3 min

‘The new face of Canada’

Queer Muslim lawyer runs for parliament

Credit: (Jenna Wakani)

El-Farouk Khaki says he’s ideally suited to be the MP for Toronto Centre.

“I think I represent the new face of Canada,” he says. “I’m an immigrant, I’m a person of colour, I’ve lived on the West Coast, I grew up in Vancouver, I’ve lived in Ontario for 20 years, I’m openly gay, I’m a Muslim. I’m a lawyer but my family came to Canada with $300.”

Khaki is the NDP candidate in the Mon, Mar 17 federal by-election in Toronto Centre, the riding that includes the queer village. He is running against Liberal Bob Rae, Conservative Don Meredith and Green Party candidate Chris Tindal (see Green Party Claims To Fight for Queers).

Khaki is best known as an immigration lawyer who has taken on the cases of many queer refugees seeking safety from persecution. He is also one of the founders of queer Muslim group Salaam and a founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress and its more recent splinter group, the Canadian Muslim Union.

Khaki says he worries about leaving his clientele but feels as an MP he would have a bigger platform to help more people. He says being a visibly gay Muslim already provides a positive example.

“I got an e-mail from a young, gay Muslim African-American basically pouring out his heart to me and thanking me for being a visible role model,” he says. “I think being an MP would give a lot of people hope and courage. A lot of the work I do I’ve done to make a better world for myself but if it makes things better for others then hallelujah.”

Khaki also says being an MP would give him a better opportunity to try to address the problems with Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). He says the government needs to lower fees, institute a proper appeals process, appoint more people to the board and make sure there is proper sensitivity training in place, especially around queer issues.

“A lot of it depends on the insights and prejudices of individuals,” he says. “There are still homophobic individuals and some of them might sit on the IRB.”

Khaki says he opposes raising the age of consent to 16 from 14, although he says he would consider supporting it if the age of consent for anal sex was lowered from 18.

“I think it’s a red herring. It’s about demonizing certain communities and infusing morality into our laws,” he says. “The statement that Canadian minors are being exploited is not based on empirical evidence. My preference would be that age of consent remain at 14 for anal and vaginal sex with more attention to enforcing the laws we already have.”

Khaki says he was disappointed to hear that NDP MP Bill Siksay was disciplined by the party for voting against the bill because it failed to lower the age of consent for anal sex.

“That saddens me a little bit but it speaks to the pressures we’re under when it comes to sexuality,” he says. “The message is sometimes people have to go along.”

Khaki says he would support Siksay’s private member’s bill to explicitly protect trans people under Canada’s hate crimes legislation.

He says he opposes the recent decision of Health Canada to ban gay men from donating organs.

“A lot of what I deal with is stigma,” he says. “When you make blanket statements about people you cannot help but feed that stigma and discrimination. We should be moving to a behaviour-screening process.”

Khaki also says he’s horrified by the Harper government’s decision to redirect $1 million in funding from Ontario AIDS groups to an AIDS vaccine.

“Terrible,” he says. “Dare I say immoral? This myopia is inexcusable. The more prevention and support we are able to muster the more the savings in lives and money. I think that $1 million needs to be found elsewhere, maybe from military funding.”

Khaki says that Harper’s decision to cut funding to the Court Challenges Program should be of particular concern to queers. He says without access to the program’s funding same-sex marriage would never exist.

“Our nascent communities can’t afford the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to take the government to court,” he says.

Khaki says it’s time the riding elected a queer NDPer.

“Ironically for a riding that boasts Canada’s largest gay community we’ve never had an out gay man or lesbian as an MP,” he says. “I think the NDP is the only party that has consistently advocated for queer Canadians and for the working class.”