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NDP not so queer-friendly

Party has history of double-crosses

A LONE VOICE. NDP MP Bill Siksay has had to buck his own party to stand up for queer rights. Credit: Brent Creelman

The NDP is often seen as the party of first choice for queers. But has the party earned that place?

The party certainly didn’t distinguish itself in the last session of parliament. Most notably the party — with the significant exception of BC MP Bill Siksay — supported the Conservatives’ bill to raise the age of consent to 16 from 14, despite the fact that the bill left the age of consent for anal sex at 18.

Toronto bathhouse owner and sex activist Peter Bochove told Xtra last year that the NDP’s support for the law had driven him from the party.

Bochove described how NDP justice critic Joe Comartin met with queer activists in Toronto in 2006 to try to persuade them to support raising the age of consent. He said Comartin wouldn’t even commit to voting against the bill if it didn’t bring the age of consent for anal sex in line with other activities.

Bochove said he believes Comartin’s support for the bill is based on his Catholic religious beliefs.

“This bill will strip 14- to 16-year-olds of their basic human rights,” Bochove said, “and it’s all based on this antiquated 2,000-year-old book. All the antiquated sex laws are based on outdated ideas. It’s all rooted very deeply in religion.

“I did not renew my membership in the party, nor am I going to. The NDP has left me terribly disappointed in this area.”

Siksay — who was the only MP in Parliament to vote against the bill — was disciplined by the party, although neither he nor the party would specify how.

In the 2006 election the NDP also ran several candidates who opposed what were supposed to be party platforms. The party had adopted support for same-sex marriage as party policy, and required its MPs to support the marriage bill. When Manitoba MP Bev Desjarlais voted against the marriage bill in 2005 she was removed as a parliamentary critic.

And yet in 2006 the party ran Monia Mazigh — a Muslim and the wife of Maher Arar — in an Ottawa riding and retired Catholic priest Des McGrath in Newfoundland. Both candidates opposed same-sex marriage and said they would vote against it.

During the last session of parliament, NDP MP Peter Stoffer, from Nova Scotia’s Sackville-Eastern Shore riding, put forward a private member’s bill to force internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor the activities of their clients and to hold them criminally and financially responsible for any illegal material posted online by those clients.

“If you rented your house to the Hell’s Angels, you could be held responsible for anything they did,” Stoffer told Xtra in 2007. “The ISPs have some responsibility to monitor sites, and if they see something suspicious, they have a responsibility to report it.”

Stoffer dismissed the cost to the ISPs, as well as privacy concerns and, indeed, any other objections to his bill, by invoking the need to eliminate child pornography.

“What’s the cost of protecting our children, of protecting society?” he said. “The privacy advocates can go pound sand as far as I’m concerned. I have two young children. We should do everything in our power to protect children. I don’t believe in capital punishment, but I’m willing to make an exception. If it was my children, you wouldn’t have to worry about the law.”

Stoffer said gay people should support his bill because of the negative stereotyping they face around child porn.

“I hate the linking of gays and lesbians to paedophilia,” he said. “I know many of my friends who are gay and lesbian agree with me on this.”

BC MPs Siksay and Libby Davies have been front and centre — and frequently alone — in fighting for inclusion of trans people in hate crimes laws and for rewriting sex work laws. But even on these issues the party has taken questionable stands.

In December the NDP removed Micheline Anne Montreuil — a trans woman — from the federal candidacy in a Quebec City riding. Montreuil alleged that her gender identity was behind the decision.

“I was a very attractive candidate when I was chosen to run for the NDP but now, nine months later, I have lost all of my sex appeal,” Montreuil told Xtra.

She said other NDP candidates in the province did not want their name associated with hers.

And while the sins of the provincial parties may not be directly linked to the feds, memories of the Ontario NDP may still linger.

The provincial party has a history of jettisoning support for queer issues in favour of electability. In December of 1980, with a provincial election pending, then-NDP leader Michael Cassidy was quoted as saying gay rights “are not a priority at this time.” The result was that the party dropped its support for including sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) as an election promise.

Sexual orientation was not added to the OHRC until 1986 by a Liberal government.

When the NDP came to power in Ontario, that government — led by then-NDP leader Bob Rae — provided funding in 1994 for Project Guardian, the police operation in London led by Julian Fantino that used a supposed child-porn ring as a pretext for harassing gay men.

That government instituted the Trillium Drug Program and the Ontario AIDS Bureau, measures that probably saved the lives of numerous gay men. But in 1994 Rae allowed the defeat of Bill 167 — which would have granted spousal rights to same-sex couples — by having a free vote on the measure. Twelve members of his own government voted against it, ensuring its defeat. (Read more about Rae’s history with the queer community.)

Queer voters in Toronto appear to have forgiven Rae — who handily won election as a Liberal MP in a March byelection in Toronto Centre — but whether the anger still sticks to the NDP remains to be seen.