Keeping the gays at bay

Peter
Peter Jackson
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"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. ... We do not have this phenomenon; I don't know who has told you that we have it."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Columbia University, N.Y., 2007

It's a serious matter, but Columbia University students, faculty and guests couldn't help but laugh in disbelief.

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. ... We do not have this phenomenon; I don't know who has told you that we have it."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Columbia University, N.Y., 2007

It's a serious matter, but Columbia University students, faculty and guests couldn't help but laugh in disbelief.

Here was the controversial president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadine-jad, standing on U.S. soil and telling his audience Iran doesn't even have gay citizens.

It's the perfect pre-emption, of course. No need to deny or even explain why gays and lesbians in Iran are being persecuted and executed.

Gays? What gays?

In Canada, gays and lesbians live in a considerably more tolerant environment. Heck, they can even get married.

But that doesn't mean everyone is happy about it. And there's at least one high-ranking federal minister who seems to share a similar attitude of denial to that of our Iranian friend.

His name is Jason Kenney. Just call him "Ahmadinejad Lite."

Kenney was well-known for his rigid opposition to same-sex marriage, which became legal under Paul Martin's administration in 2005.

Now, as immigration minister, Kenney has taken a couple of measures that appear aimed at shielding the country from the scourge of homosexuality.

In March 2009, Kenney appointed a well-known anti-gay activist to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The tribunal is responsible for reviewing applications for refugee status.

Doug Cryer was a former director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and has publicly defended the right of churches to denounce homosexuality.

Cryer told on online Christian publication the church has a right to say homosexuality is sinful, just as adultery is sinful.

"It is part of God's teaching."

Now, if you're a homosexual escaping the threat of non-existence in Iran, would you want Mr. Cryer hearing your case? I'm thinking no.

But the zaniest chapter in the Kenney crusade came a couple of weeks ago, when Canadian Press reporter Dean Beeby obtained documents showing the minister ordered the deletion of key references to gay rights in the new citizenship guide, "Discover Canada." In fact, the draft references were vetoed at least twice.

"What's very clear ... is that all these revisions came out of the minister's office," Beeby told CBC Radio's "The Current."

Beeby said he was surprised by the conflicting responses from Ken-ney's spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, and then from Kenney himself.

Velshi explained to reporters that the guide "can't be encyclopedic," without denying Kenney's involvement. Afterwards, Kenney denied having any hand in the changes, then later stood in the House and accepted full responsibility for the guide.

To further add to the scandal, a gay rights spokeswoman, Helen Kennedy, revealed Kenney had promised her last fall the omissions from the draft version were an "oversight" and they'd be "fixed."

Testing based on "Discover Canada" began this week. Some of what citizenship candidates are expected to know is revealing.

The document does, in fact, deal with a host of important rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizens: the equality of men and women, for example, and participation in free elections. It also refers to freedoms - freedom of thought, expression, belief, assembly.

No space for sexual orientation, though. Not even two words.

Curiously, the authors did find space for this little gem, inserted under its own heading:

"Canadian football is a popular game that differs in a number of ways from American football. Prof-essional teams in the Canadian Football League (CFL) compete for the championship Grey Cup, donated by Lord Grey, the Governor General, in 1909."

Two things:

First, is it really necessary for a traumatized family from Somalia to know there's a difference between Canadian and American football, and who the Grey Cup is named for?

And second, unless we're expecting an influx of submortgage ref-ugees from Florida, would it not make sense to point out what we actually mean by "football"? Because almost everywhere outside of North America, the word connotes the game we know as soccer.

This is, undoubtedly, a minor oversight. But the nixed reference to gay freedoms is not. It is absolutely imperative people arriving in Canada from less liberal regimes understand that you can't kick around homosexuals like they did at home.

Says The Globe and Mail's Adam Radwanski: "Considering that discrimination against gays and lesbians is actively encouraged in many of the countries immigrants come from, it strikes me as rather useful to inform them that it's illegal (and generally frowned upon) in Canada."

Kenney is welcome to his fundamental prejudices among his own little world of supporters.

But as a prominent Canadian cabinet minister, his deliberate attempt to sweep advances in gay freedoms under the carpet is atrocious behaviour at best.

The fact that no attempt has been made to even smooth over the controversy speaks volumes not only about Kenney himself, but about this Conservative government as a whole.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Columbia University, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canadian Press Canadian Football League CBC Radio Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Iran, Canada, U.S. Somalia Florida North America

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Recent comments

  • member of the 20%
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Well written article and well put Polly. Prorogie Steve and his right-wing reformists are moving ever so close to the spiritual babblings of George Dubya, Senator MacLean and Sarah Palin, by the day. Thump, thump and stomp.

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    More and more the federal government of this country is showing just how right-wing and red-necked they are. They have appointed a lot of righ-wing homophobic people to public agencies to ensure their agenda of hatred flourishes.

  • Heather
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    If Kenney is classed as as leader for the future I am both fearful and ashamed of the narrow-minds who may run our Country. He should be fired for trying to arbitrarily trying to invoke his beliefs on a Federal Government document. It is also time that any reference to religion be taken out of the politics of Canada.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Kenney has been named one of Canada's 100 Leaders of the Future by Maclean's magazine; one of Canada's leading conservative activists by the Globe and Mail; and one of 21 Canadians to watch in the 21st century by the Financial Post magazine. This begs the question , are any or all of these periodicals reflective of a right wing bias ? In my humble opinion Kenney is the pinnacle of bogus politicians . Kenney sees himself as the champion of ethnic causes , ever ready to do battle in the name of social justice , which appears rather odd for a conservative / reform hardliner . In their zeal to endorse Kenney , these periodicals may also be promoting the fixated reformist ideology of the Harper government .

  • member of the 20%
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Well written article and well put Polly. Prorogie Steve and his right-wing reformists are moving ever so close to the spiritual babblings of George Dubya, Senator MacLean and Sarah Palin, by the day. Thump, thump and stomp.

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    More and more the federal government of this country is showing just how right-wing and red-necked they are. They have appointed a lot of righ-wing homophobic people to public agencies to ensure their agenda of hatred flourishes.

  • Heather
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    If Kenney is classed as as leader for the future I am both fearful and ashamed of the narrow-minds who may run our Country. He should be fired for trying to arbitrarily trying to invoke his beliefs on a Federal Government document. It is also time that any reference to religion be taken out of the politics of Canada.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Kenney has been named one of Canada's 100 Leaders of the Future by Maclean's magazine; one of Canada's leading conservative activists by the Globe and Mail; and one of 21 Canadians to watch in the 21st century by the Financial Post magazine. This begs the question , are any or all of these periodicals reflective of a right wing bias ? In my humble opinion Kenney is the pinnacle of bogus politicians . Kenney sees himself as the champion of ethnic causes , ever ready to do battle in the name of social justice , which appears rather odd for a conservative / reform hardliner . In their zeal to endorse Kenney , these periodicals may also be promoting the fixated reformist ideology of the Harper government .