The day I became a proud gay Conservative

April 29 2017

To anyone who identifies as LGBT, coming out of the closet is one of the most significant events of their life. It is the moment when you feel like you can truly be yourself for the first time. However, as many who have already gone through the process know, the experience isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Often, the process of coming out can be incredibly stressful; many fear that their world will be turned upside down the moment they verbalize those two little words, “I’m gay”. This fear may then be exacerbated by their family’s view on the issue, their profession, social group, or perhaps even their political affiliation. At times, these things can make it feel like a choice must be made between being gay and maintaining everything else. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

As a law student, I worried that coming out would harm my legal career, but later learned that diversity in the legal profession is now considered an asset and not a liability. In fact, some of the country’s largest firms now focus on and emphasize their diversity programs; they are viewed as strengths. Clients are becoming increasingly diverse and want lawyers, bankers, and consultants who reflect who they are and better understand their needs. After I realized that being a lawyer and being gay are not mutually exclusive, I became more comfortable with the idea of proudly wearing my sexuality in professional circles.

I have considered myself a conservative for as long as I can remember. I didn’t grow up in a political household, but my parents raised me to understand the value of a dollar and to respect that hard work is the appropriate input if the desired output is success. If I wanted something, I had to work for it, and if I didn’t have the money to buy it, I had to save until I could afford it. These values led me to identify with the Conservative Party of Canada.

I first got involved with the party while completing my undergraduate degree at Wilfrid Laurier University. My experiences with the party since then have changed my life and have helped shape me into the person I am today. I was able to connected with a group of friends who share my values and interests. I gained invaluable experiences while working for candidates in both the federal and provincial elections and while helping to run the last Ontario Progressive Conservative Youth Association convention in Ottawa.

However, as I slowly made a name for myself within the party, my fears about coming out began to resurge. The more involved with the party I became, the more trapped I began to feel. It felt as though I had a lot to lose. I feared losing my conservative friends, the connections I had within the party, and my chances of one day running as a candidate to represent the values I have believed in for my entire life. For this reason, I delayed coming to terms with my sexuality for more than a year. Instead, I made myself busier and busier, becoming even more involved with the party. I believed that denying my own identity was the only way to stay connected with the organization that I had grown to love. In May of 2016, that belief was challenged.

It was during that month that I met someone who I now consider to be one of my best friends. Having come out just months before we met, he was the exact person that I needed to confide in because he knew exactly what I was going through. I soon realized that, beyond identifying as gay, we had a lot more in common, including our politics. He wasn’t involved with the party like I was, but we shared the same values and for the first time I found myself a close friend to someone who was also gay and conservative. Through our interactions, I began to realize that maybe being openly gay and involved with the Conservative Party were not mutually exclusive either. On May 28th 2016, this realization was validated; at its policy convention in Vancouver, the party voted to remove language defining marriage exclusively as “the union of one man and one woman” from its official Policy Declaration.

May 28, 2016, Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) National Policy Convention in Vancouver (See: Vancouver Victory)

May 28, 2016, Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) National Policy Convention in Vancouver (See: Vancouver Victory)

Immediately after the vote, I saw on social media hundreds of messages penned by my friends and fellow conservatives, all of whom were in support of the decision, many saying that it was “long overdue”. I was shocked. For the first time, support for marriage equality was on the minds of people from all levels of the party. Seeing this level of support from the party I volunteer for — and will hopefully run for one day — was the final push I needed. That night, I came out to my family. The day after, I posted on Facebook and came out to the world.

These days, posting almost anything on Facebook can be contentious. I had expected most people to be supportive, but was also prepared for some negative comments from some conservatives who I knew to be more on the right of the political spectrum. None came. In fact, many of these people called me or sent me messages to personally express their support. For them, my sexuality was a non-issue and didn’t affect how they viewed me or our friendship. This is largely where we are as a party today.

Over the last few years, we have made great strides towards becoming a more inclusive and welcoming party. This can be seen in Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney’s focus on immigration, in Rona Ambrose’s championing of women in politics, or in conservative politicians like Patrick Brown, Lisa Raitt, Michelle Rempel and many others openly supporting the LGBT community. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what your circumstance is - the Conservative Party of Canada is a big blue tent that welcomes all people who share conservative views, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

May 28th, 2016 – the day when delegates voted overwhelmingly to remove language opposing same-sex marriage from our policy handbook. That change was fundamental for me; it allowed me to see myself as both gay and conservative, which is something that I never thought I would be able to do. However, while we have made great strides in the last few years to create a more inclusive party, it is true that there are still some who would like to see these changes reversed. That is not a winning strategy.

To win in 2019 and beyond, we must commit to a big tent party that welcomes all those who share our views and our values. Together, we need to continue moving forward, building the party with the big blue tent philosophy in mind. This notion shouldn’t be confused with the term “Liberal Lite”, as many are so eager to interpret. Instead, it should be associated with a belief in equality of opportunity, a key conservative value. It is important to note that the Liberals and the NDP do not have a monopoly on the LGBT community; there are plenty of gay conservatives out there. I’m proud to be living proof of that.

May 28th, 2016. The day when I decided to be myself for the rest of my life.

Patrick Schertzer
Kitchener, Ontario

We went to a rally to protest anti-gay persecution in Chechnya; this is what happened.

Photo taken by Barbara Hall. From left to right: Todd Langis, Martha Jennings, Bernard from Cameroon, Doc von Lichtenberg

Photo taken by Barbara Hall. From left to right: Todd Langis, Martha Jennings, Bernard from Cameroon, Doc von Lichtenberg

April 26 2017

On Saturday April 22, two members of our Board of Directors attended a rally at Toronto’s Barbara Hall Park, in the heart of the city’s gay village, to protest the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. We expected to join enthusiastically with a crowd that was united in a common cause, but some people there took issue with our presence.

In recent months, some 200 gay men have reportedly been detained by Chechen authorities in six concentration camps where they are being tortured, according to Russian journalists. Three men have reportedly been murdered. LGBTory has been speaking out against this atrocity (read our statement here), and we have been urging the Canadian government to immediately rescue these men. We have publicly encouraged people to support the work of Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad, an organization working hard to get these vulnerable men out of Chechnya.

The rally was organized by Rainbow Railroad and the Glad Day Book Shop. We met at Barbara Hall Park where we joined approximately 100 people at the rally, where speakers included LGBT people like Bernard from Cameroon who himself was a recipient of a Rainbow Railroad sponsorship.  

We received blatant hostility right away when we unfurled our LGBTory flag. Many in the crowd were verbally abusive to us, haranguing us about everything from carbon taxes to trans issues (we lobbied the Conservative Party of Canada to support Bill C16) to Alberta PC Leader Jason Kenney’s Gay Straight Alliance policy (which we opposed). Mr. Kenney, incidentally, was Stephen Harper’s Minister of Immigration and was instrumental in bringing LGBT refugees from Iran to Canada and worked with the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees to expedite their rescue. Kenney’s policy of prioritizing Iranian LGBT refugees has since been abandoned by the Trudeau government.

We asked Martha Jennings, the representative of Rainbow Railroad, to join us in a photo. She initially turned us down, saying that she "was a socialist". I reminded her that we were all working together to save the Chechens and that we wanted to help them raise money. In fact, we advocated their cause in our statement to Members of Parliament. Then and only then did she agree to have a photo taken with us. As we walked together up the street to the Russian Consulate she admitted that the humanitarian issue at stake should transcend political partisanship.

“Conservatives are not welcome here.” -  Josephine—the socialist

However, once we were at the Russian Consulate and unfurled our flag again, three people forced their way in front of us to block our participation and to make sure no photos of the Conservative logo would be visible. The most aggressive woman, who identified herself as Josephine, said “Conservatives are not welcome here.”

One LGBT speaker at the rally who had fled from persecution in Russia told us about his experiences. When we asked him to pose with us for a photo, he was approached by a participant and told not to be seen with us. Josephine continued her demented jogging about to block our flag. We asked her if she was a member of the LGBT community; she replied “No, I’m a socialist.”

    Josephine—the socialist

    Josephine—the socialist

Surely there is no situation that warrants putting aside political differences more than coming to the aid of LGBT people who are being tortured and murdered. Around the world, people from all sides of the political spectrum, from Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, have condemned the treatment of gay Chechens and demanded action from both the Chechen government and its Russian supporters. Everyone in Barbara Hall Park that day wanted the same thing – an immediate end to the arrests, torture, and killing. And yet, some people, for whom celebrating diversity is almost a religion, were so blinded by partisan politics that they could not accept political diversity and welcome us in what was certainly our common cause.

There was a funny moment back in Barbara Hall Park when Martha Jennings, the Rainbow Railroad official, was vacillating about being photographed with a couple of Conservatives. I saw the park’s namesake, my old pal former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall, a life-long NDP supporter and opponent of the Conservative Party, and asked her to photograph the socialists standing next to us conservatives in front of the Conservative Party logo. She obliged. Ahhhh inclusiveness.

