Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vows to keep the promotion of LGBT rights abroad as a central plank of Canada’s foreign policy.
“I’m going to continue to be present, to be outspoken and to bring it up anytime we’re talking about development aid or economic growth or opportunities,” he says. “The cost for countries of wanting to engage with Canada is going to be receive pressure that they do have changes to make.”
In a one-on-one interview with Daily Xtra, Trudeau says that LGBT rights will be on the table at both high-level diplomacy as well as in the day-to-day work of ambassadors and envoys.
“I recently just had a sit-down with our heads of mission, our ambassadors from around the world, and emphasized that part of their job was going to be, to be outspoken on Canadian values and the fundamental human rights that we stand for,” he says.
“It’s not just the head of government, it’s all of our representatives, challenging our representatives to look for ways not just to put pressure on the individual governments, but to be active on social media, to talk to civil society, to get out and engage with the communities in a way that is diplomatically respectful,” Trudeau says.
Despite progress in many countries, over 70 countries around the world still criminalize homosexuality. Increasingly homophobic laws are being pushed in countries such as Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, and the average life expectancy of trans people in the Americas is between 30 and 35.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion recently rejected an NDP proposal to create a diplomatic envoy position dedicated specifically to LGBT rights, modelled after a US State Department program started last year.
But Trudeau maintains that under his government, LGBT rights won’t become secondary concerns.
“When I was at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta just a number of months ago, I brought up LGBT rights around the table,” he says. “I am very outspoken about human rights, about respecting people’s fundamental rights including, and especially, LGBT rights.”
Under former foreign minister John Baird, the previous Conservative government won plaudits for its aggressive, outspoken stance on LGBT rights abroad.
Trudeau, however, appears to reject the Conservative’s more bombastic style of diplomacy for a more broad-based approach, in which Canada can use its economic and cultural leverage to push for greater freedoms.
“I think it’s much better to be a positive, continual force creating pressure and creating opportunities to support the increasingly active civil society and individuals who are within many of those countries, starting to carefully step up to demand changes from within,” he says.
“Canada has an active voice that we want to use in terms of trending the arc of the moral universe in the right direction.”