Shabhaz Bhatti's brother, Peter

Tories honoured for promoting religious freedom

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  • August 31, 2011

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - International Christian Voice is hosting a dinner Sept. 9 in Mississauga to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government for their work in promoting religious freedom internationally.

The Toronto-based human rights organization is run by Peter Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minorities minister and Christian who was assassinated last March after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws.

“The Conservative government has made an announcement of an international religious freedom office (the Office of Religious Freedom) and they’re trying to promote religion internationally, so we want to thank them,” said Bhatti.

“When my brother was murdered, (Immigration Minister) Jason Kenney attended his funeral… and gave him tribute. And before, nobody was even talking about religious freedom. But now, Stephen Harper has made an announcement that they would open a new office with the focus internationally on religious freedom and that makes us very hopeful.”

Located within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa, the office would monitor religious freedom around the world, promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy and advance policies and programs that support religious freedom. The new office is estimated to cost $5 million annually.

No date has been set for the opening of the Office of Religious Freedom, said Candice Malcolm, press secretary and political aid to Kenney.

The dinner falls on what would have been Shahbaz Bhatti’s birthday. It was rescheduled from its original June 25 date after Conservative politicians were unable to attend as they were called back to the House of Commons to bring in back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers.

The South Asian community dinner event will feature Kenney, a Catholic, as the chief guest.

“We’re honoured to be recognized for the work that we have been doing on the defence of religious freedom and the protection of vulnerable religious minorities,” Kenny told The Catholic Register.

“One impetus for the Office of Religious Freedom was a visit paid to Ottawa last February by the late Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.”

Other guests of honour will include Minister of State for Sport Bal Gosal and Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal. Harper will not be in attendance.

“International Christian Voice is going to be presenting a petition at the dinner signed by 8,000 people to repeal the blasphemy law in Pakistan which was cause to assassinate my brother,” said Bhatti.

The actual petition was presented to Imran Ali, the deputy consul general of Pakistan at the Toronto Consulate, on Pakistan Minority Day Aug. 13, so Kenney will be receiving a copy.

The evening will also include a video tribute to the late minorities minister and an official thank you to Harper for announcing the creation of the religious freedom office.

There will be more than 400 people at the dinner, said Bhatti, which will take place at Swagat Banquet Hall. Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins has sent a small note on human rights, democracy and religious freedom that will be read at the dinner, he said.

Meanwhile, Bhatti has rejected claims that family and property disputes were behind his brother’s assassination. A leaked news report said that an investigator had absolved Muslim extremists for the murder, instead saying it was linked to a rivalry with relatives.

“They only want to divert attention away from the martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti as a leader on the issue of religious freedom,” said Bhatti.

“They want to bring down concern from the international community by giving them the wrong image that he was not martyred for this cause.”

For more information on International Christian Voice, see www.internationalchristianvoice.com.

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