Vancouver
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In brief

Local and national news

PACKED HOUSE, POLITICAL SPARRING. Voters packed The Theatre at UBC Robson Square Jun 16 for the Vancouver Centre all-candidates debate, sponsored by the Gay & Lesbian Business Association and Xtra West. Most of the evening was taken up with questions from the audience to candidates Liberal Hedy Fry, NDP Kennedy Stewart, Conservative Gary Mitchell and Green Party Robbie Mattu. Mitchell, a gay Conservative, was the focus of much anger from the audience over his party's stand on gay marriage and use of the Co Credit: Muayed Istifo

IF YOU’RE A STRATEGIC VOTER

Canada’s national gay lobby group, Egale, has called on lesbians and gays to vote strategically in the Jun 28 federal election to stop the Conservatives from gaining power and taking away rights.



“Team Harper represents the biggest threat to Charter protection since the Charter was passed,” said executive director Gilles Marchildon in a Jun 16 media release.



Other commentators have criticized strategic voting as a strategy rooted in fear, and self-limiting to the gay community in the long run. But for those who want to vote strategically, Xtra West below lists the candidates that most observers would likely agree present the best chance to stop the local Conservative candidate:



Burnaby-Douglas: gay NDP candidate Bill Siksay;



East Vancouver: lesbian NDP candidate Libby Davies;



Vancouver Centre: NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart;



Vancouver-Kingsway: gay NDP candidate Ian Waddell;



Vancouver Quadra: Liberal candidate Stephen Owen;



Victoria: Liberal candidate David Anderson.



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SVEND CHARGED WITH THEFT

Just one week before Canadians go to the polls, a provincially appointed special prosecutor has charged former NDP MP Svend Robinson with theft over $5,000. The charge stems from an Apr 9 incident at a local auction, where Robinson stole an expensive ring. Robinson admitted to pocketing the ring at a press conference six days later. Then he stepped down as the NDP candidate in his Burnaby-Douglas riding. NDP members later chose his longtime assistant, Bill Siksay, to run instead. Siksay is now leading the polls in his riding, though the race remains tight. BC Crown spokesperson Geoff Gaul says the decision to charge Robinson now, in the run-up to the election, is not political. “Politics plays no role in the charge assessment process,” Gaul told the Vancouver Sun, Jun 22. “This decision was made by an independent special prosecutor appointed by the criminal justice branch in order to avoid any real or perceived improper influence in the independent exercise of prosecutorial responsibilities.” Robinson will appear in Richmond provincial court Jul 8.



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SIMPSON MUST PAY DAMAGES TO MAIR

A Supreme Court judge has dismissed a libel suit against broadcaster Rafe Mair launched by Kari Simpson of the Citizens Research Institute.



In her Jun 4 ruling, Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg states that the implication of Mair’s Oct 25, 1999 broadcast was that Simpson was “a dangerous bigot apt to cause harm to gay people” and that Simpson “preaches hatred against gay people.”



Koenigsberg concluded that Mair’s statements “as a whole are defamatory.” But, she wrote, while Mair “was actuated in part by malice in making the defamatory statements . . . malice was not the dominant motive for the defamation and does not defeat the defence of fair comment.”



And, Koenigsberg wrote, there is no doubt that the question of tolerance, discrimination and discussion of homosexuality in public schools is in the public interest.



Mair brought a defamation countersuit against Simpson and the Citizens Research Institute for an article posted on the group’s website.



Koenigsberg noted Mair only brought the suit because Simpson sued him. She ruled the libel was minimal and awarded Mair damages of $100.



-Jeremy Hainsworth



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IMMIGRATION FOR MARRIED QUEERS

The federal department of immigration announced May 18 that it will now recognize some same-sex marriages. Specifically, it will now allow Canadians who marry their foreign, same-sex partners in BC, Ontario or Quebec to apply immediately to sponsor their spouse for Canadian citizenship. In the past, Canadians with foreign, same-sex partners had to be in a relationship with their partner for a year before they could apply to sponsor that partner for Canadian citizenship. (In other words, they had to achieve common-law status before they could be eligible to sponsor their partner in the common-law category.) Now, all they have to do is get married and they can skip the one-year eligibility wait. But this only applies to couples in which one of the spouses is Canadian. And it doesn’t mean the government is legalizing gay marriage across Canada; it’s just recognizing that in three provinces gay marriage is already legal and adjusting its immigration policies to reflect that new reality.



Canadians for Equal Marriage is hailing the new policy as a victory. “It’s encouraging to see the federal government follow through on its commitment to equal marriage,” Alex Munter, the group’s co-chair, said in a press release last month. “Same-sex couples have been getting married in Canada for almost a year. Legal recognition of those marriages is tremendously important, both for the couples and for the rule of law.”



Chris Morrissey, of Vancouver’s Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force (LEGIT) says her group will continue to monitor the immigration situation to make sure the system treats queers equally. The government’s new policy is still limited, she cautions. It doesn’t extend, for example, to two non-Canadian queers who get married in BC. They still have to either wait for one year to apply together as a common-law couple, or apply independently for citizenship and wait until one of them gets accepted so the accepted one can apply to sponsor the other one, she points out. In contrast, straight non-Canadian couples who get married and apply for citizenship are treated as a married unit right away.



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‘SAFE STREETS’ VIOLATES RIGHTS

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has come out swinging against gay Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt’s bill to clamp down on squeegee kids and panhandlers. Mayencourt’s private member’s bill, the “Safe Streets Act,” attacks civil liberties and the poor, says BCCLA president John Russell.



“Citizens should be free to canvas others in relation to any cause,” says Russell. “This freedom gives war veterans the right to solicit donations for poppies, religious groups to distribute literature, and the lost to ask for directions. Such a right also entitles the poor to ask for money.”



The civil-rights guardians have three concerns with Mayencourt’s proposed law: it would criminalize merely asking for others to support any cause, including their own; it is bound to be enforced by private security, not the public police, in ways that are unfair, selective and inappropriate, as occurs now with municipal panhandling bylaws; and it criminalizes behaviour that is the result of poverty, homelessness and mental health issues rather than addressing the underlying causes of those issues, and thus unfairly targets a vulnerable group of people.



Russell says other laws in the Criminal Code, the Motor Vehicle Act and municipal bylaws can be used to deal with aggressive, intimidating and dangerous behaviour.