News
3 min

Plans for queer community centre proceed

Steering committee builds new momentum

CENTRE PLANS PROCEED

A steering committee is meeting every two weeks to continue plans for a community centre for Ottawa queers. Following on the heels of an emergency Aug 16 community summit and a meeting with the mayor Aug 25, the committee aims to build momentum for the much-delayed project.

Community consultations led to a 2002 documentation of the need for a queer centre with a focus on social services, health services, meeting spaces and recreation, located in the gaybourhood and accessible to transit.

Steering committee members are working with City Hall to register the organization as a separate entity from Pink Triangle Services. Then comes formation of a new board of directors and preparation for a major campaign to raise funds to build a new space or renovate an existing space of at least 14,000 square feet.

“We have a team that is representative of large segments of the community,” says committee chair Nathan Taylor. “We hope to see something move forward in the near future — I would like to say the next 12 to 24 months.”

Two new subcommittees are now being set up and membership is invited from across the community: one seeking partnerships with granting agencies and another to plan events and community fundraisers. To join either committee, or make a presentation, contact Taylor at nathantaylor@rogers.com.

GEORGE HISLOP DIES AT 78

George Hislop, the gay rights pioneer who won the right to a survivor’s pension from the Canada Pension Plan for gays and lesbians across Canada, died Oct 8 after a long illness at Toronto’s Grace Hospital. He was 78 years old.

“George was quite rightly described by the judge in our case as a legend. He has left a lasting legacy of tolerance to our entire country,” notes Douglas Elliott, a Toronto lawyer who represented Hislop in the ongoing same-sex class action lawsuit based on the Charter Of Rights equality guarantee.

Hislop was in a long-term common-law relationship with Ronald Shearer. When Shearer died after years of contributing to the CPP, Hislop applied for a pension but was turned down because he was of the same sex as Shearer.

Same-sex couples were excluded under the Canada Pension Plan’s governing statute until August, 2000, when the law was amended to include them. Those amendments, however, continued to deny pensions to those whose partners had died prior to January 1, 1998.

Hislop launched a class action suit claiming a denial of his Charter rights that eventually became national in scope. He was joined by four other representative plaintiffs from coast to coast. Hislop was successful at trial and in the Court Of Appeal in a decision that extended pensions to over 1,000 gay men and lesbians in Canada.

The federal government has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court Of Canada. The nation’s highest court is scheduled to hear the case on May 16 of next year. Notwithstanding the appeal, in July the federal government agreed to start paying pensions pending the appeal. Hislop received his first cheque in August.

“Frankly, I am disgusted that the federal government would not settle this case before his death,” says Elliott. “We will not give up. We are more determined than ever to see this case through to the end. It was what George wanted, and it is the best way to honour his memory and his lifelong commitment to equality.”

Hislop had been fighting for equality for gays and lesbians since 1969. Among his other achievements:

* Cofounder and executive director of one of Canada’s first gay and lesbian organizations, the Community Homophile Association Of Toronto, which organized the first Canadian gay rights demonstration on Parliament Hill in 1971

* Ran as the first openly gay candidate for political office in Canada when he ran for Toronto City Council in 1980

* Ran as the first openly gay candidate for provincial office in the1981 provincial election to protest against the Toronto bathhouse raids

* Leader in resistance to the bathhouse raids

* Leader in the successful fight to secure the inclusion of sexual orientation in Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

CHIPPING AWAY OUR FREEDOMS

The BC Civil Liberties Association has warned two government subcommittees that Canada’s new antiterrorism laws are serious violations of personal freedom in a democracy.

The BCCLA urged the Senate special committee on the Anti-Terrorism Act and the House subcommittee on public safety and national security to advocate for the immediate release of all security certificate detainees who have been imprisoned in Canada under inhumane conditions, subject to secret hearings while they await possible deportation to countries known to practice torture.

In addition, the BCCLA urged the committees in presentations Oct 17 and 19 to recommend the repeal of the ATA as a hasty and unnecessary response to the perceived threat of terrorism after Sep 11, 2001. Short of repeal, the BCCLA is calling for significant amendment of the ATA, including narrowing the definition of “terrorist activity” and restricting the power of government to impose secrecy on any matter it deems national security.

“Even a stone should cry to see the treatment accorded security certificate prisoners — sentenced to years in solitary confinement by way of a ministerial order,” said BCCLA president Jason Gratl in a media release. “The security certificate process treats liberty and fundamental justice with callous disregard.”

Added Murray Mollard, the group’s executive director: “The ATA was passed in record time to respond to a perceived security crisis and it shows the flaws of ill-conceived drafting. We will urge the Senate and House committees to recommend major reforms to this law.”

Gay men and lesbians were singled out for surveillance and firing from government jobs in the 1950s and 1960s during Canada’s last major period of collective paranoia.