support in this fight against state sponsored persecution of minorities; as well as congratulating Mr. Peter Bhatti (Chairman ICV) and the organization for hosting this event. 
Mr. Bhatti spoke next, reiterating the sacrifices of our forefathers in the creation of Pakistan.  He narrated Quid-e-Azam’s vision for minorities at the time of creation of Pakistan, and explained in detail the poor treatment and persecution of Christian and other religious minorities in today’s Pakistan using examples of the numerous incidents of violence against the lives and properties of Pakistani Christians. He specifically mentioned, Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law, its unconstitutionality, and misuse against Christians and other religious minorities of Pakistan. In his speech he paid tribute to the late Salman Taseer (former Governor of Punjab) and martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, who were both brutally assassinated for speaking against this law. Mr. Bhatti then appealed all Pakistani political parties to request their leaders to stand united against its misuse and repeal.
Mr Sebastian Gill (Treasurer ICV), then introduced chief guest Mr. Imran Ali and invited him to the podium for presentation of a petition gathered by ICV. More than eight thousand Canadian citizens signed this petition asking the Pakistani government to repeal the horrendous Blasphemy Law. Nitasha Bhatti read the petitions demands for the audience and officials.
In the presence of Hon Tim Uppal, MP Kyle Seeback, MP Parm Gill, Mr. Paul Hong from office of Hon John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Mr. Frank Domenichiello from the office Hon Julian Fantino (State Minister of Defense),  Ch Liquet Mailk and Danial Ibrham PPP, Imran Siddiqi MQM Canada, and  representatives of All Pakistan Muslim League; local church leaders, Pastor Samuel Ghori (All Nation Bible Church, Brampton), Pastor David Alexander (New Convent Church Canada), Pastor Caral Patrick (South Asian Christian Alliance, Mississauga), Bishop Edwin Riaz (New Apostolic Church Canada), Pastor Javed Akhtar (Lutheran Evangelical Church, Hamilton), Pastor Wilson Nazim,  Rev Dr. Rashid Gill (Light Bearers of Christ Church), Elder Kanwal Dean and Brother Younis Joseph; this petition was handed over to Mr. Imran Ali to be delivered to the President of Pakistan.
Mr. Imran Ali accepted the petition on behalf of the President of Pakistan and stated his personal regret over the continued misuse of this law in Pakistan against the religious minorities. He stressed on the education and development of minorities to overcome persecutions.
Towards the end of the event, MP Joe Daniel also dropped in to show his support to ICV in their mission to promote freedom of religion and human rights in Pakistan for Christians and other religious minorities. The event ended with a closing prayer by Bro. Richard. Attendees from Muslim faith left the event early due to Ramadan, whereas all others enjoyed fellowship and food into the evening.

All in all it may have been a long program filled with lots of information and emotion; but from what I know about my community, I know that in general, we are all very passionate about the issues that face our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. This event was a beyond successful start in delivering that passion and demand for change to both Pakistani and Canadian governments. The petition itself, included more Canadian citizens outside of the Pakistani community showing that it's not just a personal cause.. this is an issue of human rights that we all must stand against. The Blasphemy Law isn't just being misused - it's plain wrong.
More Pictures and Details to follow.

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