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Marriage rights safe: Davies

But election sets back bawdyhouse and pot reform

Reopening the marriage debate: 'We will simply ask the House of Commons whether they want the government to... change the definition of marriage,' said Conservative leader Stephen Harper, Nov 29. Credit: Xtra West Files

OTTAWA-Opponents of same-sex civic marriage have started a new group to fight a rear-guard action against Bill C-38 throughout the upcoming federal election.

But gays and lesbians shouldn’t panic, says lesbian NDP MP Libby Davies.

“The massive movement that took place here for gay and lesbian equality rights is not going to be undone,” the Vancouver East MP says. “I’m 100 percent sure of that.”

Defend Marriage Canada was formed in November by former Liberal MP Pat O’Brien and retired Reform MP Grant Hill.

Hill is an Alberta doctor who is best known for his pronouncements as an MP that gays spread disease. O’Brien left the Liberal party to sit as an independent this summer over his opposition to Bill C-38. The pair plan to raise money, write letters and lobby voters to support candidates opposing same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, Conservative leader Stephen Harper kicked off his campaign last month with the announcement that, if elected, he’ll reopen the marriage debate and let Parliament have a free vote on whether to keep same-sex marriage. Bill C-38 would likely have been defeated if Paul Martin had allowed his Liberal cabinet to vote their conscience.

Though Davies is confident same-sex marriage won’t be set back, she’s less sure about the effort to reform Canada’s confusing and archaic solicitation laws.

Last year, Davies urged the formation of the justice subcommittee to look into the laws used to target prostitutes and customers of gay bathhouses. For the first time in history, MPs toured the country to meet with prostitutes.

But because the committee didn’t complete its report or recommendations before November’s election call, its work may never bear fruit.

The evidence heard by the committee can be preserved, says Davies. And the committee could pick up and continue its work after the election-provided all parties agree.

But that might not happen; Conservative member Art Hanger was opposed to the report’s overall direction.

Davies says she has pleaded with Justice Minister Irving Cotler to take up the issue again after the election.

“I’ll keep pushing it,” Davies promises. “I hope it comes up in the election. We need a country-wide debate on this.”

The bill decriminalizing small quantities of marijuana is also dead with the end of this Parliament-unless it too is brought back by all-party agreement.

Bill C-17 was controversial with both liberally minded Canadians and social conservatives. Progressives argued that although the bill would help casual users in more rural areas, it would actually lead to stiffer penalties for people found with small quantities of weed in Canada’s cities. Conservatives condemned the legislation as soft on drugs and antagonistic to the United States.

Conservatives won the day as Prime Minister Paul Martin leaned on the federal justice committee to hold back the legislation.

“I’m furious about it,” says Davies, who is also the NDP spokesperson on this bill. “It’s the Liberals getting scared to move away from social and cultural prohibition. We need to face the harm that’s being created by the law itself, by prohibition.”

Davies sees the bill as flawed-by not moving far enough to legalize grass.

Marijuana decriminalization originated with the previous Liberal Chr├ętien government. Then-Justice Minister Martin Cauchon sent a bill through the house and to committee in 2003 and rushed it back to the house for third reading. The bill got worldwide attention; the Economist magazine hailed Canada’s progressive stands on drugs and same-sex rights.

But C-17 didn’t pass before the 2004 election, was returned to committee for revisions by the Martin government and has languished ever since.

“They’re chicken-shit,” says Davies.

She says Canadians want to move away from a prohibition approach on drugs, with its high policing costs and low success rates, to one based on choice and harm-reduction strategies.