Ottawa
2 min

Egale’s new swagger

What good are political thumbscrews if you never use them?

That’s the question I had for Egale Canada six months ago, when executive director Helen Kennedy had damning evidence against a federal cabinet minister and she refused to go for the jugular.

If you recall, the Conservative Party released an updated handbook for prospective Canadian citizens. In the guide, gays were barely in sight.

In March, a Canadian Press (CP) report revealed that an earlier draft of the guide had included important facts — including that gay sex is not a criminal offence — but the office of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had removed them, over the objections of top bureaucrats.

Early on, Egale expressed its concerns to Kenney. In December, Kenney’s team told Egale that the omission was an “oversight.” Basically, as the CP report later revealed, Kenney had lied to their faces.

Surely, it was a don’t-fuck-with-us moment. Instead, Egale opted for a wait-and-see PR campaign, publicly expressing hope that queer info would be included in the next edition of the handbook. The response was weak-kneed, part of a pattern of conciliatory glad-handing and behind-the-scenes dealings.

However, over the summer, Egale appears to have turned a corner, emerging as more agile, more responsive and more willing to apply public political pressure.

I’m encouraged by the change.

Take the issue of the Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) ban on gay blood. After a Sept 9 court decision upholding the prohibition, Egale — with the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian Federation of Students — immediately resigned from a CBS queer consultation committee.

It was quick and decisive, and it laid bare the blood agency’s inertia. Despite forming the committee several years ago, CBS is not ready to change its policy. Therefore, there is no point in remaining involved, Egale’s action shows.

For consummate insiders, it must have been a difficult decision. In the end, it was a brassy move, and it represented, I would argue, a change for the organization.

It was the second time in as many weeks. In August, Kennedy was part of a cabal of queer activists who applied pressure to the Ottawa Police Service following a local HIV-nondisclosure arrest.

At the request of the Ottawa Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative, Kennedy refused to speak at a Pride Week human rights vigil until a police officer was removed from the list of speakers. Egale publicly embarrassed the police — something the old, trigger-shy Egale would never have done.

On the whole, it’s been a summer of good news for Egale. It moved out of an office loaned to it by conservative PR firm Navigator. It’s joined Twitter and is active on social media.

So, after a long period of pessimism about Egale, I’m suddenly optimistic.

Marcus McCann is the managing editor of Xtra.