Canada’s newly-appointed ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, met with Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s former Minister for National Harmony and the chair of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, for a public discussion on the freedom of religion and belief at Canada House on 4 July. The discussion was co- sponsored by Canada House and the UK Bahá’í community.
Dr Bhatti is the brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan until his assassination in 2011.
The discussion was attended by a wide range of human rights activists, clerics, members of the Pakistani diaspora, civil servants, and journalists. Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner, restated Canada’s commitment to the work of freedom of religion and belief around the world – and welcomed the collaboration with the Bahá’í community and other groups.
Ambassador Bennett and Dr Bhatti discussed several questions on the freedom of religion: the need to balance this essential right with others; the wisdom of removing theology from any consideration of the freedom of religion; the universality of this and other human rights; the ways in which international partners can, despite cultural and contextual differences, find common ground to pursue the freedom of religion and belief agenda.
Questions from the floor, and further reflections from the two distinguished guests, centered on the long-standing issue of the blasphemy law in Pakistan; the central importance of education in dealing with infringements on freedom of belief; and the crucial interplay between the freedom of religion and belief, and the freedom of expression.