News that the Canadian Press uncovered documents that show Immigration Minister Jason Kenney nixed sections on queers from the new citizenship guide spread fast across Parliament Hill to universal condemnation from opposition members.
“It’s becoming more and more clear that the Conservatives did not intend this to be a Canadian citizenship guide, but instead a Conservative citizenship guide,” says gay Liberal MP Scott Brison.
“Canada’s Charter of Rights has helped make Canada one of the most progressive societies in the world and a magnet for those seeking equality. The Charter is not a buffet. You can’t take from it the rights you like and ignore the rest.”
NDP MP Bill Siksay, the party’s queer issues critic, echoes the sentiment.
“Jason Kenney can’t edit gays and lesbians out of Canadian history,” Siksay says. “I think this is an obnoxious attempt to do that. Clearly he has to commit to a revision of this booklet, and the reprinting has to include these references.”
Siksay adds that if there’s anything in recent Canadian history that’s important for newcomers to know, equality for queers is it. This means reinstating the section that talks about how gay rights began with decriminalizing homosexuality in 1969 and how it progressed to marriage in 2005.
“The progression is important, and if you’re a newcomer trying to understand Canadian society and Canadian values, there is some value in knowing that this did take some time and this was a series of important maneuvres over a long period of time,” Siksay says. “I think that is important.”
The NDP’s immigration critic, Olivia Chow, says that this plays into the larger issue surrounding the rights of gay and lesbian refugees coming to Canada and facing uncertainty before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), especially given that the Conservatives have appointed people to the board who had previously expressed homophobic viewpoints publicly.
“We’ve always said that the appointment of Immigration and Refugee Board members should be based on merit and not political affiliations,” says Chow.
“We’re appalled that a minister, part of whose job it is to uphold the Canadian constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would himself or direct his staff to remove text, and that he did this against the advice of his own deputy minister,” says Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, speaking on behalf of Immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua.
Jennings adds that it was under a Liberal government that protection was granted for refugee claimants entering Canada because of persecution for their sexual orientation.
“For us now to have a minister who specifically removes the text in a citizens’ handbook that points to these constitutionally and Charter-protected rights in Canada is telling me, telling my party, telling Canadians, and telling prospective refugee claimants that have a clear and convincing reason to fear persecution because of their sexual orientation in their country of origin — don’t bother to come to Canada. And it’s being ideologically driven, and that’s unacceptable.”
Jennings also notes that the appointment to the IRB of adjudicators who have spoken out against queer rights in the past is no different from those who would speak out against someone’s skin colour, gender or disability.
Openly lesbian Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth is attending UN meetings in New York, and she told Xtra via email that she was unable to comment. But she did point to a section of the Canadian Press report, which says Kenney met with Helen Kennedy of Egale Canada in December to discuss the guide and possibly getting gay content added to future printings.
Moving forward, Chow says that she plans to put a motion before the immigration committee that would ask Kenney to reinstate those sections.
“I don’t think we even need to hear his point of view,” says Chow. “How could he justify it?”
Jennings says that her party would definitely support such a motion.
Brison nevertheless has one more comment about this particular move on Kenney’s part.
“The Conservatives’ attempt to sanitize the citizenship guide to narrow Conservative values is un-Canadian.”
Queers, meanwhile, lit up Twitter and took to Facebook, demanding Kenney’s resignation.
Dale Smith is Xtra’s federal politics blogger. Check him out every weekday at Hill Queeries.