The deep freeze of prorogation and the truce of the Winter Olympics have ended, and politics, as all-too-usual, has returned to town. Yesterday alone, Ottawa was the staging ground for a federal budget and a provincial byelection.
The frenzy of budget coverage seems likely for now to overshadow embarrassing allegations that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney personally removed references to gay rights from a guide for new Canadians.
An earlier draft of the guide, which immigrants will have to study for their citizenship tests, included references to the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and recognition of same-sex marriage in 2005. According to government correspondence obtained by The Canadian Press, Kenney, or someone in his office, ordered the passages removed and blocked later attempts by public servants to have them re-inserted.
This ham-fisted attempt to censor Canada’s reality seems particularly ludicrous here, where Parliament Hill stands mere blocks away from the “gaybourhood,” Ottawa’s gay village. It’s also exceedingly unlikely the government drafted its budget without the work of a number of smart gay people at finance.
Apart from the knuckle-dragging optics of this decision, let us consider this guide for what it is — a tool of Canada’s immigration policy. What’s a gay, lesbian or transgendered immigrant supposed to think upon arriving in Canada? Homosexuality is currently illegal in 80 countries, and punishable by death in at least five.
So while one is introduced to one’s new country and all the neat wars it’s fought, perhaps an encouraging word is in order that one’s sexuality is one’s own business here, and discrimination on that basis is illegal.
The immigration minister, who voted against recognizing same-sex marriage, also seems to be working at cross-purposes with Canada’s need to attract the educated immigrants who will help us compete in the knowledge-based global economy.
Celebrity urbanist Richard Florida has repeatedly drawn a strong connection between a city’s gay-friendliness and its ability to lure top talent in high-tech and other knowledge-intensive industries away from other cities.
Diverse, educated, gay-friendly Ottawa tops Florida’s hit parade of Canadian cities in terms of its attractiveness to families, those in mid-career and retirees. Instead of trying to erase gays from the picture, our immigration minister should be trumpeting their successes here.
Here’s hoping the minister comes to his senses and allows gay rights their place in the next edition of the guide. It’s probably too much to ask that as a gesture of goodwill, he puts on his Calgary Stampede outfit and marches in the Capital Pride Parade this year, but that would be totally adorable.
- Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; firstname.lastname@example.org.