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NDP presents its gay agenda on eve of Vancouver Pride

Bills on age of consent and revising criminal records proposed

On the eve of Pride celebrations in Vancouver, gay NDP MPs unveiled what they describe as their “gay agenda,” a list of initiatives that have been introduced in Canada’s House of Commons. NDP MLAs Spencer Chandra Herbert and Mable Elmore joined MPs Libby Davies and Randall Garrison to push for provincial action on LGBT issues.  Credit: Natasha Barsotti

On the eve of Pride celebrations in Vancouver, gay NDP MPs unveiled what they describe as their “gay agenda,” a list of initiatives that have been introduced in Canada’s House of Commons.

That unfinished business includes three bills — C-279, C-600 and C-448 — that aim to guarantee equal rights for transgender and gender-variant Canadians, suspend the criminal records for gay offences that are no longer illegal, and repeal the unequal age of consent for anal sex, respectively.

Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison, the federal NDP’s LGBT critic, also highlighted three motions the party is pressing forward with, namely ending discriminatory policies on blood and organ donations by gay men, ensuring that the service records of people discharged from the Canadian Forces because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are revised, and getting an apology for civil servants who were fired for their sexuality or gender identity.

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, who introduced the civil servants motion, said there’s never been an official apology for what people faced in previous eras.

“We’re here today because at Pride, it’s a great time to recognize how far we’ve come in Canada, but it’s also a good time to recognize there’s still work left to do to ensure that the LGBT community is fully protected and has full equality in Canada,” Garrison told media at a press conference held at the corner of Davie and Bute streets in Vancouver’s gay village.

Davies said Canada has a responsibility to speak out for equality and against the hatred and discrimination that LGBT people face globally. She said that at the recently concluded International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, which she attended, she heard activists from Russia, Uganda and the Caribbean speak of the discrimination, violence and punitive legislation that LGBT people confront.

“It really makes us aware as Canadians that the victories we have here in this country, we can’t just stand by and say, ‘We’ve done our work here.’ This is about a global situation. It’s about human rights for all people,” she said.

Asked about the NDP’s position regarding the Conservatives’ prostitution bill, C-36, Davies tells Xtra it likely doesn’t meet the test established by the Supreme Court of Canada’s December ruling, which struck down existing sex-work laws as harmful and overly broad. She says the NDP, concerned that Bill C-36 won’t make things any safer for sex workers and won’t uphold their rights, suggested referring the proposed legislation back to the court for assessment.

She says the bill was instead rushed through second reading and will now go back to the House in September with some amendments but is still “deeply flawed.” She says any new legislation has to take the experience of sex workers into account. “They actually know what needs to be done.”

“I’ve always supported decriminalization; I came to that conclusion long ago,” she adds. “What we’ve said as a party — and I’m not the official spokesperson for the issue — is that we believe that the test is the Supreme Court of Canada decision.”

Provincial NDP MLAs Spencer Chandra Herbert and Mable Elmore joined Garrison and Davies at the press conference.

Referring to recent approval of trans-inclusive policies by both Vancouver’s school and parks boards, Chandra Herbert called for provincial government action on LGBT issues. He noted that many BC school districts do not have specific policy to address discrimination against LGBT students and criticized Premier Christy Clark for a lack of action on that portfolio.

“All schools that receive public money in BC need to be available and open to all students regardless of if they’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans or straight or questioning,” he said. “The school boards in this province answer to the Ministry of Education.” But while the ministry has been clear that bullying is not acceptable, he said, it has “not been much more explicit than that.”

There needs to be a provincewide policy that applies to school boards, Elmore said. She reiterated a longstanding call for inclusion of gender identity in the BC Human Rights Code.