News
2 min

Coalition calls on government to do more for LGBT rights abroad

Queer organizations have praised government’s previous work but says it doesn’t go far enough

Activists take part in a protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws in Toronto in 2013. Credit: N Maxwell Lander

With ongoing threats mounting toward LGBT people abroad, a coalition of activists is calling on the federal government to establish Canada as the world’s leader in fighting homophobic legislation and leadership in other countries.

Following a roundtable held on Parliament Hill in March, dozens of queer organizations, harm-reduction groups and HIV/AIDS coalitions from across Canada sent an open letter to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. In it, the organizations highlight the federal government’s positive work in advocating and agitating for LGBT rights abroad. But they also note that words are not enough in a world that appears to be growing increasingly unfriendly for queer people.

Ottawa got a pat on the back for its forceful language against Uganda, Nigeria and Russia over their various anti-gay laws. Canada has snubbed Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and Baird engaged in a war of words with Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga. But the organizations say more can be done, and they have a few ideas.

In the open letter, they propose 10 different policy initiatives Ottawa could pursue if it wants to bolster an already strong record on advocating for equal rights abroad.

They ask the feds to keep up the pressure and, though it might be counter-intuitive, given some bad press about the prime minister’s socially conservative travel buddies, work with religious figures and human rights advocates to push for grassroots change in those countries. Plus, they’re hoping Ottawa will recall ambassadors from anti-gay countries.

While Baird has been the face of the campaign to criticize the regimes that have introduced anti-gay laws, Canadian ambassadors in the Russian and Nigerian consulates have been doing back-room work in conveying Canada’s dismay at the new anti-gay laws in both countries.

The organizations want visas denied for those who are most vocally spreading hate propaganda. While Canada has yet to make a public proclamation on this matter, Kadaga, a supporter of Uganda’s draconian anti-gay bill, suggested in interviews that Canada had refused visas for a number of her staff members. It’s not clear whether that’s because of her advocacy.

The groups are also calling for Canada to review and possibly revoke any development assistance for NGOs that support anti-gay laws and to freeze the assets of any legislators who advocate for anti-gay legislation abroad. Government critics have often pointed to Crossroads Christian Communications as a prime example of why Canada needs to be careful with its development dollars, after it was revealed that the less-than-friendly development organization was getting taxpayer cash to dig wells in Uganda. In the end, a government review determined that the group’s advocacy was not influencing its aid work.

The coalition also wants the government to work with those states that still have laws criminalizing homosexuality — which is a lot of countries — and encourage them to update their laws, as Canada has done.

On the domestic front, they’re asking to improve and expand asylum for LGBT refugees fleeing persecution. While the government has tightened rules around refugee claims, in the last two years it has expanded and defined persecution of sexual minorities as a priority concern.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that it has received the letter and is considering the recommendations.

A spokesperson for Minister Baird said Canada is continuing to pressure Kampala, adding, “at Minister Baird’s request, officials expressed Canada’s concerns to their Ugandan counterparts, both in Ottawa and in Kampala (Uganda), strongly urging them to protect the human rights of all Ugandans regardless of their sexual orientation.”