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An LGBT watchdog in Latin America needs our help — but why has Canada stayed silent?

Canada lauded for being LGBT-friendly, but no word on funding key human rights body

The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), among other organizations, is calling for Canada to help save the IACHR, which brought attention to Canada’s treatment of missing and murdered indigenous women. NWAC/Twitter

A key watchdog on LGBT rights in Latin America and the Caribbean says it desperately needs Canada’s continued financial help to keep its doors open. And while Canada is known globally for its promotion of LGBT rights, a top representative of Canada’s foreign policy won’t say if the government will continue to lend a hand.  

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) monitors human rights abuses across the Americas, from Canada’s treatment of indigenous women to Venezuela’s crackdown on democracy activists.

Crucially, it also keeps an eye on LGBT rights. In December of 2015, the commission published a 300-page report on violence against queer and intersex people in the Americas.

“We’re really in crisis mode,” said commission spokeswoman María Isabel Rivero. “We need Canada to help.”

In May 2016, the commission released a statement saying it was in “severe financial crisis.” It had planned to lay off 40 percent of its staff, but has garnered enough donations to instead put them on months-long contracts.

While the IACHR continues to decry human rights violations with their decreased personnel, only half of its 13 member states have contributed this year.

From 2013 to 2015, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Canada all reduced their financial contributions to the commission.

In the past five years, Canada has always been runner-up to the US in contributing funds. In 2011, Canada contributed $611,000 USD to the commission, and about half of that amount in 2014. According to the IACHR’s finance report, Canada only gave $75,000 USD in 2015 and so far, nothing this year. Joseph Pickerill, spokesman for Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion, did not respond to Daily Xtra’s email request for comment before publication.

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, spoke to Xtra on July 14, 2016, from the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay.

“Canada’s been very well-received at this conference,” Goldsmith-Jones said. “It’s just been back-to-back meetings around Canada leading by example, and countries and other organizations wishing to be attached to that.”

Though a major theme of the conference is issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, Goldsmith-Jones would not say whether the government will help the IACHR.

Instead, Goldsmith-Jones’ assistant abruptly ended the interview early after Xtra pressed about IACHR funding, saying the parliamentary secretary had another meeting.

In June 2016, Canada joined seven countries to launch an LGBTI Core Group within the IACHR’s parent organization, the Organization of American States.

Goldsmith-Jones says that shows Canada cares about the IACHR.

“It’s certainly something we’re considering seriously. And also, we have to consider the work and the funding of all of the NGO groups that play such a vital role in this,” she said. “We are here to assess what’s needed.”

IACHR funding was highlighted in June 2016 by the Toronto-based Dignity Initiative, a coalition that examines Canada’s LGBT foreign policy. In an interview with Xtra, Jamaican-Canadian activist Maurice Tomlinson said the commission plays a key role in protecting LGBT people in the Caribbean and Latin America.

“The IACHR is able to come in and remind a country of its international obligations,” said Tomlinson, who sued the Jamaican government over discriminatory laws with the help of IACHR reports and advocacy. “We really want Canada to help replenish the fund for the IACHR so it can continue its work.”

At the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa in June, the leaders of Canada, the United State and Mexico noted they already fund most of the commission’s budget, and called “on other regional partners to increase support to the IACHR.”