Doc von Lichtenberg

Memo to Canadian media: Brad Trost is not a typical Conservative

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

April 2 2017

On March 31, Tabatha Southey wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail titled The Conservatives’ unease about the ‘whole gay thing’, which was a reference to a recent statement by Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership candidate and MP Brad Trost (see here). Scott Gilmore, writing on March 29 in Maclean's  in an op-ed titled Confessions of a self-loathing Tory, suggested that it was time to start a new right-of-centre party that “genuinely believes in liberty, equality and facts over ideology”, since the make-up of the current CPC forces voters like him to “make the ridiculous choice between Trudeau or Trost”. I know this is the narrative that left-leaning members of the media in Canada are pushing, but it does not reflect our experience at LGBTory.

Tabatha Southey didn’t title her article “Brad Trost’s unease”, but rather “the Conservatives”, which suggests that she assumes that Trost’s pronouncements on the “gay lifestyle” can be attributed to all Conservatives. This is a taste of what Ms Southey had to say about Trost:

This week Brad Trost, one of the large and motley crew – I can’t help but worry that somewhere in the world some small and highly dysfunctional country has lost its entire navy – of Conservative Party leadership hopefuls and delusionists opted to inject some sex-talk into the competition. He did this in the form of a heap of the démodé homophobia that is his brand.

There’s more, but you get the idea. Southey posits that Trost’s comments are not surprising coming from the “motley crew” that makes up the fourteen candidates in the CPC’s leadership race, and implies that Trost is preaching to the CPC choir by voicing in public the bigotry that dares not speak its name.

For his part, Scott Gilmore makes the claim that only a new right-of-centre party can give him an option “that genuinely believes in individual liberty, that the state has no right to tell us who we can love, what we can smoke or what we can say”, since the CPC has failed to accept that Canada “has become far more cosmopolitan, multicultural, tolerant and socially liberal than it was a generation ago”.

I have been a Conservative for most of my adult life. I was a Young Progressive Conservative in university when Joe Clark was Prime Minister. I am also gay. I would like to tell Tabatha Southey, Scott Gilmore, and the rest of their cheering section in the media who are pushing the “Conservatives hate gays” line that this has not been my experience in the CPC, and I wouldn’t continue to be a member of the party if I felt that most of its members were homophobes.

Let me provide a few examples to counter this prevailing wisdom. I joined LGBTory a few years ago to meet like-minded LGBT people. All of us felt at home in the CPC, but at that time we were troubled by the fact that the party’s Policy Declaration contained a clause that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This was clearly problematic for us, but instead of abandoning the party in which we felt most at home and joining the Liberals, we decided to work inside the CPC to change its policy. We quickly allied with like-minded CPC members across the country, both gay and straight, and worked to support riding associations who also wanted this archaic policy changed. Together we spent months of hard work marshalling support leading up to the CPC’s Policy Convention in Vancouver in May 2016. (You can read our account of that campaign here.)

At the convention a motion was introduced to remove the marriage clause. We were strongly opposed by a small number of social conservatives aggressively led by Brad Trost and former MP and fellow leadership candidate Pierre Lemieux. After tense debate, the motion went to the floor of the plenary session for a final vote, where it passed by a margin of 1036 to 462, and in all of the provincial delegations save Trost’s home province of Saskatchewan.

1036 to 462 Conservatives Vote in favour for same-sex marriage, 2016 Conservative convention in vancouver 

1036 to 462 Conservatives Vote in favour for same-sex marriage, 2016 Conservative convention in vancouver 

The numbers are important. The convention delegates voted by a sizeable majority of 70% to 30%, and in all provinces save one, to remove opposition to same-sex marriage from the party’s policies. Ms Southey points out in her Globe & Mail column that:

a sizable number Canadians are downright cozy with the “whole gay thing,” and the vast majority of our citizens (70 per cent, according to a 2015 Forum Research poll) support same-sex marriage, with that number ever rising.

Wait a minute – 70% of Canadians support same-sex marriage, and 70% of the delegates at the party convention, hard-core Conservatives all, voted to remove an anti-same-sex marriage policy? Does that mean that CPC party members are broadly representative of Canadians in general on this issue; that they are, in Gilmore’s words, more tolerant and socially liberal than they were a generation ago? Does this suggest that Trost and Lemieux represent a dwindling minority both in the country and the CPC? Say it isn’t so!

Forum Poll Chart. Same-Sex MArriage Approval, US court ruling boosts approval of same sex marriage in Canada

Forum Poll Chart. Same-Sex MArriage Approval, US court ruling boosts approval of same sex marriage in Canada

And speaking of the “motley crew” that makes up the crowded field of the CPC leadership race, candidates Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Michael Chong and Lisa Raitt proudly marched with us in the Toronto Pride parade in June 2016, alongside interim CPC leader Rona Ambrose, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, CPC MP and former cabinet minister Peter Kent, and Ontario PC MPPs Lisa McLeod, Gila Martow and Lorne Coe. To imply that these prominent Conservative politicians are homophobic is laughable.

There is undeniably a homophobic element in the social conservative wing of the CPC, but it is a minority in the party and in the leadership race. In fact, of the fourteen CPC leadership candidates, only Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux arguably have a problem with “the whole gay thing”, and they are so far back in the pack that their candidacies can essentially be ignored. They aren’t shy about pandering to these social conservatives when they advertise themselves, as they frequently do, as “100% conservative”, but they are essentially fringe candidates trying to be heard above the noise.

Andrew Scheer, on the other hand, is in the top tier of candidates. However, although he is also a social conservative, he has stated numerous times that he considers the issue of same-sex marriage settled in Canada (see here for example). He has promised not to revisit social conservative issues if elected leader. For this he has earned the opprobrium of the Christian activists at the Campaign Life Coalition, who have declined to endorse him. 

Based on the performance of the three social conservatives in the race, I find it hard to come to the same conclusion as Southey, who thinks these candidates represent Conservatives’ “unease with the gay thing”. Brad Trost, with his retrograde homophobic outbursts, clearly does not speak for the typical Conservative.

Many political commentators have written lately about the dark spectres of bigotry and homophobia stalking the leaderless CPC and the dreaded forces of intolerance that Stephen Harper supposedly kept in check all these years suddenly being unleashed during the leadership race. We are LGBT Conservatives and card-carrying members of the party. Many of us are active in our local riding associations and sit on their Boards of Directors. Several of us attended the CPC convention as delegates and a number of us are working as volunteers for various leadership candidates. If anyone should be bearing the brunt of the homophobia supposedly running rampant through the party it should be us, but the only times we’ve had problems with the “gay thing” were during our encounters with Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux.

Trost and Lemieux are outliers in the party, and their antiquated ideas about the LGBT community do not represent those of the majority of conservatives in Canada. Nevertheless, reporters like Tabatha Southey are committed to dragging the Liberal Party across the finish line, and tarring the CPC with the brush of bigotry and homophobia helps achieve that goal. We are working constantly with the grass-roots members of the party and we can confidently say that we have been welcomed by Conservatives across the country, from the leader’s office down to individual ridings, who recognize that we all want the same thing – a safe, prosperous Canada where everyone is treated equally.

As for Scott Gilmore, who is hosting a series of dinners across the country to “talk about whether Canada needs a new conservative party, and if so, how would we build it?”, here’s a suggestion. Instead of ostentatiously holding public salons to display your supposed disgust with the party, try joining your riding association’s Board of Directors, getting involved in the CPC’s policy process, supporting like-minded members and candidates, and volunteering to help a leadership candidate you can support get elected. That’s what we’re doing at LGBTory, and it works.

If any of these reporters had bothered to contact us to hear about our perspective, we would have told them that Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux represent a small reactionary minority in the party whose influence is diminishing daily, and we resent that they are held up in the media as exemplars of the Canadian conservative movement. The reckoning will come on May 27, when the rank and file of the CPC vote for a new leader regardless of what Tabatha Southey and Scott Gilmore think.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

On Being Gay and Conservative

Snake Rainbow flag.jpg

March 29 2017

I was recently asked a simple question by some colleagues of mine: “How can a young gay male like yourself be a Conservative?”  This is a question I get from time to time and more frequently lately, it seems. It’s a question that requires more time for pause and reflection.

Let me start by saying that, as do most young boys, I modelled myself after my father; he was a Tory, so I was a Tory.  In high school I reflected on this question with more self-awareness. I was drawn to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his vision of conservatism.  He believed that government at times has the ability to do what is good but not popular; that government can affect profound change but it is not the only answer.  Conservative Senator Hugh Segal once said that Mulroney did not believe that all government was bad; in fact on such issues as family benefits, healthcare, defence, and aboriginal self-government,  he was prepared to use government in a substantive way for public benefit. We saw this played out with such files as acid rain, South African apartheid, and NAFTA. Mulroney’s views on social issues, the free movement of ideas, goods, and people, all aligned with mine. Mulroney helped shape my view that, unlike the Liberals, the Progressive Conservative Party was a party of big ideas and taking on challenges, from expanding the railways to western Canada under John A. Macdonald, to designing an international trade agreement with a depth and scope never achieved before.

Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party is no more, and, like many of my friends and colleagues, I was dejected when the PC Party merged with the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada. The word “progressive” was dropped from the name and it seemed the new leader wanted a break with the past. Stephen Harper, though, turned out to be a pragmatic leader. As I got to know him I felt more and more comfortable with his leadership, his desire to win, and his awareness that if the party went too far to the right it would never form a government. 

As time went by the desire to just win was not enough for me, and as I became more aware of who I am as a gay man, I had to take a closer look at what the Conservative Party stands for. This spring we have a chance to open the windows and let in some air. The party’s leadership race gives us an opportunity to shape the party into something that all conservatives can support.

When I bring up such social issues as needle exchanges and drug policy, my social conservative friends get queasy, but as a party we can have a conservative approach to these issues that makes sense.  Our current drug policy is a good example. According to Statistics Canada, the overall crime rate has dropped significantly, but drug convictions, mostly for cannabis-related offences, have gone up substantially. It costs the government $115 310 a year to house each prisoner, the average age of which is 24. We currently have a policy that is not only ineffective, but is cruel and costs the taxpayer an exorbitant amount of money.

Another issue is needle exchanges and safe injection sites for drug addicts; it would seem sensible to me as a fiscal conservative that the cost of a needle is far less than the cost of an individual contracting HIV or Hepatitis C and having the tax-payer pay for their massive health care costs.  In addition this problem  affects big cities disproportionately, hurting the small businesses that are located in those areas, hamstringing local authorities and throwing good money after bad.  Sadly, on these issues, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and libertarians can’t seem to agree to a plan that tackles these big problems with bold vision.

In spite of this, I have not given up on my conservative ideals or on the party I grew up with. It may have a different name and soon it will have a different leader, but there is always hope. The Conservative Party of Canada is truly a big tent – one that I’m proud to say includes groups like LGBTory; something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Being a gay man and a Conservative are not mutually exclusive, and I say to my friends you can shout and protest outside or you can come with me and work within and try to affect change. There is a group in the party that represents me and issues that are important to me. Although at times I am derisively branded a Red Tory or some other name by social conservatives, to me these positions are just common sense.

Jordon Williams
Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario

Conservatives and the Millennial Vote

Leadership 2017 | Conservative Party of Canada - Official Opposition |

Leadership 2017 | Conservative Party of Canada - Official Opposition |

March 10 2017

In a recent article in the Toronto Sun titled “The looming schism in Canadian conservatism, Anthony Furey discussed a number of topics threatening party unity, including carbon taxes, the recent increase in refugees crossing the US border into Canada, and Parliament’s anti Islamophobia motion M-103. Though these issues are definitely hotly debated within the party, there are other “hot button” issues important to young millennial voters that could cause not only a schism in the party but could cost the Conservatives the next election.

Recently I was at a meeting where a discussion about the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership candidates took place. One person at the meeting mentioned not supporting a candidates strictly because they weren’t pro-life. It's been almost 30 years since the Supreme Court of Canada removed any criminal laws governing abortion; here we are in 2017 and some Conservatives are still making leadership decisions based solely on the candidate’s stance on abortion.

I have heard people say that millennials don't vote in large numbers and therefore are not a significant electoral demographic, but a 2016 survey from Abacus Data suggests that young Canadians were pivotal to the Liberals winning a majority. This group will continue to vote this way if they feel basic human rights are being threatened, including women’s reproductive rights and the rights of Muslims and the LGBTQ community.

As for the refugee issue, try telling young voters that we should turn away people like Seidu Mohammed who ran across the US border in freezing cold temperatures which resulted in all his fingers being amputated.  Seidu fled Ghana over fears of being persecuted for being gay and Muslim. Should we be concerned with the number of people fleeing the US into Canada? Of course. Can we state those concerns factually and still show compassion? Absolutely, and Conservatives must do so to appeal to millennials and others who are sympathetic to the plight of legitimate refugees. 

Most members of the Conservative Party will claim they believe the government should not intrude into the private lives of Canadians, yet don't “traditional” conservative values on social issues do just that? Currently a bill in Parliament that addresses the rights of those that identify as transgender is working its way through the Senate, encountering stiff opposition from some Conservative Senators. Bill C-16 would add prohibitions on discrimination based on “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Code. It will also add the term “gender identity or expression” as a protected distinguishing characteristic to different sections of the Criminal Code, joining colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability to section 318(4) of the Code, which defines an identifiable group for the purposes of “advocating genocide” and “the public incitement of hatred”. C-16 would also add “gender identity and expression” to section 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code which covers sentencing of hate crimes. (Read our statement on C16 here)

It's not just millennials who support issues like those raised by C-16. I was at an LGBTQ community meeting where physician and transgender advocate Dr. Carys Massarella was speaking. She spoke of when the Quest Community Health Centre, a transgender care clinic in St. Catharines, Ontario, first opened.  Parents would bring their transgender children to her and would hope that she could help them change and make them 'normal'. Many years later parents now bring their children to her because they want to ensure their children are happy and grow up to be who they want to be, not what society wants them to be. Should that not also be the role of our government?

In order to win over millennial voters, Conservatives need to build a platform that resonates with them on these hot-button social issues. Can the party win the next election with a leader that identifies with values from 1955 and not 2017?  Not likely.

Audrey Nesbitt

Justin Trudeau: Gay Ally or Fair-Weather Friend?

February 8 2017

"It's been 25 minutes and the sunny ways are over," said CPC interim leader Rona Ambrose about the poor performance of the governing Liberals. I can't remember if she was referring to some budgetary kerfuffle or an inappropriate comment by a minister of the Crown, but it so aptly captures the realization that Justin Trudeau's honeymoon period with the Canadian public is not long for this world.

Trudeau failed to deliver the sweeping positive change that he promised in the 2015 election. Electoral reformers, marijuana advocates, working youth; these are just some of the people who are a little bit more than annoyed at the Prime Minister whose party recently fell nearly 10% in public opinion polls (actually quite a remarkable feat considering that among those of the three major parties, he is the only permanent leader).

But this is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community. In this sector of the voting public, optimism about #RealChange was particularly high. The prospect of a Prime Minister of Canada lauding feminism at international forums, and who goes to every Pride parade he can fit into his schedule, put Justin Trudeau ahead with LGTBQ voters.

While LGTBQ voters seemed by and large okay with the Liberal election promise to withdraw from Canada's combat mission against ISIS, an international terrorist organization that has repeatedly and proudly published video evidence of torturing and killing homosexual men, other broken election promises have finally exposed more than a few cracks in the armour of Trudeaumania 2.0. It may have taken more than 25 minutes, but the sunny ways attitude towards the Prime Minister is dissipating, and it’s my hope that this attitude is shared by those in the gay community.

On the Liberal Party website you'll find a petition titled "END THE GAY BLOOD DONATION BAN”. The petition states that “Canadian Blood Services (CBS) & Héma-Québec (HM-QC) currently ban gay men who have been sexually active at any point in the previous 5 years from donating blood, even if it’s been entirely safe and monogamous.It’s a ban that ignores scientific evidence, and it needs to end."

This seems pretty clear to me. VICE News did a great article a few months ago about how this Liberal-petition-turned-campaign-promise was really just a way to fundraise, by redirecting signatories to a donation page. The Liberals back-pedalled, and the ban was reduced to only one year of celibacy.

While there may be some debate surrounding the eligibility of non-celibate homosexual men to donate blood (the Conservatives have kept awfully quiet on this issue), it's reasonable to expect that most of those gay-identified would want this ban lifted, and advocating for such action would qualify as being an "ally".

"Prime Minister Trudeau's praise for Castro was mocked on social media and some tweeted fake eulogies for other polarizing figures using the hashtag #trudeaueulogies. (Nicholas Kamm, Adalberto Roque/Getty)" — CBC News

"Prime Minister Trudeau's praise for Castro was mocked on social media and some tweeted fake eulogies for other polarizing figures using the hashtag #trudeaueulogies. (Nicholas Kamm, Adalberto Roque/Getty)" — CBC News

November brought us the death of long-time Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, an event that should have been celebrated by anyone who would identify as "liberal". However, our "Liberal" Prime Minister found it appropriate to issue a statement of mourning so full of childishly outlandish hero-worship that it garnered ridicule and scorn from across the globe.

As a both a homosexual and a writer, I find it hard to describe what a monster Fidel Castro was. I'd like to think that gay and lesbian Canadians would take offence to our Prime Minister issuing a heartfelt eulogy about a man who rounded up thousands of homosexual men (and men with long hair) and imprisoned them in work camps where they were subjected to harsh, torturous labour until they died. This is hardly what I'd call "tremendous love and dedication for the Cuban people", but for whatever reason it suits our revisionist historian PM. It really makes one wonder then, if this is truly how the Prime Minister feels, why does he come to Pride?

The next issue is fundamentally different from the previous two examples. While neither waffling on an election promise nor issuing a statement really have much impact on the status quo, and don't do much to combat homophobia or better the lot for LGTBQ Canadians, this one actually takes us backwards on that front.

