3 min

Peace, rights and inclusiveness

Randall Garrison's international work prepared him for Parliament

'WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE.' Randall Garrison's abiding passion is peacekeeping and international human rights. He sees much still to be done to make Canada the best place to be gay. Credit: Xtra West files

Being a gay man in a country like Afghanistan is “sometimes part of the challenge,” when you’re on international peacekeeping exercises in foreign countries. Randall Garrison worked as an out gay man in Afghanistan, “where the existing law on the books says gay men are to be buried alive and then, have a wall pushed on you.”

A new face for the NDP in Esquimalt-Juan DeFuca on Vancouver Island, Garrison was an Amnesty International researcher on policing in Afghanistan. He wrote a report recommending how to implement human rights-based policing, “which was pretty deficient” in Afghanistan.

He was also a co-coordinator of the human rights observer mission for the UN referendum in East Timor in 1999, watching over 154 human rights volunteers and observers. While waiting for peacekeeping forces to come, he remembers, 10,000 people were killed and the country, destroyed. The Australian air force rescued the last few peacekeepers. He got out just before that.

In case it’s not obvious, Garrison’s abiding passion “is peacemaking and international human rights.” He does international human rights work and has taught criminal justice at Camosun College for the past 15 years.

In 2002, Garrison worked on a project for the International Catholic Migration Commission building peace between Christians and Muslims during a period of active violence between the two communities.

His riding comprises one-third of the Greater Victoria area; it includes nine municipalities, but not the downtown area. It starts out urban and ends in the seaside hamlet of Port Renfrew. He describes it as “a very diverse riding,” where he’s lived for 20 years. “This is a riding that should elect a progressive candidate,” he notes, as it is one of the more economically challenged areas on the Island.

He has been well received in his riding as an out gay man, including while meeting with officials on the Esquimalt military base. He felt respected there. Having accompanied Canadian forces on some of his peacemaking missions, Garrison supports funding for the military provided it’s for peacekeeping equipment, but not for a Star Wars project.

“I’m running [in this election] because I think there’s a Canada that has a certain set of values that we’re slowly losing-tolerance and inclusiveness, not only for gays and lesbians, but everyone. Tolerance for race, religion and sexual orientation – and inclusiveness from having social programs that prevent people from being left out.”

Garrison believes “both are being eroded by attacks on the public sector by rightwing governments and the increasing influence of the US media.” He challenges those apathetic to the political system to “get up off your couch and get involved. The alternative is to be a consumer of whatever the major corporations decide that you need or want.” It’s important that everyone be involved to make democracy work, “to build on the successes we have so we can get full equality.”

He decided to run because, personally, “I came to realize that democracy works when people participate.” While he was making up his mind whether or not to run, NDP MP Svend Robinson came to see him. “It would be pretty hard to say no to him in person,” he says. “I’ve known Svend for 30 years and I’ve had good support from him.”

The 53-year-old is concerned about the U.S-based Christian group Focus on the Family, which ran a recent poster-ad campaign opposing gay marriage in daily newspapers. Garrison doesn’t think the campaign will have any real impact in his riding. But he did hang the posters up in his office to motivate and to remind his workers how important the work they’re doing is. “I’m concerned with any narrow interest group that tries to distort the election outcome.”

Garrison wants to see the federal government tame Canada Customs. “We need a policy to forbid the targeting of gay and lesbians bookstores and education of individuals to enforce that policy.”

As far as bawdyhouse laws are concerned, “consenting activity by adults in private is really nobody else’s business.” And, Garrison notes, the “antiquated laws increase the risks to sex trade workers.”

He also wants same-sex marriage treated the same as opposite-sex marriage. “The Liberals are getting ready to introduce some kind of second-class status,” he claims. “There’s no such thing as separate but equal. There’s still work to be done and I am ready.

“It’s important to have gays and lesbians in public life-people who are out and proud-as an education vehicle to let people know we have a contribution to make.” He hopes for a strong contingent of NDP politicians in the House of Commons “and that we see a record number of gays and lesbians elected.

“We now stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and if it wasn’t for the drag queens, hairdressers and other people who weren’t afraid to be who they are, I couldn’t lead my life the way that I do.”