Day: Advocate for religious tolerance in Pakistan gunned down

Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day's weekly column

“I’ve avoided marriage because I don’t want to leave a widow and orphans.”

Shahbaz Bhatti

That was quite a statement to be made from a handsome, up and coming political star.

Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of having lunch with a few colleagues as we hosted the young cabinet minister who had spoken those words.

His country? Pakistan. His concern? That he might someday be assassinated, maybe by someone in his own party.

His crime? Being a Christian. You see, in Pakistan, as in many other countries, Islam is the only permissible religion.

It is actually a matter of law. The legislated sanction can be death.

Hard to believe. Many of these nations are modern, well-educated, high-tech and global traders.

Yet, they actually make it a capital crime to be Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, or any faith other than Islam.

How can they be so barbaric and utterly ignorant about history?

No regime that has ever tried to squash freedom of religion has ever been successful in the long run.

They always collapse, often violently and usually from within.

Our Pakistani colleague spoke to us in earnest about his hope for change in his own country.

He was going to continue to advocate for religious freedom and legislative change in his country which he loved so much.

His visit to Canada was to raise the profile of this life and death problem—his hope being that international awareness of the problem would bring increased pressure on his and similar governments to drop their inhumane policies against people of faith.

We received an email update from him last week, indicating that he was back in Pakistan.

He thanked us for our support and encouragement. He said he would continue to stand up for the protection of people of all faiths.

He asked us to pray that his courage would not grow weak.

After he signed off the email he drove to his mother’s home to ask her not to worry about him.

Following the visit, he stepped out onto her driveway where he was machine gunned to death by a squad of assassins screaming, “Die infidel!”

I will join others this week in a memorial service in Ottawa. His funeral took place in Pakistan.

At the memorial, our only solace will be in knowing that history will eventually take its course.

And when the insanity of those blasphemy laws has been swept away, the name Shabhaz Bhatti will be held in high esteem and gratitude.

•••

While we rejoice in the hard-fought freedoms we enjoy here at home, I was reminded that no society is ever totally free from those who are driven by hate and malice.

The reminder was in the form of an announcement I made this week in Vancouver.

When I was minister of public safety in 2007, we launched a three-year pilot program called the Security Infrastructure Program.

This project shares the costs of installing security cameras, monitoring equipment and other protective devices to community facilities or places of worship that have been at risk of hate motivated crimes or vandalism.

Two facilities in B.C. received funds for those security costs this week.

One was a Jewish community centre (open to the public), the other a First Nations friendship centre.

Glad we could do it. Sad that it was necessary.

•••

Speaking of security, last Saturday night was an evening celebrating the fragile journey to recovery for women who have been hurt from abuse.

I can tell you we left the event feeling uplifted and encouraged. A big congratualtions to the South Okanagan Women In Need Society.

We heard one testimony after another from women whose lives had been shattered but were  now determined and equipped to regain their destinies and pursue their dreams.

Not an easy road, but one on which they will not have to walk alone.

A big-time ‘shout out’ to all the counsellors and supporters who make this happen.

•••

On the economic front. I tabled the main estimates of government spending for 2011. That’s all the detailed spending plans of all departments for the year ahead.

For the first time in 10 years, the spending is estimated to be less (by $10 billion) than the year before.

And we’ll do it without cutting our people programs like health and education funding transfers to the provinces or seniors’ and EI benefits.

We’ll report to you every quarter to see that we stay on track.

•••

And a final thanks to the elementary kids and teacher in Kelowna who found Trixie, the dog who was stolen from Merritt and went missing for 17 days.

You made a family very happy!

Stockwell Day is the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla and president of the federal Treasury Board.