(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
What is a refugee? The term gets thrown around a lot and, if you get your information from the mainstream media in Canada, you could be forgiven for believing a refugee is any migrant who arrives in a Western country hoping to stay.
The media in Canada, following cues from the Trudeau Liberals, erroneously conflate asylum seekers with bona-fide refugees. It happens every day on the CBC and on the pages of newspapers, such as the Toronto Star.
But not all asylum seekers are refugees. Many migrants explicitly break the rules laid out for becoming a refugee, for instance, by crossing through other safe countries before submitting their refugee applications.
Sadly, all this does is undermine the plight of real refugees around the world.
One such example of a true refugee in need of Canada’s help is Asia Bibi.
Bibi is a poor Pakistani farm worker, who also happens to be Catholic. She was born and raised in a small rural village near Lahore, Pakistan, where Christians are targeted, persecuted and relegated to low status and low-wage jobs.
Bibi and her family were often pressured by their community to convert to Islam.
One day, Bibi was sent to fetch water from a nearby well, and on her way she stopped to take a drink of water for a cup she found on the ground. Another villager saw her and insisted it was forbidden for a Christian to drink from the same cup as Muslims.
Bibi was confronted by an angry crowd, who again demanded that she convert. She refused, and defended her belief in Jesus Christ as the saviour of mankind.
A mob later showed up at Bibi’s house and began to physically attack her and her family. They accused her of making derogatory statements about Islam.
Police arrested her and charged her under Pakistan’s perverse blasphemy laws that punish those who criticize Islam.
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death by hanging.
The ruling was upheld by the Lahore High Court and she remained on death row.
Following international pressure from human rights organizations and the Pope himself, the case was sent to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which last month ruled Bibi was innocent, citing insufficient evidence and inconsistent witness accounts.
The acquittal prompted mass protests from hardline Islamists demanding that she be killed. Thousands of angry men took to the streets in mass demonstrations.
Bibi is now in hiding in Pakistan and the court ruled she cannot leave the country because her case remains in an appeals process.
The British government, meanwhile, confirmed it would not offer Bibi asylum — out of fear for the safety of British diplomats in Pakistan.
Canada has stepped up and our officials are reportedly in discussions with Pakistani officials about bringing her to Canada.
Bibi is an example of a real refugee, a person with a well-founded fear of persecution based solely on her religious beliefs. If she is forced to remain in Pakistan, there is no doubt she’ll be killed.
Her case highlights the very reason countries, such as Canada, have an asylum program — to protect individuals from cruel and unjust treatment while upholding our own values of freedom of speech, religious freedom and the rule of law.
Asia Bibi deserves asylum. And if the U.K. insists on cowering to a mob of Pakistani Islamists, then Canada needs to be there to offer Bibi and her family immediate aid and asylum.
Candice Malcolm is the Founder of the True North Initiative.