Over 40 AIDS/HIV research and support organizations were notified recently that they'd no longer be eligible for funding from the federal government. These community organizations, including those that work to alleviate the disproportionate impact of AIDS/HIV on aboriginal communities (another voting constituency let down and fed up with Ottawa), face closure should the government of Justin Trudeau continue down this path of "unprecedented investment in Canada". Keep in mind that these are organizations that were funded by the previous Harper government.

Much like marching at Pride and then praising homophobic despot Fidel Castro, Justin Trudeau had no qualms about speaking at a flag raising ceremony in Ottawa about World AIDS Day, declaring that "there's still work to be done" and affirming Canada's support for people living with the disease, while cutting funds that support the organizations that actually do this work. At a time when people living with AIDS and HIV is on the rise, this is absolutely no time to be forcing community organizations (sexual health education, support groups, social groups, and federally sponsored medical research) to close their doors.

As a member of the "gay community", I shudder to think that if a poll of LGBTQ voters was taken today, Trudeau would still be on top. But it's probably true. However, when, as it typically does to most politicians, the tide turns against the Prime Minister, I hope LGTBQ voters eventually do see Justin Trudeau for what he is – most certainly not an 'ally', and at best a fair-weather friend.

Willem Hart
Thornhill, Ontario

Never again?

On January 27 the world observed Holocaust Remembrance Day as it is a very important day for humanity, but most importantly for the Jewish people. It is a day that commemorates the deadliest genocide in history. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7 designated today as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember the systematic murder of over six million Jewish people by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945. It is also a day to send a message to anti-Semites that never again will the world allow Jews to be subjected to murder, torture, abuse, hate, and discrimination because of their faith.

And yet, the United Nations itself has been responsible for discrimination against Jewish people today. We say never again, but the UN itself allows Jews to be targeted yet again. As a Muslim, a humanist, and an immigrant from the Middle East, I feel it is my duty to stand for my Jewish brothers and sisters who are rightful partners in the lands in the Middle East.

It is no secret that Israel’s neighbours in the Middle East have a deep antagonism towards Israel. Even though political leaders speak differently, the people of the Middle East have been raised to hate the region’s indigenous Jewish people. Unlike most Canadians, many people in the Middle East have been taught to hate people of different religions. Now this tradition of hatred towards Jewish people is increasing and becoming a global epidemic.

As a person born and raised in the Middle East and a patriotic citizen of the region, my concern for Jewish people grows daily. One of the biggest concerns is the UN’s own Human Rights Council, with its repeated censures against Israel. The total of all UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions condemning Israel is more than all other Middle Eastern countries combined. According to a 2015 report, Afghanistan got 0, Egypt got 0, Iran got 5, Iraq got 0, Pakistan got 0, Qatar got 0, Saudi Arabia got 0, Turkey got 0, UAE got 0, Syria got 17.  Israel, the only democratic state in the Middle East, got 62 condemnations.  Some of the world’s most serious civil rights violators, like China and Cuba, have not been censured by the UNHRC, while Israel has been targeted 62 times.

My argument here is not that Israel is a perfect country; definitely there is room for improvement. But singling out Israel in the world for extraordinary condemnation and isolating the Jewish state while ignoring serious civil rights violations by other countries can only be attributed to anti-Semitism.

The United Nations was created after the Second World War to ensure that such a catastrophe never happened again.  And yet, the UN is being used as a tool to once again target Jews. As a fellow citizen of the Middle East, I urge my countrymen to fight against this discrimination. As Muslims we must defend the rights of the children of our prophets. As true humanists we must rise to bring an end to hatred towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.

When we stay silent we give unspoken approval to the anti-Semitism that gave rise to the Holocaust, and the promise “Never again” will be a lie.

Yusuf Cheliyan
Ottawa, Ontario


In Defence of Patrick Brown

December 19, 2016

Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Patrick Brown is currently engaged in a very public dispute with social conservatives over the future direction of the party. His critics on the religious right have pointed to his policy shift on social issues, his promise that the PC party will not revisit these issues if elected, and his insistence that PC MPPs not push a social conservative agenda in public or in the Legislature, as evidence of an abandonment of the fundamental principles of conservatism. He is accused of being “Liberal-lite” and of having gone “full Trudeau” since being elected leader. The idea that Patrick Brown is not a true conservative takes an extremely narrow view of what it means to be a conservative in Canada; in fact, policies that religious activists in the PC Party are advocating represent a departure from the principles of freedom and individual rights that have united conservatives for hundreds of years.

Brown has expended considerable political capital since becoming leader in trying to make the Progressive Conservative Party more “progressive”. In particular, he has reached out to the LGBT community for advice. He has publicly supported same-sex marriage, marched in Toronto’s Pride parade, and reversed his earlier opposition to the province’s new sex-ed curriculum. He has put the party’s support behind Bill 28, which gives same-sex couples equal parenting rights. Most importantly, he has insisted that the party focus on fiscal issues and demanded that PC MPPs not push a social conservative agenda. For his efforts, social conservative critics have accused him of abandoning them on these crucial issues.

To the religious right, this is an unconscionable betrayal. Christian activists call him a “shape-shifting weasel” who is purging the party of social conservatives while espousing “Liberal” polices on same-sex marriage and sex education in public schools. Federal Conservative MP and leadership candidate Brad Trost, who, like fellow candidates Pierre Lemieux and Andrew Scheer, advertises himself as “100% conservative”, has criticized the PCs for embracing “Liberal-lite” social polices and demanded that Conservative parties stop “discriminating” against social conservatives. Brian Lilley of The Rebel Media has insisted that Brown “pick a side – Liberal or Conservative” and launched a petition to “bring Patrick around to the proper way of thinking”.

Modern conservativism is a political movement composed of people who believe in freedom and individual liberty, and who demand that the government mind its own business. Conservatives resist efforts by the state to restrict our freedoms; their hackles are raised when the government tells them what kind of light bulbs to buy, what TV programs to watch, or what kind of car to drive. They are indignant when governments place onerous restrictions on the enjoyment of private property. And yet, religious activists in the PC Party want their leadership to embrace policies that restrict the civil rights of LGBT people and to insist that schools deny the existence of same-sex relationships, all to impose a biblical view of morality on every citizen by using all the regulatory and enforcement apparatus of the state. This is a profoundly un-conservative attitude.

The great British conservative politician and philosopher Edmund Burke, in his 1777 Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, articulated one of the fundamental tenets of conservatism:

For as the Sabbath (though of divine institution) was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, government, which can claim no higher origin or authority, in its exercise at least, ought to conform to the exigencies of the time, and the temper and character of the people, with whom it is concerned; and not always to attempt violently to bend the people to their theories of subjection.

Burke deeply believed that the government should reflect the will of the people, not impose its will on the people. It is this belief, not adherence to a religious moral code, that makes someone a conservative.

We find ourselves in an odd situation when so-called conservatives accuse the leader of their party of being a Liberal for insisting that all citizens, gay or straight, be treated equally under the law, or that the coercive power of the state should not be used to deny a minority of its citizens their civil rights. What kind of conservative would insist that same-sex couples, who have been exercising their legal rights to civil marriage in Canada for eleven years, be deprived of those rights for no reason other than that some find this objectionable on religious grounds? What kind of conservative would be upset that school teachers are instructed to treat LGBT children and their families with understanding and compassion, and that children of same-sex couples should be given the same legal recognition as those in other families? What kind of conservative would be angry when a leader insists that religious doctrines be practiced in private and not be imposed on the whole population by the government? How arrogant is it that Christian activists demand that party members accept their religious agenda in order to be called “true” conservatives, whether they share those religious beliefs or not?

In the historical struggle between the state and the individual, conservatives have almost always taken the side of the individual. This is why it is so disturbing to see a minority of religious activists pressing for more intervention by the state to restrict the exercise of civil rights by individuals, and for using the power of government to impose a moral code on its citizens whether they like it or not. Moral decisions are best left up to individuals; the policies of the government must be secular and neutral.

The same Brian Lilley who wants to bring Patrick Brown around to the proper way of thinking, and who said, “It’s fine to have a big tent, Patrick, but the tent needs to be blue,” also complained recently about special gender-segregated “Sharia-compliant” swim times in Ottawa public pools. How can one advocate for the right of Christian activists to demand, based on their interpretation of the Bible, the repeal of the Ontario sex-ed curriculum and restriction of the right for same-sex couples to marry, and at the same time be outraged that Muslims ask for separate swim times based on their interpretation of the Koran? To use Lilley’s phrase, social conservatives need to “pick a side”.

Now that he is the leader of the PC Party, Patrick Brown  has come down unequivocally against social conservative policies, stating in no uncertain terms that he is “determined to lead an Ontario PC Party that is modern, inclusive, pragmatic, and that reflects the diversity and values of our province. To me that means one that is fiscally conservative and socially progressive.” 

