A recently released guidebook for new immigrants, Discover Canada, is a mixed bag of trivia and ideology.
The handbook has an explicit section on gender equality, where it condemns the “barbaric cultural practices” of spousal abuse, honour killings and female genital mutilation.
There is a section on diversity that gives a shout out to atheism but leaves out gays or lesbians. Queer people are relegated to a sidebar next to a photo of Mark Tewksbury, in the section devoted to sports, arts and culture.
And that has MPs shaking their heads.
“I always worried that it was more of a political, ideological message more than anything else,” says lesbian NDP MP Libby Davies of the guide. “I think it’s pretty concerning that lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues would be put in a sidebar or not really dealt with, because I think it’s a really important issue for immigrants or people coming to Canada to understand that this is part of the Canadian fabric.”
MP Bill Siksay agrees.
“I’m disappointed that there isn’t a mention of the Canadian value of recognition of the equality of gay and lesbian people.”
Gay Liberal MP Scott Brison, sees more than just the effacement of queers in the guide.
“There was actually a diminution in the role of rights in this guide compared to the previous guide,” Brison says. “There are some elements of the guide that I think are positive, but I find that the tone and direction away from Canada’s strength as a defender of fundamental human rights is really troubling, because it’s very clear the Conservatives do not understand or appreciate the importance of these rights and the need to continually reaffirm them at every turn.”
The Conservatives — and immigration minister Jason Kenney in particular — have long tried to court what they believe to be socially conservative immigrant communities.
“It makes me very worried,” Davies says. “Especially when I know it’s coming from Jason Kenney and everything about this man – what he does and what his modus operandi is.”
Brison feels that Kenney’s attempt to court votes in this manner is flawed.
“This is a case of a government with a choice of either appealing to people’s openness or to their narrow side, and I think where we need leadership is toward openness.”
The NDP’s immigration critic, Olivia Chow, also feels that the aims of this guide go beyond trying to court these immigrant voters.
“I think it’s not who they court — it’s in their DNA,” Chow says. “They don’t support gay marriage. They weren’t in government when it passed and the majority of the Conservative MPs didn’t support that. They were in the minority — thank goodness. However, we know what we’re proud of.”