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Feted immigration lawyer seeks NDP nom

RAINBOW BRIGHT. Lawyer and human rights activist El-Farouk Khaki says being gay and Muslim colours his political values.

As all parties make preparations for a federal election that could happen as early as this spring, two candidates have stepped forward for the New Democratic Party nomination for Toronto Centre, including prominent gay immigration lawyer El-Farouk Khaki.

NDP members in the federal riding, which includes the gay village, will choose between Khaki and Sandra M Gonzalez, a social activist and manager of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, at a nomination meeting on Mon, Apr 30 at the Central YMCA (20 Grosvenor St). The successful nominee will face Liberal candidate and former premier Bob Rae, and Conservative candidate and international business lawyer Mark Warner.

“I am my platform,” Khaki told a news conference at the 519 Community Centre on Apr 5. “I combine so many identities — as a person of colour, as a gay man, as a Muslim, as a feminist. I bring all of these to the table because they are my lived experiences.”

Last month Khaki received the Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal’s Steinert And Ferreiro Award for his work in gay rights, ethnic minority issues and HIV/AIDS advocacy.

At his press conference Khaki unveiled a team of high-profile supporters, including NDP MPPs Cheri DiNovo and Paul Ferreira. Both had captured their seats in ridings previously considered strongly Liberal. The MPPs had their sights firmly locked on Rae, whom they nicknamed “Rosedale Bob” after the wealthy neighbourhood in the riding where he recently bought a house.

“In St Jamestown, Moss Park and Regent Park, the issues that are their issues are El-Farouk Khaki’s issues, not Rosedale Bobby’s issues,” said Ferreira, whose election in February made him the NDP’s first openly gay MPP.

Gonzalez, a first-generation Canadian born to Ecuadorian parents, says her experiences as a Latin American woman also give her firsthand knowledge of the struggles many people in her riding face, particularly among the less affluent communities and new immigrants, many of whom live in St Jamestown, Moss Park and Regent Park.

“With the different communities in the riding, I’ve connected with them. I understand the issues not just by working with the communities, but by experiencing them,” says Gonzalez.

Gonzalez says she, too, has the support of a number of local MPPs, who she plans to unveil at an upcoming press conference.

Both Khaki and Gonzalez are targeting poverty as their key issues. While Khaki suggests that his plan to help alleviate poverty includes a strategy for direct subsidies for cities, Gonzalez says that easing integration of immigrants is her number one priority.

“The mayor has brought up the one-cent of the GST campaign. I want to see that Toronto gets a fair share of tax income,” says Khaki.

“I feel strongly about accreditation of foreign-trained professionals,” says Gonzalez. “We have a lot of very rich backgrounds throughout the different communities in our riding.”

Gonzalez says that if she wins a key part of her election strategy will be to conduct regular outreach with immigrant communities to educate them about the political process in Canada.

“Several of our communities do not vote,” she says. “A lot of new immigrants do not understand the political process. So it’s about educating the electorate, and making them aware of the different parties and showing them that we are the most progressive. It’s about having communities see you as an ally.”

Both Khaki and Gonzalez were recruited to run by the party, which has a scouting process that searches out women, visible minorities, queers and people from other socially disadvantaged groups to run for nomination.

The NDP also courted gay city councillor Kyle Rae to run for the riding, says riding association president Murray Gaudreau.

“Kyle Rae was approached by the party and he decided not to seek the riding federally at this time,” says Gaudreau, adding that Rae has been approached before to run for the riding.