Anil Naidoo has taken time off from his day job as a human rights expert with the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest citizens’ organization, to run for the NDP in Ottawa Centre.
Originally from Alberta, Naidoo first moved to Ottawa in 2000 and began working with the NDP to defend public health care.
Xtra caught up with him on the campaign trail.
Xtra: Local police priorities have been in the news recently, especially around sex-worker sweeps. Police say they are acting on community complaints, but many sex workers actually live in these communities. What do you think police should prioritize, and is there any way for an MPP to influence police decision-making?
Anil Naidoo: Police priorities should be based on some aspects of the will of the community, but more importantly, the laws in the legal system. Policing priorities should be around violent crime prevention, and in my opinion, with severe social problems. We can deal with some of the issues by having a deeper understanding of what’s going on in people’s lives through dialogue in the community. Ottawa Centre is very diverse. It is very difficult for a provincial MPP to attempt or influence policing at the local level outside of advocating for legal changes in Queen’s Park. I would also suggest that more efforts on public education and support in our community could go a long way to alleviating these conflicts.
Xtra: What would you do as MPP to help protect sex-worker rights?
AN: If I were elected to go to Queen’s Park, I would avoid implementing legislation that discriminated against sex workers. But communities need to be engaged in how to best deal with managing these sensitive issues.
Xtra: HIV-nondisclosure laws are increasing in their scope — we have a high-profile case going on now in Ottawa. There is an Ontario working group trying to get prosecutorial guidelines in place for the Crown and police to follow. What is your take on the HIV-nondisclosure laws?
AN: I think this is a difficult issue in terms of protecting people’s rights to know and their own personal health. HIV-positive people should not be criminalized. Nondisclosure cases are not the kinds of cases that respond well to tough-on-crime measures. We can better deal with these issues by engaging with the HIV-positive community, and in extreme cases, certainly the courts will have to be involved.
Xtra: What would you do as an MPP to help push these guidelines?
AN: My first task would be to become much more informed and reach out to the stakeholders and community members before looking at any proposed guidelines.
Xtra: Ontario has a Safe Schools Strategy designed to help children learn in a safe and secure environment. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has diversity clubs and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in their schools to help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. The Catholic School Board, however, does not allow GSAs — although some do have diversity clubs or multicultural clubs. What can the provincial government do to make sure Catholic schools are safe and inclusive for LGBT students?
AN: LGBT students deserve the same safety and security in their schools as all children. It is the responsibility of the province working with the school boards and the schools to ensure their safety. Beyond safety, there’s also the need to ensure children have a healthy and welcoming learning environment. It is therefore important to allow people to express their diversity and difference in a safe environment. If this is not being respected, then steps need to be taken to address this.
Xtra: How can an MPP ensure that local Catholic schools are protecting LGBT students?
AN: It is very difficult as an individual MPP to become directly involved in school affairs. The MPP’s role is more to ensure school boards have guidelines and follow them, both public and Catholic, to ensure healthy, welcoming and inclusive learning environments.
Xtra: What do you see your role would be as MPP for Ottawa Centre? How does the LGBT community fit into it?
AN: My role as MPP for Ottawa Centre would be to first listen to the concerns, suggestions of the citizens of Ottawa Centre. And I would represent those concerns at Queen’s Park. Ottawa Centre is the most diverse riding in the region, and it is therefore even more important to reach out to the different constituencies, including the LGBT community. I would work hard to establish strong and open communication so that I could best represent any concerns that need to be addressed.
Xtra: Do you support the Village initiative? Why or why not?
AN: I do support the Village initiative. I think it is extremely important people feel they have a community and a place they can feel free to express themselves. There are a lot of diverse communities in Ottawa Centre, and the Village would add to the strength of diversity that I value in our riding.
Xtra: The federal government has announced another three years of the cost-shared Affordable Housing Initiative. What will your party do to play a direct role in affordable housing once that program has run out?
AN: The NDP has long championed affordable housing. We are disappointed in the lack of commitment we have seen from this provincial government. We believe in a long-term program with defined targets, transparency and accountability to achieve our long-term goals around affordable housing. An investment in affordable housing is an investment in the strength of our communities and in giving people dignity.
Xtra: Community-based non-profit housing is part of our local infrastructure; what will you do to improve funding for repair and improvements to existing housing?
AN: It is not enough to talk about new affordable housing stock. There is a massive and ongoing gap in the repair and rehabilitation of our existing affordable-housing units. This means people are living with mould, incurring health problems related to poor housing, and the impact is also being felt in our healthcare system. As with any infrastructure, you need to invest in maintenance and upkeep or it will have no value. If we do not invest in the maintenance and upkeep of our affordable-housing stock, some units will need to be destroyed because they are beyond repair. People should not have to live in some of the terrible conditions I have seen in our community-housing buildings.