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7 min

Storming the village gates

Toronto Centre candidates submit to our queer questions

The federal battle in Toronto Centre has the two lead candidates from 2004 facing off again, and a new Conservative face. Liberal Bill Graham has the advantage of name recognition, a cabinet post and incumbency, but New Democrat Michael Shapcott is hoping his grassroots activism will pull the vote this year. Xtra sent Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates for Toronto’s gay village a list of question on queer issues, worded so “yes” is the most positive answer, though, as you will see, Graham preferred the essay portion of the survey. (Note that the questions, particularly the one about images with sexual content, were asked before the Supreme Court Of Canada decision removed community standards as a consideration of what is indecent under law.) Here are their edited responses.

Bill Graham,
incumbent Liberal

1. If a motion is put forward to reverse Bill C-38, the same-sex marriage bill, would you oppose the rollback?

Yes. The Liberal Party Of Canada believes in a Canada where rights are protected and people are treated as equals under the law. That is why our government introduced Bill C-38. Parliament passed this important legislation in July 2005, and our party believes that the will of Parliament should be respected. The only way for Parliament to override existing court decisions would be to invoke Section 33 of the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms [the Notwithstanding Clause]. Prime Minister Paul Martin is very clear that that is not an option for his Liberal government.

2. Do you support the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA)?

While discrimination against trans-identified Canadians is not a protected ground under the CHRA, it has been read into the act as included in the grounds of sex or sex and disability. The addition of “gender identity” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the CHRA was recommended in the LaForest Report. The report found an expressed addition necessary to accurately and visibly reflect the experiences of individuals who have undergone or will undergo treatment and surgery to bring their physical gender in line with their psychological gender. As options for reforming the CHRA are studied, the government will take all perspectives into account.

3. Do you oppose the government’s decision to appeal the retroactivity of Canada Pension Plan benefits for same-sex couples?

In the past I have attempted to work with the litigants in the case and the government to help arrive at a solution that is both beneficial to the litigants and sustainable for the government. The problem is that this case challenges the right of Parliament to establish when its laws become effective. This precedent, if not appealed, would require payment back to April 17, 1985 every time a group is newly recognized as having equality rights under the Charter. The legal issues in this matter are far-reaching and may affect other federal legislation, programs and pension plans.

4. Do you support the repeal of the bawdy-house laws, that is Sections 210-211 of the Criminal Code used against bathhouses and brothels? Given that prostitution is legal in Canada, do you support the repeal of Section 213 of the Criminal Code which makes it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution?

In December 1998 the federal/provincial/territorial working group on prostitution released a report recommending that no changes be made regarding the decriminalization of prostitution or the repeal of the bawdy-house provisions. Their report suggests further discussions among various levels of government regarding the regulatory authority of municipalities in relation to bawdy houses. Supporters and opponents of decriminalization have equally compelling viewpoints and both sides of the argument need careful consideration. In light of the importance of this issue for provinces, territories and municipalities, it is crucial to achieve a certain degree of consensus before any measure can be taken.

5. Do you support keeping the age of consent for sexual intercourse at 14 years of age, and ensuring equality for all types of sexual activity, particularly in light of the rarely enforced Criminal Code provision that restricts anal sex to those aged 18 and over?

The current laws, as interpreted by the courts, provides the proper balance between protection of minors and respect for individual freedom. Ensuring that children are better protected against sexual exploitation is a continuing priority for this government. That is why our government passed Bill C-2, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code (Protection Of Children And Other Vulnerable Persons) and the Canada Evidence Act. Most important, it made it illegal for anyone over the age of 18 to have sexual contact with a person from 14 to 18 where the adult is in a position to exploit his or her victim.

6. Considering the history of how lesbian and gay images and topics have been treated by law-enforcement agencies, do you agree that governments should let adult Canadians decide what kind of sexual content they should see in text, photos and video?

The Liberal government believes that the current obscenity provisions in the Criminal Code are sufficient and are more than able to respond to the needs of Canadians. As community standards have always played an important role in the court’s interpretation of [these Criminal Code sections], the Liberal Party believes that this section presents a proper balance of freedom of expression and protection of society.

Michael Shapcott,
New Democrat

1. If a motion is put forward to reverse Bill C-38, the same-sex marriage bill, would you oppose the rollback?

Yes. I fully support equal marriage and have campaigned in support of it. I’ve been a champion of the equality agenda for decades. I’m proud that New Democrats pushed to make sure that Bill C-38 was passed by Parliament before the end of the spring session. The NDP made it a condition of our continuing support for the minority government and we will continue to support it.

