(Vancouver Centre front-runner candidates, from left, Constance Barnes, Hedy Fry, standing, and Lisa Barrett, who isn’t visible in this photo, attended Daily Xtra’s election debate Sept 10 at the Odyssey. Despite repeated invitations, Conservative Elaine Allan did not attend./Janet Rerecich photo)
More than 100 people turned out at Vancouver’s Odyssey nightclub Sept 10 to see the front-runner candidates vying for Vancouver Centre’s seat in Parliament debate some of the most important issues facing the LGBT community this election.
The debate was lively between incumbent Liberal Hedy Fry, Constance Barnes from the NDP, and Lisa Barrett from the Green Party.
Missing from the debate was Conservative candidate Elaine Allan, whose camp had not responded to numerous invitations to attend. An empty chair with a name placard marked her empty spot.
The candidates fielded a diverse range questions from a community panel and from audience members both at the debate and watching it live on streaming video.
Affordable housing, not only for the West End but also for LGBT youth and seniors, was identified as a priority this election.
Barnes said the NDP will create a national housing strategy and work with the provinces to implement it. She said working with existing housing as well as co-operatives would be part of the mix.
Fry described housing as one of the most important issues facing the Vancouver Centre riding, and said the Liberal Party would renew its national housing strategy, including its support for co-op housing and supportive housing for seniors and the disabled.
“One of the most important things I’m hearing,” she added, “is that a lot of gay men are finding that when they need assisted or supportive housing, they’re having to go back in the closet because a lot of people in their age group, who are in that same housing, never did in those days approve of gay men.
“This is unacceptable,” she said, “and we’re going to create specific housing for gay men who are elderly to be able to find a safe place in which to live.”
A recurring topic of the evening was the controversial Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation passed into law not long before the Oct 19 election was called on Aug 2.
Community panellist David Christopher of OpenMedia kicked off the C-51 discussion, saying the government had passed it over objections from the country’s privacy commissioners and experts as well as former federal politicians.
“All of our information is subject to collection by CSIS,” he said, warning that the law now allows the spy agency to profile Canadians.
“This is really dangerous for all Canadians,” he said. “This bill threatens to criminalize peaceful protest. Our Charter rights are on the line.”
Barrett said people fought for years for rights that are now being incrementally eroded under such laws.
“We need it repealed,” she said.
Barnes said people are angry about the bill’s passage into law. She said the NDP will unequivocally repeal C-51 if elected.
Fry drew criticism because the Liberals had supported the bill. But, she said, the Conservatives had a majority and the bill would have passed regardless. What the Liberals did, she said, was to ensure amendments were added to the bill to limit its intrusiveness and protect the civil rights of Canadians.
Those include protecting the right to protest, limiting departmental information sharing, limiting CSIS powers of arrest, and challenging no-fly lists, Fry said.
Asked about creating easier access to HIV-prevention medication such as Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) whose manufacturer is now seeking approval from Health Canada, all candidates supported some form of treatment as prevention in order to stop the spread of HIV.
They agreed it is time to allow scientists and researchers freedom to do their work unfettered by government.
Fry also said the issue of gay men not being allowed to donate blood is discriminatory and needs to end.
“We need to go back to evidence-based decision-making,” she said.
Discussion was brisk too when it came to the Conservative government’s new legislation on sex work.
Community panellist Kerry Porth of Pivot Legal Society said Pivot is ready to challenge the new law that continues to put sex workers in danger.
Barrett said the new law criminalizes behaviour and puts people in danger. She questioned the legitimacy of a Parliament that would do that.
“It’s just wrong,” she said.
Barnes said the country needs to have a national discussion on the issue, rather than judge those who engage in sex work.
Fry said the Supreme Court of Canada was very clear when it ruled that the old sex work laws unconstitutional. “If we become government, we will immediately comply with the Supreme Court,” she said.
The contentious amendments added to the trans rights bill by the Senate — effectively killing the bill before it died with the election call — also sparked debate about the legitimacy of the upper chamber.
“We will abolish the Senate,” Barnes declared.
Not so fast, warned Fry, explaining it would be unconstitutional to do so as there needs to be provincial agreement to abolish or change the Senate.
Barrett called the Senate a holdover from the British system rife with appointed members and cronyism.
Trans rights came up again when candidates were asked about gender markers on passports.
Barnes called it discriminatory and said it should stop. “On my passport, I have to put negro or white,” she said. “Why is that important? I’m Constance Barnes.”
Fry said the issue warrants further study, though warned against the loss of potentially valuable statistics on gender that could help quantify discrimination.
To watch the entire debate click on the video below:
(Editor’s note: On Sept 21, 2015, we replaced the video that was experiencing glitches with a new feed that works perfectly. Thanks for your patience!)
To read more from the community panellists click on their guest columns below:
“Privacy, LGBT Surveillance and the 2015 Canadian Election” by David Christopher
“Bad Canadian Laws and the Best Way to Change Them” by Amy Fox
“Drugs and Sex Work: Prohibition Policies Alive in Canada” by Kerry Porth