Patrick Brown’s position on social issues is far from being “Liberal-lite”. It represents the best of conservative tradition: treating everyone as equals while protecting individual liberty from the encroaching power of the state. It doesn’t matter how he arrived at this position; it matters that he’s here. True conservatives should be standing behind him, not sniping at him from the undergrowth.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

LGBT Canadians should be wary of changing our electoral system

It has only been quite recently that all mainstream political parties in Canada have embraced LGBT equality, not just in marriage, but also in matters of civil rights and criminal law. Those hard-won equality rights are now enshrined as fundamental legal principles in this country and are not seriously challenged by any of the political parties with a legitimate claim to representation in our legislative institutions. Our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system makes it very difficult for fringe political parties to reach the necessary threshold to elect representatives in Parliament or the provincial Legislative Assemblies. This is an important feature of FPTP systems that acts as a check on extremist political movements that can be hostile to LGBT people. The example of some other western democracies that use a form of proportional representation (PR) to elect their legislatures should be a warning to LGBT Canadians.

In the FPTP system that is used to elect federal Members of Parliament in Canada, a political movement must secure a plurality of election votes in any given riding to send an elected representative to the House of Commons. It is relatively difficult for Canadian political parties to elect Members of Parliament; there are currently 21 parties officially registered with Elections Canada, but only five have elected MPs in the House of Commons. 

The experience of the Green Party of Canada (GPC) is often used by opponents of FPTP to illustrate the supposed inequities of our current electoral system. The smallest party in Parliament, the GPC won 3.45% of the national popular vote in the 2015 election but elected only one MP, leader Elizabeth May, who represents 0.3% of the 338 MPs in the House of Commons. Ms May won her own seat with 54.35% of the vote in her BC riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, but Green Party candidates failed to win a plurality in any other riding. Green Party support is spread thinly across Canada, and the party has difficulty concentrating its support in most ridings in sufficient levels to achieve a plurality of votes. By comparison, the Bloc Québecois elected ten MPs, or 3% of the total, with only 4.7% of the popular vote, because the party’s support is concentrated in several ridings in the Province of Quebec.

Two western democracies with a form of proportional representation can serve as examples of the potential danger to the LGBT community of a PR electoral system. The Parliaments of Hungary and Greece demonstrate how extremist parties with agendas hostile to LGBT interests can gain influence in legislative institutions.

Hungary has a mixed-member proportional system with 199 seats in its Parliament. 106 of those seats are filled in single-member constituencies by a first-past-the-post election. The remaining 93 seats are allotted based on proportional representation from national lists of candidates. These lists can be published by political parties or by what are known as ’national minority local governments’ (groups representing ethnic minorities such as Slovaks, Germans, and Roma). To qualify for a national list, parties must have candidates running in at least nine out of Hungary’s 19 counties, plus the capital and at least 27 single-member constituencies. There are 63 registered political parties in Hungary, but only 18 of them meet the criteria to set up national lists. There are 13 ethnic minorities that qualify to set up national lists. Parties and ethnic minorities must meet a threshold of 5% of the popular vote for their lists to be represented in Parliament.

In Hungary’s last Parliamentary election in 2014, 23 political parties and 13 ethnic minorities were represented on the ballot. Five political parties elected members in the single-member constituency elections, and nine political parties sent members to parliament from the national lists. None of the ethnic minority lists met the threshold for representation in Parliament. 
Of particular interest in the Hungarian election is the party known as the “Movement for a Better Hungary”. It is commonly called by a shortened version of its Hungarian name, “Jobbik”. After the 2014 election, it sent 23 party list members to Parliament, although it did not elect any members in the FPTP constituencies. The party earned approximately a million votes, or 20.2 % of the total, and ended up with 11.6% of the seats in Parliament. Without the PR list candidates, Jobbik would not have been represented in the Hungarian Parliament.

Jobbik (Hungary)

Jobbik (Hungary)

Jobbik describes itself as “a principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party”. It says its fundamental purpose is “protecting Hungarian values and interests.” It has been linked to extreme Hungarian ethnic nationalism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. In 2012, Jobbik introduced a bill in the Hungarian Parliament to ban the “popularization of sexual deviancy” to “protect public morals and the mental health of the young generations”. The bill proposed to amend the criminal code and laws governing advertising and the media to target “homosexuality, sex changes, transvestitism, bisexuality and paedophile behaviour”. The bill would have criminalized the activities of anyone who “popularises their sexual relations – deviancy – with another person of the same sex, or other disturbances of sexual behaviour, before the wider public”. These activities, which would have included Gay Pride parades, would have been punishable by three years in prison, or five years if the activities were conducted in front of minors (ten years if the minor was under the perpetrator’s care). At the time the bill was introduced, a Jobbik spokesman said, “All normal people think that (such behaviours) have a distinctly negative effect on the psychological development of the younger generation.” The bill ultimately failed to become law.

Greece uses a form of proportional representation called “reinforced PR”. Deputies to the Greek Parliament are elected in 56 single- or multi-member local constituencies and 12 nationwide constituencies. Voters choose from party lists using a preferential ballot. The party with a plurality of the popular vote is “reinforced” with a 50 seat “premium” after the election. Political parties receiving at least 3% of the popular vote receive a minimum of six seats in Parliament. There are currently 19 registered political parties in Greece, eight of which have elected members in the Greek Parliament. 

An especially odious political movement in Greece is represented in Parliament by the Golden Dawn Party. It has been described as a fascist neo-Nazi movement which espouses extreme racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic ideas. Members of Golden Dawn have been responsible for acts of violence directed at political opponents, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. Golden Dawn supporters are suspected of being behind a rise in attacks against LGBT people in Greece, including a 2014 incident where a gay couple was attacked and severely beaten in Athens. Golden Dawn politicians have publicly made homophobic statements directed at the LGBT community in Greece, praising Hitler and calling homosexuality a “sickness”.  Party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, along with four Golden Dawn Members of Parliament and 14 party members, was arrested in 2013 in connection with the murder of an anti-fascist Greek rapper.

Golden Dawn (Greece)

Golden Dawn (Greece)

Although Golden Dawn is considered to be on the fringe of Greek politics, the country’s PR electoral system ensures that it is well-represented in Parliament. In the 2015 national election, the party received 6.99% of the popular vote, winning 18 seats in the 300-seat assembly. It is now the third-largest party in Parliament, despite obtaining only 380 000 votes out of a total of 5.4 million ballots cast. The party also currently holds three of the 21 Greek seats in the European Parliament.

Although one should not draw direct parallels between the political cultures of Canada and countries like Hungary and Greece, these two examples point out a feature of FPTP that protects minorities like the LGBT community from extremist political movements. In both Hungary and Greece, PR guarantees that fringe parties like Jobbik and Golden Dawn are represented in the elected legislatures, and in multi-party systems where coalition governments are common, small fringe parties often hold power over coalition formation that is disproportionate to their level of popular support. 

In a FPTP system like Canada’s, a political movement must earn significant support in multiple ridings to be elected to Parliament, and to become a significant political player a party must earn broad support across the country in many regions. To achieve this support, Canadian political parties must adopt platforms with deep and widespread popular appeal. Parties with narrow or extreme political agendas rarely meet that threshold. Of the 21 official federal political parties in Canada, only five have managed to elect members to the House of Commons. Most of them are nowhere near the nationwide level of support enjoyed by the Green Party; the party with the next-highest level of support, the Libertarian Party, had only 0.21% of the popular vote in the 2015 election.

However, fringe parties with anti-LGBT agendas are active in Canada. The Christian Heritage Party got approximately 15 000 votes in 2015, or 0.09% of the popular vote. This party’s platform includes opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBT civil rights, and restrictions on education curriculum elements sympathetic to LGBT people. Although obviously not as virulently anti-gay as Jobbik or Golden Dawn, the Christian Heritage Party would clearly roll back LGBT rights in Canada if given the chance.

In our current FPTP system, fundamentalist Christian activist organizations with anti-LGBT agendas such as the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) must work within mainstream political parties to influence the national political agenda. The CLC attempts to “take over the political process” by encouraging its members to join mainstream political parties, to serve on local party electoral district associations, to influence the election candidate selection process at the riding level, and to support sympathetic party leadership candidates. Recently the CLC mounted a sustained, but unsuccessful, campaign to stop efforts by delegates to remove language opposing same-sex marriage from the Conservative Party of Canada’s policy declaration at the party’s Vancouver convention in May 2016.

Since a mainstream party must present a platform with broad appeal to a wide cross-section of the electorate in order to form a government, the FPTP system exerts a moderating effect on political parties and minimizes the influence of anti-LGBT fringe parties and activist groups. In a PR system, organizations like the CLC would throw their support behind a party like the Christian Heritage Party, helping it to reach the much lower electoral threshold required to send MPs to Parliament. Fringe parties in a PR system would, like Greece’s Golden Dawn Party or Hungary’s Jobbik Party, feel no pressure to moderate extreme political positions.

