Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2 PC Cent's - 2012 John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights & Freedoms Award

This past week it was my pleasure to attend the ceremony of the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedoms Award. This year’s honorees are two of the most incredible people I have ever had the honor myself of encountering. One as many of us are aware, was our martyr Shahbaz Bhatti (former Federal Minister for Minorities, Pakistan) and the second was an incredibly courageous and humble woman by the name of Susana Trimarco.

An image of the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights & Freedoms Award
Her story is exceptionally heartbreaking: in 2002 her daughter Marita, a mother herself of a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, was abducted while at a doctor’s appointment. According to witnesses, she was taken and believed to be forced into prostitution. Susana wouldn’t give up on Marita; she actually dressed up like a prostitute herself and went from brothel to brothel searching for her beloved daughter. She continually faced both threats and danger towards her own life but neither saw nor felt anything but the love she had for her child who she knew was out there somewhere.

In 2007 she founded “Fundación María de los Angeles” (Foundation of Maria of the Angels); a foundation which she continues to use to not only bring awareness about forced prostitution and sexual slavery – but to rescue and return the girls that have been oppressed by it. Ms. Trimarco has rescued and rehabilitated countless women from all over Argentina and the surrounding areas from prostitution and sexual slavery.


When I spoke to Susana at the post-ceremony reception I had barely any words for her. All I could say is “I hope you find your daughter,” at which she grasped my hands in her own and looked into my eyes saying “This is all I want. She is why I’ll never stop.” I prayed God bless her and her family, and her daughter wherever she might be and moved on but I will never forget the look in her eyes, nor the determination with which she spoke because THAT is what I know we all feel for our own.

We too have sisters, brothers, father and mothers, aunts and uncles, we have friends – church members, neighbors – each and every one of us knows someone that has been affected by persecution. That determination is what unites us; to see justice for those who have been hurt, and freedom for those who are in the line of fire.

Left to right: Hon Minister John Baird, MP Joy Smith, Susana Trimarco, Peter Bhatti, Hon Minister Jason Kenney.

So who was John Diefenbaker?

Canada's 13th Prime Minister John Diefenbaker greets a First Nations woman and young boy.
An incredible man on a mission to make Canada a place where residents of the land became citizens of the nation; he felt that despite their cultural differences all citizens of Canada were entitled to certain rights, such as the right to vote. With this belief he attempted to go forth and right the wrongs that were committed against the Natives of Canada; creating harmony between them and the Federal Government by extension of the franchise (right to vote) in 1960 by changing the section of the Indian Act which denied them that right, and signing the Canadian Bill of Rights.


Before 1960, First Nations people although the land was their own, were not allowed to even VOTE for the people that governed it – after the two World Wars even, First Nations veterans were enfranchised only if they gave up their Indian Status; and only 250 men voluntarily accepted this offer.

Natives were known as federal “wards”.

Diefenbaker’s government was with him in this effort; especially Senator James Gladstone (the first Aboriginal person appointed to the Senate).

Why am I sharing this? Because: as Pakistani Christians, we too are natives in a land where we have been displaced. Before learning more, it may not be immediately apparent, the relationship we have with this story but it’s definitely there.

First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 63 recognized First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

Although it was not without conflict or slavery, the Euro-Canadians' early interactions with First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations were relatively non-combative compared to the often violent battles between colonists and native peoples in the United States; this allowed the First Nations peoples to have a strong influence on national culture here in Canada, while preserving their own identities.

It may not have been as violent as in other places, yet colonization came at a price for these people. They were made hostage in their own homes; a feeling that our community knows all too well even today. This is why this award named after one of the men who made defending human rights and freedoms possible in Canada is such an honor for us all.

Like the leader that we all hold dear, martyr Shahbaz Bhatti; Diefenbaker saw a people that needed and deserved equality and justice. Freedom of oppression and freedom to be who they were culturally (and by faith) with equal opportunity granted to all citizens. I believe this is why Shahbaz Bhatti was chosen to receive this award. I also believe that if these two men and this woman have lived by these ideals and met some form of accomplishment through them, then they are by no means rare.

I’m looking forward to more leaders rising up and following in the footsteps of these men, risking their careers, their personal lives – even their lives to show the world that the atrocity of persecution will not lay unnoticed nor unchallenged.

Men like our own federal ministers Jason Kenney and John Baird, who graciously honored the Bhatti family with the award for martyr Shahbaz on March 14th, 2012 in Ottawa at the John Diefenbaker Building. Along with our courageous and outspoken Prime Minister Stephen Harper they are continuing to challenge the world to step forward and own up to the heinous crimes taking place everywhere against Christians – against all human life.

Spreading democracy is not about forcing people to commit to voting or governing a certain way; it’s about ensuring that life is valued and that every individual has the opportunity to flourish in whichever way they choose.

So thank you to this government; thank you to all our Conservative Party supporters; thank you to John Diefenbaker for setting this precedence, and thank you Shahbaz – thank you again most of all for giving our people hope, for setting this issue on fire with your vision and your persistence. Thank you for giving your life.

The Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), click to enlarge.

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