NEWS

Baird hopes 'decency will prevail' at Sochi Olympics

08/09/2013 02:13 EDT | Updated 10/09/2013 05:12 EDT
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said he hopes "decency will prevail" when it comes to Russia's anti-gay law and that while he is concerned about Canadians going to the Olympics there, a boycott is not the answer.

Baird was asked by reporters during a teleconference from Rio de Janeiro about growing calls for a boycott of the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"We want to see the athletes succeed, and obviously we're in close contact with the Canadian Olympic Committee," Baird said. "I was pleased to see the International Olympic Committee come out and seek further assurances from the Russian Federation in advance of the Games."

"We've got an important opportunity for the free world to be able to put the focus on what's happening in Russia in recent weeks and months and hopefully that can yield a change," he added.

The foreign affairs minister has said previously that Canada has been working behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to follow through with the law that was signed in June. It imposes fines for spreading information about gay choices to minors and for holding gay pride rallies.

"We are concerned obviously about Canadian athletes and other participants and spectators and attendees of the Olympics there but we should be very clear, they're only going to be there for two to three weeks. The people of Russia will have to deal with this law 365 days a year every year," said Baird. "Let's hope that decency will prevail."

NDP calls for visa ban

The NDP's foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar called on Baird to do more than just speak out against the Russian law – he wants the government to "institute a visa ban for the originators of the new law in question."

Dewar also suggests in an open letter to Baird that his department identify opportunities to support LGBT activists in Russia and that Canada work with "like-minded countries to oppose homophobic and transphobic resolutions" at the United Nations.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair backed Dewar's call for the government to impose a visa ban to pressure Russia.

"We urge the Canadian government to act forcefully in support of human rights in Russia and urge civil society and human rights organisations to sign on to this initiative," Mulcair said in a statement. "Canada's parliament, government and civil society must unite behind the defence of human rights and work together to ensure that the games in Sochi are inclusive and respectful of the rights of LGBT athletes and spectators," he said.

Baird also talked about the controversial Russian law during an interview with Evan Solomon that will air on The National Friday night.

"This is not just a mean-spirited law, but obviously it just lacks common decency and whenever you have intolerance and hatred it leads to discrimination and even violence and that's what should really concern us about this," Baird said. The full interview airs at 9 p.m. ET.

Baird's defence of sexual minorities' rights in other countries recently prompted an attack from a conservative women's group. REAL Women of Canada accused Baird of using taxpayers' money to promote "his own personal agenda" and attempting to set standards for laws in foreign countries.

The group objects to Baird's meetings with Russian officials and characterized his views as those of a "left-wing elitist." "These are not conservative values, and that of grassroots Canada, who, after all, pay the bulk of the taxes," the group's press release said.

Baird was asked Friday during the teleconference whether his advocacy might hurt the Conservatives at the ballot box and he said he wasn't interested in commenting.

"I'll leave others to come to those determinations," he said.

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