The FPTP system, for all its perceived drawbacks in accurately reflecting the electoral will of the people as expressed by the popular vote, has features that create moderate, stable governments. Adopting a PR system in Canada would make it easier for small activist groups espousing policies hostile to the interests of LGBT people to be represented in Parliament and, ultimately, to influence the national political agenda. Abandoning the FPTP electoral system risks abandoning the safeguards that put extreme political movements where they belong: on the margins of public discourse.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

Justin Trudeau fails the LGBT people of Africa

November 25 2016

On November 24, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference during his visit to the African nation of Liberia. Standing at the podium with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Trudeau answered questions about human rights in the host country, including the rights of LGBT people. His response was completely inadequate and is a significant back-pedaling from the pointed criticism that African leaders received from Foreign Minister John Baird during the administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Trudeau’s comments on LGBT rights are grossly inadequate, and he missed a high-profile opportunity to affirm Canada’s strong opposition to laws that oppress LGBT citizens in countries like Liberia.

Mr. Trudeau, in responding to a question about same-sex marriage in Liberia, said:

The fact is, different countries have different paces of evolution in terms of recognizing and enshrining those rights, but we can see that there has been tremendous progress over the years in many different areas.

It's hard to extract a coherent policy from this word salad, but it is clear that the Prime Minister, when asked a direct question about LGBT rights in Liberia, garbled an evasive answer that avoided taking a stand on LGBT rights overseas or condemning countries like Liberia that persecute their LGBT citizens.

President Sirleaf won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for helping to end the civil war in her country. It is understandable that Mr. Trudeau would want to share the podium with her to discuss civil rights. However, Liberia has a troubled history regarding LGBT rights.  Sexual activity between men there is a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail. LGBT people are routinely harassed by the police, and the government refuses to allow LGBT advocacy groups to operate in the country. LGBT activists are frequently subjected to mob violence.

The Liberian legislature has refused to consider laws aimed at protecting the rights of LGBT citizens. In 2012, the Speaker of the House of Representatives said, in response to a petition to protect LGBT rights, "I am a Methodist and traditionalist. I will never support a gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country." He also warned that any LGBT rights bill introduced in the House "will be thrown in the ‘Du or Montserrado River". A bill introduced in 2012 sought to make same-sex marriage illegal, and another, sponsored by former President Charles Taylor’s wife Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, would have made sex between gay men a felony punishable by death.

To her credit, President Sirleaf has refused to sign the new anti-LGBT bills that have come to her from the legislature, saying that the existing laws were adequate, and “we like ourselves just the way we are.” However, the existing laws in Liberia are bad enough, and LGBT people in that country suffer a great deal. Mr. Trudeau missed an opportunity to tell LGBT Liberians that Canada stands with them and that anti-LGBT laws and policies in Liberia are not acceptable in a civilized nation.

John Baird, Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, did take advantage of such opportunities. At a Commonwealth Conference in 2012, he pointedly called out African and Caribbean nations for persecuting LGBT people, telling the assembled representatives:

Dozens of Commonwealth countries currently have regressive and punitive laws on the books that criminalize homosexuality. Throughout most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, colonial-era laws remain on the books that could impose draconian punishments on gay people simply for being gay.

We will continue to press countries in the Commonwealth to live up to their international obligations, and uphold the basic contract any government should have with its people. The criminalization of homosexuality is incompatible with the fundamental Commonwealth value of human rights.

In 2014 Mr. Baird also spoke forcefully on behalf of the Canadian government in response to legislation passed by the Government of Uganda that made gay sex punishable by life in prison:

Canada is extremely disappointed that President Museveni has signed this piece of legislation, which will make homosexuality punishable with life imprisonment. We strongly urge the President to protect the human rights of all Ugandans regardless of their sexual orientation, in accordance with Uganda’s constitution.

This act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned. Regrettably, this discriminatory law will serve as an impediment in our relationship with the Ugandan government.

Canada has repeatedly raised our concerns with the Government of Uganda, and we have done so again. Our engagement on human rights issues will only become more persistent. We will continue to support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality and combat violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

I was extremely proud of John Baird and Stephen Harper for taking such a strong and principled stand on LGBT rights overseas. There was no doubt where Canada stood on the issue, and the condemnation of countries that persecute LGBT people was clear and unequivocal. 

At an international conference in Quebec City in October 2012, Foreign Minister John Baird, pictured in the Commons on Feb. 4, denounced abuses against gays and lesbians and specifically singled out Uganda in a speech. (CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS)  

At an international conference in Quebec City in October 2012, Foreign Minister John Baird, pictured in the Commons on Feb. 4, denounced abuses against gays and lesbians and specifically singled out Uganda in a speech. (CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS)  

Justin Trudeau’s comments on the subject may have been diplomatic, but they were cold comfort to the people of Africa who are being violently mistreated by their own governments because of their sexual orientation. The previous Conservative government found the moral courage to take a forceful position on this issue; I expect no less from the current Liberal government.

Justin Trudeau pointedly slammed Stephen Harper during the last election, derisively telling him “you don't get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign.” Now that the election is over, it seems that Canada is back to being a neutral “honest broker”, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s compassion for the LGBT people of Africa took a back seat to a photo-op with a Nobel Prize winner.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

Canada’s Ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski: “Times have changed” for LGBT people in the foreign service

LGBTory was pleased to interview Canada’s Ambassador to Norway, Artur Wilczynski, about his experience as an out gay married man in Canada’s diplomatic corps.

Canada’s Ambassador to Norway, Artur Wilczynski

Canada’s Ambassador to Norway, Artur Wilczynski

Ambassador Wilczynski was born in Poland to a family that had fled the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland to seek shelter in the Soviet Union, but returned to Poland after the war to rebuild their lives. In 1968, at the age of two, he and his family were forced to leave the country along with thousands of other Polish Jews following the 1967 Six Day War. While awaiting transit in Italy, his family was sponsored as refugees by relatives in Canada and they settled in Montreal in 1969.

Ambassador Wilczynski has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Carleton University, as well as a Master of Arts, International Relations from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs where he focused his studies on terrorism and intelligence. 

He was appointed Ambassador to Norway in 2014 by Prime Minister Harper. Prior to that post, he was Director General of the International Security and Intelligence Bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.  His responsibilities included counter-terrorism, combating transnational organized crime, human smuggling and international defence relations.  From 2010 to 2012, he was the Departmental Security Officer, and responsible for the security of Canadian missions abroad. Prior to that he worked as Director General of International Affairs and Border Policy, Director General of Strategic Policy, Planning and Research at Public Safety Canada, and Director of International Relations at the Department of Canadian Heritage

Ambassador Wilczynski is married to Randy Stocker, his partner of 29 years. He spoke to us via email from their home in Oslo.

LGBToryYou are an openly-gay man who has risen to the upper echelons of the Canadian civil service. You were Director General of Security & Intelligence at the Department of Global Affairs before being appointed as Ambassador to Norway. This is quite a change from a generation ago when, well into the 1980s, LGBT people in the federal civil service were considered security risks, placed under surveillance by the RCMP, denied security clearance or forced to resign. Do you see yourself as a pioneer for LGBT rights in this respect?

 A.W.: Times have changed over the years that I have been in public service.  When I first started I did not know many other out gay men.  My first job in the federal government was as a Co-Op student with the Department of Health and Welfare.  I knew one other gay man at the time – but he was closeted.  When I ran into him at a bar in 1985, he was clearly distressed that someone from the office recognized him.  I never really knew how to be in the closet.  In that sense I was lucky.  All of my bosses in government have been remarkably supportive.  As someone who has worked many years in the national security area, I also felt welcome.  I have worked with hundreds of men and women in policing, intelligence and the military and have never felt ostracized or isolated. So, no – I don’t really see myself as an LGBT rights pioneer.  I see myself as someone who has been very lucky to have experienced a 30-year career as an openly gay man.

 LGBTory: Has being an openly-gay married man ever been an obstacle or created problems for you as a diplomat? Are there foreign diplomatic postings that you aspire to that would be closed to you because of local attitudes towards LGBT people?

 A.W.: I have had to be more discreet about my sexual orientation depending on the situation.  It is about being appropriate to the circumstance you are in.  I have had to visit countries where people face the death penalty for same sex relations – so for personal safety reasons, when there, I simply didn’t speak about my sexual orientation.  Unfortunately, the reality is that there are some countries that would not agree to my being posted there because of my sexual orientation.  They would not accept my husband and I despite the fact we have been together for 29 years.  I have no interest in being posted to a country where I cannot be my authentic self.  I have no interest in pretending to be a bachelor, or asking my husband to pretend he is staff.  Compromising who I am so I can get a job in a country that is overtly homophobic is simply not acceptable to me.  That is my choice.  I know others who do make that decision and I respect it.  We all live our lives the way we choose and make decisions that are in our own and our families’ best interests.

LGBTory: It must still be unusual to be a gay married ambassador. How have you and your husband been received in Norway?

