In the wake of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet shuffle, the eyes of the queer community are fixed squarely on newly minted Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the former Secretary of State. Nicholson, a lawyer, was a junior cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney and held two posts in the Kim Campbell government.
The head of the justice portfolio is one of the most powerful cabinet positions. Currently a bill to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 is before the Justice Committee.
And while the ideologically far-right Vic Toews — no friend of gay rights — has been moved out of the portfolio, gay activists aren’t yet hailing Nicholson’s arrival.
“Simply changing the justice minister isn’t going to have any effect on their law-and-order agenda,” says Tom Warner of Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO).
As well, a report on the welfare of Canada’s prostitutes — who are harassed by the same laws that allowed the police to terrorize bathhouses — was filed in December.
Vic Toews, widely seen as a “bulldog” and an ideologue, was shuffled from Justice to the Treasury Board, a position vacated by the appointment of John Baird to the environment portfolio.
“[Nicholson] is probably not going to be making the kinds of statements that Toews did, but he’s still part of the social conservative element in the Conservative Party,” says Warner. “It doesn’t represent a change at all.”
The appointment of Jason Kenney, who has been “courting” religious lobby groups, is probably the more dangerous addition to cabinet, says Warner. He was appointed the secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity.
As a Conservative cabinet minister, Nicholson introduced the Dec 6, 2006 motion to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage. At the time, he said:
“While I support protecting the rights of minorities, that does not mean we should alter the institution of marriage which has worked well and has been an essential part of our society for so many years. I will therefore be voting in favour of the motion as a means to restore the traditional definition of marriage.”