4 min

The gay issues election

Gay marriage expected to be an election issue

CAN SHE DO IT? Hedy Fry has won three elections in Vancouver Centre riding, which includes the West End. This time, accusations of nomination improprieties hang over her and Hedy faces very real threats from both the Conservative candidate and the NDP candidate. Will much of the gay vote stay with Hedy or go elsewhere? Credit: Xtra West files

Jun 28’s federal election may be the most important in gay Canadian political history as our issues are placed front and centre in the national race for the first time.

Egale, the nation’s gay advocacy group, is urging queer Canadians to vote.

Director of advocacy Laurie Arron says gays and lesbians must act now, not after the election, to preserve the rights which have been hard-won in the past few years.

“This election is huge,” he says. “The results could be anywhere from strong, socially responsible candidates getting elected and a government that is responsive to our concerns, or a [Stephen] Harper government that would take everything away from us.”

Arron says Egale will not endorse candidates. It will, however, rate them on queer issues-as will Canadians for Equal Marriage. Those ratings will appear on the groups’ websites.

The bulk of Vancouver’s queers inhabit two ridings: Vancouver Centre and Vancouver East. Choosing between candidates claiming themselves as gay-friendly may not be easy.

Vancouver Centre promises to be a fight watched by national political observers as three-term Liberal MP Hedy Fry attempts to stave off challenges from Conservative Gary Mitchell and NDPer Kennedy Stewart.

In her nomination race, Fry wore her commitment to the gay community on her sleeve. The marriage issue is inextricably tied to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Fry says, calling it the last leg in creating equality under the law for Canada’s last oppressed minority.

The state cannot deny a minority group in Canada the right to have access to a legal and social institution without discriminating, Fry says.

Fry will not commit to overhauling the bawdyhouse laws that are used against gay men in bathhouses. But she agrees that there needs to be a discussion in Parliament about modifying the bawdyhouse laws against prostitution, massage parlours and bathhouses. Fry suggests bathhouse operators organize a presentation before Ottawa politicians.

Fry says she has been totally supportive of Little Sister’s in its two-decade-long fight against book seizures by Canada Border Service Agency (formerly Canada Customs). Fry would not commit to stop censoring ideas and images at Canada’s borders. But she says Agency staff need training in the law which must be applied equally and objectively. She has pledged to discuss the issue with Paul Martin.

Conservative candidate Mitchell says there is nothing contradictory about his being gay and his being a candidate for a new party built from the foundation of the Canadian Alliance party that welcomed Stockwell Day as a past leader.

Mitchell says gay marriage is an equality issue to be dealt with under law while leaving churches to deal with it as they see fit. He calls the bawdyhouse laws archaic and says they should be modernized to reflect queer culture while preserving provisions against prostitution and massage parlours.

And, Mitchell wants to see an end to the Little Sister’s struggle.

Freedom of speech is an inherent right for all Canadians, he says.

New Democrat candidate Stewart, a straight man, could emerge as a spoiler if a strong fight develops between the Liberals and Conservatives in Vancouver Centre.

Stewart supports gay marriage. The Liberals should have legalized it by legislation rather than putting the question to the Supreme Court, he says.

Stewart supports Little Sister’s and says he will advocate for the store.

Stewart also believes the bawdyhouse laws, which have seen gay bathhouses raided time and again, are antiquated. The laws should be re-written, he says.

In Vancouver East riding, lesbian NDP incumbent Libby Davies faces a challenge from Conservative Harvey Grigg and Liberal Shirley Chan.

Davies is critical of the Liberals’ record on gay issues. The Liberals consistently force the courts to rule on gay matters rather than changing discriminatory laws through Parliamentary votes. Court cases-such as recent marriage and survivor benefits challenges-put a heavy financial burden on litigants and the general queer community, she says.

And marriage is all about equality under the law, Davies says.

“Whether one supports the issue or not, it’s about personal choice,” she says. “Paul Martin doesn’t give a shit. He’s ducking the issue.”

Davies says she’s been pushing hard to change the bawdyhouse legislation. Broad changes are needed in laws dealing with sex issues including bathhouses and prostitution, she says.

The law “has to be reviewed and most likely abolished.”

Chan was executive assistant to former NDP premier Mike Harcourt when he was mayor of Vancouver, appearing at many gay events. She has served on the UBC board of governors and the board of gay-positive VanCity credit union. Chan was acclaimed as the Grit candidate amid accusations she was hand-picked by the prime minister.

Chan says as a member of a visible minority group she supports equality in marriage.

“If I had a gay child, I wouldn’t want my gay child to have fewer rights than my straight child,” she says.

Chan says the bawdyhouse laws have to be examined to determine their relevance.

“If it’s issues concerning consenting adults, I don’t have any concerns myself,” she says. “We should look at other parts of the world to see if there’s a better way of managing the issues of prostitution and the sex trade.”

A party spokesperson said Conservative candidate Grigg was not available for an interview by Vancouver’s gay and lesbian newspaper. Grigg’s website accuses Martin of flip-flopping on his Jun 8, 1999 comment that “marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

Of the Vancouver East candidates, only Davies has completed the Canadians for Equal Marriage candidate questionnaire. All three Vancouver Centre candidates rated highly on the survey.

The Green Party will be fielding candidates Robbie Mattu in Vancouver Centre and Ron Plowright in Vancouver East.

Other BC races with gay candidates include veteran NDP politician Ian Waddell’s run in Vancouver Kingsway, where he’s up against Martin appointee David Emerson. And Randall Garrison is running for the NDP in the riding of Esquimalt-Juan DeFuca on Vancouver Island.