2. Do you support the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA)?

Yes. I have been working with the trans community at the 519 Community Centre and with trans activists to actively support this issue. NDP MP Bill Siksay introduced a private member’s bill on gender identity in the last Parliament. Unfortunately, this died on the order paper when the Liberals stopped trying to work with New Democrats. I would be proud to be a sponsor of this in the next Parliament. I am also working with the trans community on sexual reassignment surgery, hormone therapy and various human rights and legal challenges. There are serious issues relating to transphobia and also issues regarding gender identity on ID documents.

3. Do you oppose the government’s decision to appeal the retroactivity of Canada Pension Plan benefits for same-sex couples?

Yes. I do oppose this decision and I was proud when [the late] George Hislop agreed to put my sign on his balcony in the last federal election. The federal Liberals seem to have a problem with a government-wide equality agenda — in CPP, in immigration and a range of other areas. Discrimination against same-sex partners in CPP is offensive, and the Liberal decision to drag George Hislop back into court after successive losses was wrong and discriminatory.

4. Do you support the repeal of the bawdy-house laws, that is Sections 210-211 of the Criminal Code used against bathhouses and brothels? Given that prostitution is legal in Canada, do you support the repeal of Section 213 of the Criminal Code which makes it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution?

Yes and yes. The bawdy-house laws are antiquated and need to be repealed. While some operations have caused community concerns about traffic and noise, these issues can be addressed in the particular context. There is no need for outdated laws that are enforced in a discriminatory fashion. For years I’ve supported the work of the Canadian Organization For The Rights Of Prostitutes and other groups. Issues regarding prostitution include public health, noise and traffic, and all of these can be addressed in the particular context, without the need for the Criminal Code sanction.

5. Do you support keeping the age of consent for sexual intercourse at 14 years of age, and ensuring equality for all types of sexual activity, particularly in light of the rarely enforced Criminal Code provision that restricts anal sex to those aged 18 and over?

Yes. Sexual health is an important issue for me, as I am the father of a teenage daughter and a teenage son. Prohibition and more restrictions do not promote a healthy sexual lifestyle. It pushes issues and concerns underground, and frustrates attempts to deliver the message about safe and healthy sexual practices.

6. Considering the history of how lesbian and gay images and topics have been treated by law-enforcement agencies, do you agree that governments should let adult Canadians decide what kind of sexual content they should see in text, photos and video?

Yes. Censorship never works. Adult Canadians should be allowed to view the sexual content they desire.

Lewis Reford,
Conservative

1. If a motion is put forward to reverse Bill C-38, the same-sex marriage bill, would you oppose the rollback?

Yes. I’m in favour of Canada’s new same-sex marriage legislation and would oppose a rollback of equal marriage rights. That also happens to be the view of the large majority of citizens in Toronto Centre, and Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party embrace my stand. In fact, we’re the only national party that democratically insists each MP take an independent, local view of matters of social conscience, a refreshing contrast to the Liberals and NDP who took action against certain members of their caucuses because they opposed their party position. In addition, our party will not use the Notwithstanding Clause to challenge a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, if and when such a ruling is made.

2. Do you support the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA)?

Yes. This inclusion makes sense in the context of Canadian human rights developments.

3. Do you oppose the government’s decision to appeal the retroactivity of Canada Pension Plan benefits for same-sex couples?

No. I support the government appeal. The social contract of the day was broadly accepted and government needs to be very mindful of retroactive compensation except in the context of wrongdoing.

4. Do you support the repeal of the bawdy-house laws, that is Sections 210-211 of the Criminal Code used against bathhouses and brothels? Given that prostitution is legal in Canada, do you support the repeal of Section 213 of the Criminal Code which makes it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution?

No and no. The police show considerable leniency toward prostitution in Toronto, but for the purposes of upholding community safety many residents of Toronto Centre have made it clear to me that we should not repeal a policing tool that is useful in controlling criminal activity on our streets.

5. Do you support keeping the age of consent for sexual intercourse at 14 years of age, and ensuring equality for all types of sexual activity, particularly in light of the rarely enforced Criminal Code provision that restricts anal sex to those aged 18 and over?

Yes. The current law is broadly accepted by most Canadians.

6. Considering the history of how lesbian and gay images and topics have been treated by law-enforcement agencies, do you agree that governments should let adult Canadians decide what kind of sexual content they should see in text, photos and video?

No. There is a role in Canada for government censorship and for protecting the victims of sexual exploitation, most notably children.