Peter Bhatti's brother, Pakistan's former and only Christian Minority Affairs Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti (pictured), was assassinated in 2011 for being outspoken against his country's blasphemy laws, which carry the death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. Photo: Courtesy of Peter Bhatti

Witness says M-103 could bring violence to Canada

  • October 3, 2017

OTTAWA – A religious freedom advocate whose brother was murdered for his Catholic beliefs told a parliamentary committee that legislation on Islamophobia could bring Canada the type of religious violence many people came here to escape.

Peter Bhatti, the founder of International Christian Voice, told the Heritage Committee Sept. 27 that Pakistani-Canadi-ans also worry that the government’s Islamophobia Motion 103 could put the lives of their relatives in Pakistan at risk.

“The fears of Pakistani Christian immigrants living in Canada are not imaginary,” said Bhatti, whose brother, Pakistan’s former Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated in 2011. 

He said people are concerned that Motion 103 could be used to accuse a Pakistani-Canadian of being anti-Muslim, and such a label could have dire consequenc-es for their families in Pakistan, where “blasphemy law holds a sentence of life in prison or death.”

M-103, which passed last March, has led to a study of racism and religious discrimination in Canada by the Heritage Committee. 

Bhatti reminded the committee that Pakistan’s blasphemy law is “misused to settle personal, economic and political disputes,” and has resulted in “murders of members of my family, friends and prominent members of our community.” 

“We fear that M-103 will foster similar conditions of suffocation and oppression, while cultivating an environment of division and disharmony in our communities. These are the same situations we came to Canada to escape and avoid forever,” he said.

Part of the problem, he added, is an “unclear definition of Islamophobia.”  That ambiguity could lead to restrictions on free speech and could criminalize non-Muslims “for expressing, celebrating and defending their respective fears,” he warned.

Fr. Raymond de Souza, whose column appears in The Catholic Register, told the committee the motion conflates racism and religious persecution.

“Race, of course, regards characteristics inherited at birth. Religion is a matter of faith and practice, which can change,” de Souza said. “For example, a Pakistani who decides to become Christian does not change his race or nationality but his religion.” 

He noted that Shahbaz Bhatti was of the same race as those who assassinated him.

Religions such as Islam and Catholicism welcome people of many different races, he said.

“I welcome a robust embrace of religious freedom, but note it is often the government, through legislation and regulation, that impinges upon religious freedom,” he said. “That is true for Jews and Christians as well as Muslims. Therefore to focus on one particular religion would be, I think, unwise.”

Jay Cameron, legal counsel with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, criticized the language of the motion which states: “there is a rising public climate of hate and fear in this country which the government needs to quell.”

“The word ‘quell’ in the motion only serves to increase concerns about M-103,” Cameron testified. “It hints at compulsion, with an implied use of force.” 

He told the committee he wondered how such a word had ever passed the House of Commons.

“It is not the government’s role to make everyone love each other,” he said. “Government’s role is to uphold constitutional freedoms.”

Raheel Raza, president of Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, said the motion singles out one faith, creating an “us-versus-them” mentality, when statistics show crimes against Jews, blacks and the LGBT community are higher than those against Muslims.

Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and part of a group called Muslims Against M-103, told the committee he fears any suppression of “Islamophobia” will be used against Muslims like himself who are critical of aspects of the “political ideology” of Islamism.

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