MONTREAL, Canada: Close to 200 people gathered in Montreal, Canada on the afternoon of September 02, 2023 to demonstrate their solidarity with the Pakistani Masihi Community (Pakistani Christians) who were brutally attacked on August 16 in Jaranwala, Pakistan.
Those gathered expressed outrage at this attack, the latest in a long history of attacks on Masihi and other minorities over the years and they held the Pakistani state responsible for not ensuring the safety and security of its citizens.
The vigil was held in the Park-Extension neighbourhood of the city, home to many people from South Asia and was organized by Ceras (Centre sur l’asie du sud), Rang Collective, SADAC (South Asian Diaspora Action Collective) and Teesri Duniya Theatre.
In the recent attack on Jaranwala, an entire neighbourhood was razed to the ground and all the families lost their homes and sources of livelihood. The Christians of Jaranwala, who were already socio-economically marginalized, have been left destitute. Places of worship and cemeteries were desecrated and burnt, as were sacred books.
Many people spoke at the vigil, including members of the Masihi community resident in Canada, as well as members of the Pakistani diaspora belonging to the majority Muslim community and other Pakistani minorities. Pastors of the Masihi communities in Montreal also spoke. Slogans were raised in Urdu, Punjabi, French and English. People who had been killed in earlier episodes of anti-Christian violence were remembered. Some of the speakers pointed to the similarities between attacks on minorities in other countries of South Asia, notably India.
Iftekhar Ahmed of Rang Collective said, “This is an utter and complete failure of the state and government of Pakistan, in providing safety and security for its citizens. Under the constitution of Pakistan, all citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion have the right to safety and security.”
Repeatedly speakers identified political motivations as behind the attacks on minorities. Dolores Chew of CERAS said, “Politicians have obligations to their populations. Their disregard for minority rights can have negative repercussions on their countries and societies overall.”
Kanita Ahmed of Rang Collective spoke about the history of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. She noted, “although the death penalty for blasphemy has never been enforced in Pakistan, it has still taken too many lives – an estimated 85 people accused of blasphemy have been killed before trial by mobs or vigilantes since 1990 – most of them Christian or Ahmadi”. The blasphemy laws are used as tools of intimidation to settle personal scores and property disputes. She also noted that there is no penalty or punishment for making a false accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan though such a penalty would greatly benefit religious minorities.
Parveen William, a member of the Pakistani Christian community said, “Condemnation is not enough. It’s time to bring changes to law 295-C which is always used against the Christians. And I want to tell Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan we are with you!”
It was pointed out that many in the local community were political refugees, fleeing the kind of violence and intolerance characteristic of the Jaranwala attack.
Those gathered also called on the government of Canada to speak out for rights of Pakistani Christians and to take the issue up with the government of Pakistan.
The sentiment that was palpable was anger at what had happened, that impunity must not be enjoyed by the perpetrators and that governments must be held accountable for the safety and security of their every citizen, regardless of religious affiliation.