A.W.: Norway has been remarkably welcoming and accepting.  We have been embraced by the local LGBT community and made wonderful friendships here.  Randy and I are invited to Norwegian events together.  I just returned from a visit to Canada with the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway – and had a chance to speak with them about how welcoming their country has been to us.  Just a couple of months ago, King Harald gave a speech in which he directly spoke about how Norway is a country where everyone is free to love who they choose.  Over 300 people attended the Embassy’s Oslo LGBT Pride celebrations this past summer.  Cabinet ministers, the President of the Parliament and Deputy Mayor of Oslo attended.  My husband and I have also been interviewed on national television here where we showed how our two countries share a commitment to promoting LGBT equality at home and around the world.  The welcome to Norway has been fantastic.

LGBTorySpouses of diplomats often have specific roles and duties at the Embassy and in the diplomatic community. Has your husband had any unique experiences as a gay man in that culture?

Randy chooses what he likes to do.  The roles of spouses have changed over time.  There is no expectation that as my husband and partner he attend events – even those that I host.  But he has come to a number of them that were exceptional.  We attended a lunch hosted by the King and Queen where we sat with them and happily engaged in a conversation about art and culture.  We attended the Diplomatic Royal Ball.  We also attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last year at Oslo City Hall. Randy met Jay Leno who was the MC for the Nobel concert and had a chance to chat with Leno about cars – something he loves to do.  We were also both invited to Arctic Norway as part of a visit sponsored by the Norwegian government.  So yes – we had some remarkable experiences as a gay couple here in Norway and feel privileged that we had the chance to participate.

LGBTory: You came to Canada as a young child with your family as refugees from Communist Poland, and you have been a vocal advocate for accepting refugees to Canada. What role do you see Canada playing in helping LGBT refugees who are persecuted overseas?

A.W.: I think Canada already plays an important role in providing safety and security to people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  We work together with LGBT organizations and with the UNHCR to help people flee countries where their lives are in danger because of who they are and who they love.  Unfortunately, there is a global need for safe havens for LGBT persons fleeing violence and persecution from places where they have no recourse to justice.  We need to continue playing that role – but also to act as advocates for equality and inclusion.  We have an important voice to use about combatting all forms of discrimination – including against LGBT persons.  We as individuals in positions of privilege have platforms to speak about equality and we need to use them too.  Here in Norway, I have worked with LGBT asylum seekers.  I have worked with activists from sub-Saharan Africa to make sure that their stories are heard and shared.  As a Canadian Ambassador I work with them as an ally and a friend who can help raise awareness and show that countries such as Canada not only tolerate LGBT persons – but we send them out as Ambassadors representing all Canadians.

LGBTory: Does the Canadian government have an obligation to speak out against foreign governments that oppress their own LGBT citizens?

A.W.: I think that we have a responsibility to work in partnership with local LGBT communities around the world to develop strategies that advance their human rights.  For a number of years now, we have been speaking out in favour of all human rights.  We reiterate that all human beings are born free, in dignity and rights.  Taking that positive role is always appropriate.  I have, however, heard from some activists in certain countries that harsh international criticism against their government’s homophobic policies has led to backlash against LGBT persons.  I think governments have a responsibility to understand the consequences of their actions.  We have a responsibility to protect the safety and security of vulnerable populations and to understand that our role as governments is different than that of individuals or non-governmental organizations.  We should use all the tools of diplomacy that are open to us.  We should choose the measure that is appropriate and effective.  Sometimes that means open and formal condemnation of a foreign government’s actions.  Other times it means meeting face to face behind closed doors to express concern and disagreement.  In either case, it is important to work together with local actors to understand and appreciate the potential consequences of our actions on their wellbeing.  Yes, we need to defend and communicate our values.  But we need to do so in a manner that avoids harming the people we are trying to support.

LGBTory: What is Canada’s role in advocating for LGBT rights in international forums like the UN and the Commonwealth?

A.W.: I think Canada has continuously spoken up about our values of inclusion and respect for diversity.  We have been vocal proponents for decriminalization of LGBT persons and same sex relations.  We have been proponents of equality for LGBT persons at the bilateral level and at multilateral institutions such as the UN and the Commonwealth and I expect we will continue to do so.

LGBTory: What advice do you have for young LGBT people considering careers in the foreign service?

 A.W.: Do it!  Apply for a job in the public service and at Global Affairs.  It has been one of the most enriching parts of my life. I have been remarkably privileged and lucky with the experiences that I have had.  In terms of advice – I would tell people to be themselves.  Each one of us has our own path and our individual dreams and priorities.  Work in the foreign service enables you to experience our world in a unique way.  You see the good, the bad, the exciting and the dull.  You get to represent your country around the world.  As LGBT persons, we have a responsibility to show the world that we are everywhere and that we deserve respect. As a member of Canada’s foreign service you will have a chance to do so.  Also, if you do join, know that you will have a supportive workplace and colleagues.  We truly have a global network.  Are there practical challenges with a foreign service career?  Absolutely.  It’s not easy moving every few years.  Are some countries difficult postings for LGBT staff?  Yes – without a doubt.  But know that you can make a difference in the lives of people around the world – all people.  You should also know that you will have my support.  I am always happy to share my experiences and answer questions about this incredible experience.

The Liberal electoral reform plan is an existential crisis for Conservatives

On October 11 I attended a town hall meeting on electoral reform held in the village of Havelock, Ontario, hosted by the Minister of Democratic Institutions herself, Maryam Monsef. The agenda of the hour-long meeting included Ms Monsef or her staff speaking to the small crowd about the benefits of changing our voting system, with about half an hour allocated to listening to citizen feedback. I spoke my piece, but I came to the conclusion that Ms Monsef isn’t really interested in hearing arguments in favour of retaining our current system, and that the much-touted consultation process is designed to give cover to a Liberal reform agenda that has already been approved by the government; all that remains is the messy business of pushing the changes through Parliament. If Conservatives don’t fight this plan tooth and nail, Canada will become a virtual one-party state run in perpetuity by a Liberal-led coalition of leftist parties with a token opposition that is powerless to stop it.

Havelock is in Ms Monsef’s riding of Peterborough-Kawartha, a mostly-rural area north-east of Toronto. Although I live in the neighbouring riding of Hastings-Lennox & Addington, I attended the Havelock meeting because the three town halls hosted by my own Liberal MP Mike Bossio were held during a single week in August when I was on vacation. The Havelock town hall meeting was held at 3:30 pm on a Tuesday, which certainly made it difficult for anyone with a job, or students, or families with school-age children to attend. Indeed, of the approximately fifty people present, there appeared to be no-one under the age of 40 in the hall; most were, like me, retirees.

The first item on the agenda was “Welcome and Connecting”. Ms Monsef spent fifteen minutes smiling at the crowd and extolling the virtues of our diverse population. She went over the “Conversation Guidelines”: listen carefully and with respect; everyone gets an opportunity to speak; speak for yourself and participate as equals; respect others’ opinions; agree to disagree – with ideas, not people; and silence our cell phones. She told us that “Even though our system may be working, that’s not an excuse to not change it”, which I think was an astonishing thing for the Minister of Democratic Institutions to say when she was there to listen to us tell her whether or not we wanted the system changed. She went on to say that now was the time to have this conversation because “we’re in a time of peace and stability”, although we have arguably been in times of peace and stability since 1945 but only now has the Liberal government decided that electoral reform is urgent.

Referring to a handout given out by her staff, Ms Monsef explained that “our gathering will include a number of hosting techniques founded on the participatory and deep democracy principle that every voice matters”.  Our goals, she said, were to “engage citizens in a new way, one that empowers each of us to participate in our democracy”; to “provide the opportunity for everyone to tell their story and share what is important to them”; to “offer an inclusive and respectful way for us to work together”; and to “take an Asset-based Community Development approach to consultation”, whatever that is.

She then turned the microphone over to one of her staff who spent the next fifteen minutes describing the features of the various voting systems up for discussion: first-past-the-post (FPTP), preferential voting, run-off voting, list proportional representation (both open and closed list variants), single transferrable vote, single non-transferable vote, mixed-member majority, and mixed-member proportional. There were a lot of glazed looks in the crowd as this fire-hose of information was turned on us.

Finally, the opportunity for input from the audience arrived. There were now only twenty minutes left in the program, but the discussion was to cover a number of themes, including what is right and/or wrong with the current system; what system would we prefer as an alternative to FPTP; and how should the government encourage greater “engagement” in the electoral process using techniques such as mandatory voting, on-line ballots, etc. Each one of these themes could have consumed hours of discussion, yet we were to cover them all in about twenty minutes.  

The first few people to speak touched on a familiar theme; the FPTP system “disenfranchises” them because when an MP wins with less than 50% of the vote in a riding, the majority of voters are not represented. Each of these speakers favoured some form of proportional representation, although there was no consensus on a system to replace the current one.

When my turn came to speak, I said that I did not accept the premise that votes are “wasted” in the FPTP system. Every citizen in every riding is represented by an MP in Parliament, whether they voted for the current MP or not. “Maryam Monsef is the MP for Peterborough-Kawartha,” I said. “She represents all the people in this riding, whether they voted Liberal or not. And she would be a terrible MP if she only represented the people who voted for her. Every voter is represented in Parliament under the current system.”

