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Canada unresponsive to kidnapping of Russian gay activist

'We need to become leaders in the world' on queer rights, says foreign affairs critic Rae

Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeyev

In light of the federal government’s decision not to protest the recent kidnapping of a Russian gay activist, opposition MPs say Canada needs to fight more actively for queer rights abroad.

Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeyev says he was kidnapped by Russian authorities on Sept 15 and pressured to withdraw his human rights complaint against Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov. Luzhkov repeatedly banned Pride parades in the Russian capital, and he called the events “satanic.” Days after his release, Alexeyev held a protest at Moscow City Hall, where he and a handful of other protesters were arrested.

“We have not made a formal protest in this case. However, we continue to monitor closely the human rights situation in Russia,” says a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs. “The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canadian foreign policy. Canada stands up for human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world.”

For opposition critics, Canada’s lack of response is a problem.

“I don’t think it’s adequate,” says Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae. “The fact is we need to become leaders in the world on this issue and continue to point out to countries that the right to be who you are is really pretty fundamental.”

“We can look at several countries around the world where the discrimination against gays and lesbians and transsexuals is on the rise — we’re not making progress,” Rae adds. “In some parts of the world, we are making progress — particularly in parts of Latin America, but we’re certainly not making progress in Russia. We’ve got to get the authorities to become more aggressive and effective in ensuring that people’s rights are fully respected.”

“It’s really important for Canada to stand up in the international community and uphold human rights, and to use its leverage in the international community to make sure that we’re protecting people’s rights,” says NDP MP Libby Davies. “I’m not satisfied that ‘monitoring the situation’ is good enough,” she says in reference to Alexeyev’s case.

Davies has written to the Russian ambassador on the topic and wonders why the government hasn’t pursued other official diplomatic overtures.

“This young man from Moscow is amazing for what he took on,” Davies says. “The fact that [Alexeyev] was in Vancouver and was a hero to us for what he’s doing makes it very compelling.” (Alexeyev was this year’s Vancouver Pride grand marshal.)

Vancouverites held a rally on Sept 21 to stand in solidarity with Russian queers, following Alexeyev’s kidnapping. Organizers of the rally urged the Canadian government to “step up” its response.

The Harper government has recently acted on cases of extreme queer rights abuses abroad: in Uganda, where a bill proposed the death penalty for anyone accused of “aggravated homosexuality,” and in Malawi, where a couple faced 14 years in prison with hard labour.

The NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, says Canada needs to be consistent. “I don’t think you should be able to cherry-pick and say that we can afford to be outspoken here, and here we’ll tread more lightly,” he says. “I think you need to be really clear and concise with all member states and all countries on the issue, to be taken credibly, but also because human rights are universal.”

“I don’t want to assume the worst and say these are awful people,” Davies says of the government. “I don’t know how aware they are of it, but on human rights, you have to be consistent.”

“It’s not about one country or the other; it’s about a global problem,” Rae says. “We should be monitoring this very closely. Canada should be leading the way in providing an annual report on the condition of human rights, particularly as it involves gays and lesbians.”