Immigration Minister pulled gay rights from citizenship guide, documents show

Posted by admin on Mar 3rd, 2010

Canadian Press, Mar. 03, 2010 8:32AM EST

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blocked any reference to gay rights in a new study guide for immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship, The Canadian Press has learned. Internal documents show an early draft of the guide contained sections noting that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969; that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation; and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005. But Mr. Kenney, who fought same-sex marriage when it was debated in Parliament, ordered those key sections removed when his office sent its comments to the department last June.

Senior department officials duly cut out the material – but made a last-ditch plea with Mr. Kenney in early August to have it reinstated.

“Recommend the re-insertion of the text boxes related to … the decriminalization of homosexual sex/recognition of same-sex marriage,” says a memorandum to Mr. Kenney from deputy minister Neil Yeates.

“Recommend the addition of ‘equality rights’ under list of rights. Had noted earlier that this bullet should be reinserted into the list as a means of noting the equality of all based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc …”

In the end, however, Mr. Kenney’s view trumped that of the bureaucrats. The 63-page guide, released with fanfare last November, contains no mention of gay and lesbian rights.

About 500,000 copies were printed and citizenship applicants will start being tested on its contents March 15.

The $400,000 project substantially updated an earlier edition of the guide created in 1995. The new version significantly expands sections on Canada’s military past and on aboriginals, drawing on the views of a panel of prominent Canadians.

The new guide got generally positive reviews when it was launched, though some immediately noted the absence of gay rights, including same-sex marriage.

The publication does include a picture of Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury, however, with a caption saying he is a “prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.”

People look on from an apartment window during Toronto’s annual gay pride parade on June 28, 2009.

Drafts and other internal documents related to the guide were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

“Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 and more recently, civil marriage rights to same-sex couples was legalized nationwide in 2005,” the earliest draft of the guide says under the section Towards a Modern Canada.

And in the section on citizenship rights, the early draft said: “Equality Rights – Canadians are protected against discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age.”

Neither sentence survived the minister’s red marker.

Mr. Kenney has steadfastly opposed same-sex marriage since his time as an opposition MP in the House of Commons.

He spoke against the Civil Marriage Act, or Bill C-38, when it was debated in the Commons in February 2005. And days earlier, Kenney told a session with Toronto-area Punjabi journalists that gays had every right to marry – as long as it wasn’t someone of the same sex.

He reaffirmed his stand in 2006 when the newly elected Conservative government attempted without success to revoke the legislation.

And last year, Mr. Kenney appointed a longtime Conservative who opposes same-sex marriage to the Immigration and Refugee Board, which among other things makes decisions about whether gays can be given refugee status in Canada.

When the new guide was released Nov. 12, Mr. Kenney brushed off a reporter’s question about why it lacked any reference to same-sex marriage.

“We can’t mention every legal decision, every policy of the government of Canada,” he said.

“We try to be inclusive and include a summary. I can tell you that if you were to read the old book, you wouldn’t even know that there are gay and lesbian Canadians.” He then noted the caption under Mr. Tewksbury’s photo.

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