POLITICS

John Baird's Gay Rights Stance Nothing New For Harper Tories

08/09/2013 01:15 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 01:46 EDT
CP

While John Baird was accused this week of alienating the conservative base by denouncing anti-gay laws in other nations, support for gay rights abroad is actually nothing new for the Harper Conservatives.

In fact, several high-profile Tories — including Prime Minister Stephen Harper — have spoken out on these issues for years.

REAL Women of Canada, a privately-funded and socially-conservative group, slammed the foreign affairs minister this week for saying he has been working behind the scenes to persuade Russia to ditch a controversial anti-gay law. The legislation bans "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies.

Baird said he is concerned the legislation will be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and called the law an "incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."

The right-wing women's group, which bills itself as a "pro-family conservative women's movement," said Baird is promoting his own values, not those of Canadians. In a press release, the group ripped Baird for his position on Russia, as well as Uganda, where there are reports the government has considered the death penalty as punishment for gay sex.

"Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and are causing collateral damage to his party," the release reads.

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women, told CBC News that Canada should not be interfering in the affairs of other nations, even in the case of Uganda.

"It may be unwise by Western standards, but who are we to interfere in a sovereign country?" Landolt replied when asked about reports the nation has considered using the death penalty on gay people.

Baird brushed off the criticism Thursday, and said his position is backed by the vast majority of Canadians.

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Gay Rights In Russia

"With respect to sexual minorities, we've focused on three things. One, against the criminalization of sexual minorities, two, against violence, and three, against the death penalty — and I think 99.9 per cent of Canadians support us on those three issues," he said.

While such issues have been pushed to the forefront thanks to recent protests against Russia ahead of the Olympics in Sochi, it’s hard to argue Conservatives have not been consistently vocal about the persecution of gays across the globe.

In 2009, Harper privately lobbied Uganda’s president at a Commonwealth leaders summit to abandon a law that would imprison gay people for life, The Globe and Mail reported.

"We deplore these kinds of measures. We find them inconsistent with, frankly, I think any reasonable understanding of human rights," Harper said.

Less than a year later, former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon blasted the African nation of Malawi for jailing two men for 14 years under its anti-gay law.

"Cases like this are cases we condemn," Cannon told The Globe. "We will be following this case as every other case. Canada has a great reputation internationally because we stand up for human rights, and speak out on … things that need to be denounced."

The National Post reported that at a 2012 meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, Baird railed against African and Caribbean nations that criminalize being gay, calling such practices a "hangover" from a past era.

"The criminalization of homosexuality is incompatible with the fundamental Commonwealth value of human rights," Baird said.

Last September, former immigration minister Jason Kenney fast-tracked 100 gay Iranians into Canada, saving them from possible execution, the Post reported.

On that very day, Baird told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations the government will stand up to "the violent mobs that seek to criminalize homosexuality."

Baird shared the story of David Kato, a gay Ugandan who was bludgeoned to death with a hammer not long after a newspaper published the pictures and names of known gay people in the country.

"It is cases like his that drive me to raise this issue, often to the discomfort of the people sitting across the table, as I did at recent meetings in Australia and New York. In these meetings, Canada was the loudest voice," Baird said. "These are issues which, in the past, have rarely been raised — if ever. Yet we are."

Of course, Harper's Conservatives have also faced criticism from members of the Canadian LGBT community.

A 2006 motion to reopen the same-sex marriage debate shortly after the Conservatives won power ruffled feathers, but was easily defeated. Twelve Conservatives, including current cabinet ministers Baird and Peter MacKay, broke party lines and voted against the motion.

In 2008, Tory MP Tom Lukiwski apologized after the NDP released a 1991 video in which he slammed "homosexual faggots with dirt under their fingernails."

"I would give anything to take those comments back," Lukiwski said at the time. "They do not reflect the type of person that I am."

In March, a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender Canadians passed the House of Commons by a vote of 149-137, despite the fact that Harper, most of his cabinet and the majority of Tory backbenchers did not support it.

Eighteen Conservative MPs did support the legislation though, including cabinet ministers Baird, Jim Flaherty, Lisa Raitt and James Moore.

With files from The Canadian Press