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Revamped citizenship guide still light on gay content

One paragraph added to complement Tewksbury picture

A picture of Gay Olympian Mark Tewksbury, all by himself, and a single paragraph of text comprise the description of Canada's gay and lesbian communities in the revamped Discover Canada guide. Credit: Xtra files

In the first edition of the federal government’s Discover Canada guide for new immigrants, the only mention of gays and lesbians was a caption under a photo of Mark Tewksbury that read, “a prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.” The second edition, released on March 14, adds a single sentence on gay people in Canada.

“Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage” has been added to a section entitled “Diversity.”

“One paragraph is better than no paragraph, I suppose,” says NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow. “It’s the will of Parliament – for once, they semi-listened, and at least there’s some mention of gay rights.”

Chow brought a motion before Parliament last spring to have the sections on gay and lesbian rights restored to the guide after documents obtained through an access-to-information request revealed that they had been cut. That motion passed. According to The Canadian Press, the earlier version also included sections detailing milestones in the gay liberation movement, including decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and the gay marriage law of 2005.

“I could have done without the ‘civil marriage,’ but the word ‘marriage’ would have been general and acceptable because there are members of the community who choose to get married in religious services,” says Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau.

No new imagery was added to the guide, leaving the picture of Tewksbury, by himself, to represent gay and lesbian people.

“As someone said to me, ‘Hey, Canada – we let our gay people swim,’” Trudeau says. “Obviously, if you’d asked me, and they didn’t, I would have had a picture of a couple of men getting married in a church or something. I would have liked to support that statement with an actual image, but one can’t expect that this government is going to be anything other than it is.”

Chow says images of those celebrations would have been a nice inclusion.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) says the single sentence is succinct and to the point and is more than what was included in the previous study guide, A Look at Canada.

“Canada’s diversity and the varied cultural differences found in Canada and proudly spoken of in the guide are renowned throughout the world and are one of the many reasons immigrants choose to make Canada their home,” a spokesperson for the department says. “Egale Canada was consulted on the changes to the guide.”

Egale Canada issued a statement saying it is pleased the new guide accurately reflects the current climate in Canada.

“Nonetheless, its obvious omission of our trans population highlights the urgent need to pass Bill C-389 before the next election, in order to ensure the rightful inclusion of trans people within Canada’s human rights regime,” the statement reads.

Egale Canada did not respond to Xtra’s calls before post time.

In October, it was announced that the section would be restored to the guide with the draft wording of “Our laws protect all Canadians, including gays and lesbians, from unjust discrimination. All Canadians enjoy the same access to education, healthcare, jobs, housing, social services and pensions, regardless of their sexual orientation. In 2005, Parliament passed a law extending the right to civil marriage to same-sex couples. At the same time, the law respects religious freedom, so no church, synagogue, mosque or temple can be forced to perform a marriage that goes against the religious beliefs of its members.”

That wording has been watered down in the final version.

“I’m disappointed because it does give a fuller depiction of it,” Trudeau says. “There’s less of an impression that this was something they were forced to put in by the lawyers, like small print.”

The spokesperson for CIC, however, says the draft paragraph was actually included in CIC’s Welcome to Canada publication, which is provided to all immigrants immediately upon their arrival to Canada. The Discover Canada guide is a kind of study aid for those preparing for citizenship.

“The new addition in the Discover Canada guide is a re-enforcement of information that newcomers receive in their welcome guide.”