OTTAWA - A Conservative MP who once described homosexuality as a sin is refusing to explain his participation in a video honouring a gay teen who was bullied before his suicide.
The video featuring several Tory MPs has sparked a debate about the Harper government's approach toward gay rights and anti-discrimination measures.
David Sweet, who represents a southern Ontario riding, was once the president of the Christian men's organization Promise Keepers Canada. The Toronto Star asked Sweet if he felt homosexuality was a sin in a 2002 interview.
"Yes, absolutely," Sweet said at the time. "We take the Scriptures as the word of God. We look at homosexual behaviour and say that's not what's prescribed in the Scripture."
Promise Keepers Canada currently has a book for sale on its website entitled, "Leaving Homosexuality: A Practical Guide for Men and Women Looking for a Way Out." Sweet does not refer to his position at Promise Keepers in his online biography.
Sweet appears in a video released last week in memory of James Hubley, a 15-year-old Ottawa gay student who was bullied by his peers over his orientation. Sweet and other MPs declare, "It gets better," the slogan used in a popular campaign directed towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth who are facing harassment. They later provide the number of a help line.
The video's release coincided with Spirit Day, designated as a day to speak out against the bullying of gays.
Sweet did not respond to emails asking him about his previous comments and the video appearance. Outside the Commons Wednesday, he wouldn't stop to take questions.
"The video is on You Tube and what I said I said," Sweet said.
Of the seven MPs in the video who were elected in 2006, only one — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird — did not vote with the Conservative government to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage in the Commons that year. That vote was defeated with a handful of Tory MPs voting with the opposition parties.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae told The Canadian Press Thursday he didn't feel the government was dealing with the issue of equality and gay rights in an up-front way. He raised the issue during question period on Thursday.
"I wonder if the spokesman for the government can indicate clearly whether the Prime Minister will be telling his colleagues in Perth at the Commonwealth conference that as far as Canada is concerned, human rights include gay rights and the Prime Minister will be using precisely that language to describe the situation," Rae said.
Stephen Harper is currently attending the conference of Commonwealth leaders. In 2009, Harper said he had raised concerns with Ugandan officials over laws targeting gays and lesbians.
"The issue of human rights is something closely associated with our country and with our government, something we are very proud to put forward both internationally and here at home," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the Commons.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of gay rights group EGALE Canada, called the Tory video disrespectful.
Kennedy wants to know what action Conservative MPs are going to take to support an NDP-Liberal private member's bill to prohibit discrimination against transgendered Canadians.
"They actually have the power and authority and the responsibility to make it better. We're talking about politicians who enact legislation, who bring in bills to the legislature, into the House of Commons to make a difference in everyone's life and in particular in the case of our LGBT youth and the community in general and they're not doing that," said Kennedy.
"For them to stand up and say, 'It gets better, just hang in there kids,' is so disrespectful and disingenuous and shows they're out of touch with the community."
Hubley was the son of Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley. He battled depression, and spoke openly on his blog about his struggles at school where he believed he was the only openly gay student.
"I hate being the only open gay guy in my school… It f***ing sucks, I really want to end it. Like all of it, I not getting better theres 3 more years of highschool left," he wrote in September.