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5 min

Green candidate talks HIV crim, the Village, polygamy

Criminalizing personal relationships is a bad idea: Hunter

Jen Hunter, the Ottawa Centre Green Party Candidate. Credit: Neil McKinnon

Green Party of Canada candidate Jen Hunter’s focus in university was Marxism, and her hobby is people.

And Hunter’s hobbies show when you visit her Old Ottawa East home and campaign headquarters, where many volunteers — mostly young women — show up for a canvassing meeting.

“Students are the ones leading the country. They’re the future. They are totally engaged,” says Hunter.

Hunter, 42, has something in common with her volunteers: she too was bitten by the political bug at a young age. The former Liberal from London, Ontario, grew up knowing politicians of all political stripes. She loves going to rallies and calls provincial Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews a mentor and friend.

“Politics is a funny business. People are surprisingly supportive of one another off the camera. I grew up enjoying rallies. My dad took me to lunch with Joe Clark [when he was prime minister]. I like to live in a society where we have a say in how it works. Now I’m fighting for it,” she says.

As one of six children, Hunter says keeping busy helped her to have structure in her life. During her teen years she was active in basketball, volleyball and music. And her grades were high enough to attend Queen’s University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political studies.

At Queen’s, Hunter played intramural sports and was heavily involved in debating. Eventually, she switched to the Model United Nations team, where she travelled to Ivy League schools and won a speaker’s award for her work.

After university, Hunter earned a public relations diploma at Humber College. And then she went to work at a company focused on team building and shared vision.

“I’m all about engaging people, part of business and the community. Highly motivated, mission- and vision-driven spaces tend to be more productive than those using tactics. Tactics is management. It drives me crazy. A lot of other parties are doing that. This goes back to why GPC’s vision is important. We’re putting a vision on the table,” says Hunter, who is currently a professor in Algonquin College’s Green Management Program.

Hunter’s relationship with the gay community started 10 years ago when she lived at the corner of Elgin and Frank streets. She spends a lot of time in Centretown and hopes that future Village initiatives will continue to spruce up the area.

“I know Centretown is one of the more vibrant communities in the country. We have a phenomenal area where people gather in [the Village.] I thought we were close to getting acknowledgement [of a gay space], but it’s taking longer,” she says. “I’ve gone to gay pride since I lived in Toronto. It’s a great expression of true voice. And I’ve been involved in Capital Pride since I came to Ottawa. The GPC walks in the parade.”

While she campaigns, Hunter is leading a busy life. Along with husband Rob Steen, she is raising her four-month-old son.

She thinks it’s important for women to be in politics.

“Someone was asking the distinction between me and Paul Dewar. The big one is I’m running against a slate of men. I think it’s important for women to run. And our parties are different. We come from a different place, which is understanding the limits to societal growth and learning how to live to within those limits,” she says.

Hunter says she hopes Canadians will help work toward GPC’s being involved in all televised debates.

“We’re [Green Party] being persecuted. We could use your voice to get mobilized into the debates. A million voices not heard?” she says.

Xtra quizzed each of the Ottawa Centre candidates from the major parties about their beliefs on a range of issues. Here’s what Hunter had to say.

Xtra: Do you support the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in Canada’s Human Rights Act and hate speech laws? What would you do as an MP to ensure those categories are added to the law?

Hunter: Yes, personally and as a party. The Green Party of Canada was the first to recognize gender identity as a vital and essential part of human identity. This should be included both publicly and formally as such. There are already several bills looking at this part. I would support the bills in action and when the next revision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms happens. The other thing I’ve noticed is individually court cases influencing the law. So if I could, I would support cases whatever way I could as a witness. So there are three ways I can do something: support what’s going on, influence Charter of Rights and Freedoms revision and support Supreme Court cases.

Xtra: Do you support the changes to Canada’s Access to Medicine Regime as outlined in C-393?

Hunter: I don’t know enough to comment on that. Obviously, GPC supports prevention rather than intervention. Personally, I would like to see Canada return to leadership to where it was nationally and internationally as a guide. We’ve fallen from that. And that’s why I’m running.

Xtra: How can a local MP support the Village committee, which is trying to get formal recognition for the gay community on Bank St?

Hunter: Centretown is where I hang out a lot. I think showing up and standing for things that matter in community. I love the diversity of the community. Centretown’s gay village is something we should be proud of.

Xtra: Xtra has been following the rise in criminal charges for people who don’t disclose their HIV status before having sex. What would you do as an MP on the issue of HIV criminalization?

Hunter: I think I’d want to understand the issue more first. I would want to know what the trend is underneath. For example, if this is persecuting any particular community, well, I’m not for that. But I would continue to support federally and ideally transfer payments to awareness programs. We need to raise awareness and not ostracize and penalize people who are sick. I think that’s the problem.

Xtra: Local police priorities have been in the news a lot recently, especially around sex-worker sweeps and charging poz folks. What should policing priorities be in Ottawa, and is there any way for an MP to influence police decision-making?

Hunter:This is the dilemma in politics. A police service is a local jurisdiction. So the police priorities are to protect the society it’s there to serve. They practice prevention where they can. I think what needs to happen is we need a much more compassionate approach. The number of people who turn to sex work as a volitional choice is relatively small. We shouldn’t be persecuting people who have already been isolated. And if illness is spreading rapidly, you want to create a solution rather than strong-arming the law. The police do outreach based on dialogue and inclusion and that works. Ottawa is a safe place. I think as a professional facilitator, my job would be to create solutions with many voices behind them other than just my own.

Xtra: In 2010, the federal government appealed an Ontario court decision striking three sex-work laws. What should the federal government’s role be in that case? Do you support Canada’s sex-work laws or would you prefer to see them abolished?

Hunter: I know this is becoming a hot issue in Toronto. There’s a councillor who wants to create a red-light district on an island. Federally, I think this is an important issue for Canadians to contemplate in the 21st century. I think this is one of many of those issues. What I wouldn’t be able to do as an MP is focus all my time and energy on one issue. I’m a system thinker. I think it’s a big issue facing our country, and I would like to focus on the environment we create for our country. We need to stop fragmenting, bring the dots together — a more compassionate Canada.

Xtra: A BC constitutional case on polygamy is underway right now. It’s likely to head to the Supreme Court of Canada. Should Canada’s polygamy law remain on the books, and what would you do about it if elected?

Hunter: [laughs] Well, this came up at our GPC biannual this summer. GPC had a motion about decriminalizing polyamory. We as a party agree this is an issue which requires more immediate attention. We’re researching where we should stand. Personally, I went into this issue starting out close-minded and my eyes were opened up. I don’t have a simple answer to this one. From what I learned, criminalizing personal relationships is a bad idea. Politics shouldn’t be in the bedrooms of Canadians. We’re going to look at it again in six months. As an MP, I want to hear what people think of this issue for Canada.