I pointed out that in the G7 countries, three of the oldest and most stable democracies – Canada, the UK and the United States – have an FPTP system, and it works well. We risk unintended consequences when we tinker with a system that has worked for hundreds of years.

My biggest concern, I said, was that the FPTP system makes it relatively easy to “throw the bums out” when voters are disenchanted with their government and we would lose that ability under a proportional representation system. In the last election, the incumbent government of Stephen Harper was replaced by the Liberals who got only 39.5% of the popular vote. Under a system of proportional representation, it would be exceedingly rare for a Canadian political party to earn greater than 50% of the vote, and governments could only be formed by coalitions of parties. Since the political landscape in Canada consists of four left-of-centre parties and only one that is right-of-centre, it would be impossible for a right-of-centre party to ever form a government. None of the other parties would conceivably include the Conservative Party of Canada in a governing coalition.

“I know that most of you here see that as a feature, not a bug,” I said, “but think about what that means: a perpetual Liberal government propped up by other leftist parties for the foreseeable future, with no risk of ever being thrown out of office by angry voters. The only thing that would change would be which parties in the coalition got which Ministries. That is not healthy for democracy in Canada.”

At this point Ms Monsef stepped forward and took the microphone. “I would like to answer that,” she said. I was a little surprised, since I was under the impression that the purpose of the town hall was to listen to the citizens, not to be lectured by the MP. “I reject your premise that electoral change would favour the Liberal Party,” she said. “Think of the times in our history when parties from across the political spectrum have come together to accomplish important things, like granting women the right to vote.”

Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef

Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef

I replied, “We’re not talking about cooperating on specific pieces of legislation; we’re talking about who gets to live at 24 Sussex Drive, who gets to form the Cabinet, and which party gets to set the agenda.”

She said, “Under any new system, parties would have to adjust their strategies to adapt to the new rules.”

“So Conservatives would have to adapt by being less conservative and more like Liberals?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “but just because the current system has five parties, doesn’t mean that new parties won’t arise and the situation won’t change. And as for your point about the other FPTP countries, I think the Brexit vote in the UK to leave the EU and the current election campaign south of the border shows that maybe they aren’t working too well.” I didn’t understand how any of that was supposed to answer my concerns. Hypothetical new parties would make the situation worse, not better. The Brexit vote had nothing to do with the UK electoral system and was an exercise in pure democracy that got an absolute majority of 53.4% of votes cast. The dysfunctional contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was not caused by FPTP voting for Members of Congress. However, the discussion then moved on to someone else. My opportunity to “tell my story” was over.

After a few more minutes talking about the various themes that had been outlined earlier, Ms Monsef concluded by praising us for showing that democracy works. She said that all MPs would submit the results of their citizen consultations to the Committee on Electoral Reform which would present its report in December. “Part of the Committee’s mandate is to gauge whether any proposal has broad support both in Parliament and in the public at large,” she said. “How they gauge that support is still open to discussion, whether it be a referendum or some other method.”

I was encouraged to hear her leave the door open to the possibility of a referendum on any proposed changes, but I’m skeptical. I think the Liberals have decided that proportional representation is coming; we just have to sort out the details. They’ll use their FPTP majority in Parliament to make it happen.

My town hall experience was very disappointing. Most of the time was spent instructing us on the need to change our electoral system and on the merits of the various alternatives. Relatively little time was spent listening to the citizens in the audience, and when I presented a defence of the FPTP system, the Minister herself intervened to explain why I was wrong.

The fix is in on electoral reform, I fear. The much-lauded public consultation process is window-dressing for a decision that has already been made. I urge Conservatives in Parliament to do everything they can to stop this juggernaut. At the very least, none of these changes should be implemented without a national referendum, one that, in the Minister’s own words, “empowers each of us to participate in our democracy”.

As the late William F. Buckley said, “a conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” The Conservative Party must do everything in its power to yell “Stop”, or we will witness the slow extinction of the conservative movement in this country. Contrary to the opinions of most people on the left, that extinction will not be an improvement on the current system.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

Ontario PC Gains Have Some People Irked

As expected, gaining three back-to-back by-election victories, each more arduous than the last, has increased the partisan hectoring directed at Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown. With the prospect of star candidate André Marin potentially winning the vacant seat of Ottawa-Vanier, a constituency that has elected Liberals for decades at both levels of government, such hectoring has spiralled into the realm of the illogical.

Take, for example, an op-ed penned by Mainstreet Research president Quito Maggi last week in the Huffington Post in which he contends that the dearth of female interest in vying for PC nominations in by-elections is "unacceptable".

With all due respect to Mr. Maggi, a stalwart of the Canadian polling and research industry who is absolutely entitled to the rights and freedoms we all cherish in our liberal democratic nation, he is not entitled to his own facts.

There are two major difficulties with Maggi's contention. One is his claim that "since Patrick Brown became leader, not a single female candidate has stepped forward to express interest in a nomination for a by-election". This is a blatant untruth. In the nomination race for the PC Party in Whitby-Oshawa, a Tory “safe-seat” (side note: I hate that term) formerly held by deputy PC leader Christine Elliot, a female PC member named Charity McGrath did indeed throw her hat into the ring and contested the nomination.

The other issue arose in a brief twitter exchange following the editorial. I pointed out that the article was misleading by sending Maggi a tweet with a link to an article about Ms McGrath seeking the nomination – this was the response:

This is what's called "moving the goalpost" in argumentation theory. This fallacy takes the criteria of proof for an argument to be valid, and changes it in order to prevent the opponent from validating his/her argument. Originally the argument was that PC women are not by-election candidates, which Maggi changed to be women by-election candidates in "winnable ridings", with the ultimate implied conclusion that the PCs are sexist, and that the Liberals are not.

But, rather comically, this new measure still works in favour of the PCs. Enter Equal Voice, a Canadian national multi-partisan non-profit organization that aims to elect more women to all levels of government. Equal Voice released a report in the aftermath of the 2014 Ontario general election about female participation and successes in getting women elected to the Legislature.

Borrowing from this report, the organization defines a "winnable riding" as “those which a party won or came within 5 points of the winning party in the 2011 general election or a subsequent by-election”. Taking this as the standard of what constitutes a “winnable riding” for a candidate, and applying it to the context of Maggi's assertion that the PC Party is a gentlemen's club during by-elections, the conclusion is humorous.

Looking back at Ontario's electoral history, there have been four by-elections since the last election. In the only race in which the Liberals nominated a woman candidate (Whitby-Oshawa), the riding would not be considered 'winnable' for the Liberals since Christine Elliot retained her seat in 2014 by a margin of over 5 points.

In fact the last instance in which a female candidate from the Liberal Party of Ontario carried her party's standard in a 'winnable' by-election was before the Ontario Progressive Conservatives did the same thing. This was back in 2013, when Mitzie Hunter was the Liberal candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood. The last time the PC Party did so was in 2014 in my riding of Thornhill, where PC Gila Martow was nominated as the candidate. In fact prior to this, the last time the Ontario Liberals nominated a female candidate in a “winnable” seat for a by-election was all the way back in 2007 in Burlington.

Putting this into the context of Ontario's current political landscape, petty partisan shots such as Maggi's contention that the PC party is not encouraging of female leadership, or that our base is only "old white males and rural voters", is a symptom of unease within the Liberal ranks. It is no stretch of the imagination to think that the Liberals, seeing their polling numbers, or experiencing a Tory breakthrough in traditionally Grit Scarborough-Rouge River, or hearing news of Premier Kathleen Wynne being booed by the audience at the International Plowing Match, are beginning to seriously worry about the 2018 election.

Fortunately we have a leader who will take the party into the next general election with a slate as diverse as the party itself. With female PC members announcing their nomination candidacy in the early stages of campaign preparation, its good to see so many qualified women stepping up in areas like Carleton, Ottawa, Newmarket, Hastings-Lennox & Addington, Oakville, Burlington, and Mississauga.

The Progressive Conservative Party is not the party of gender quotas and flippant remarks about the current year, and to suggest that the current leadership has failed to attract female talent is both laughable and false. 

Willem Hart
Thornhill, Ontario

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Andrew Scheer on same-sex marriage

MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle) recently entered the race for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. On September 28 he was interviewed by the CBC’s Rosemary Barton on the show Power & Politics (see video).

11 seconds into the Rosemary Barton asks him point-blank if he supports marriage equality in 2016. Andrew Scheer says very softly (that it's barely audible) "I don't." Published under the Fair Dealing Exception as a public service.

During the program he was asked about his support for same-sex marriage. Here is a transcript of his comments:

Barton: Would you promote and defend the equality of marriage?

Scheer: It’s the law of the land. It’s not something that, I don’t think you’d find any legitimate Conservative leadership aspirant who would revisit that issue.

Barton: But do you, yourself, believe it?

Scheer: I, it’s, look, I don’t – it’s absolutely – our  party dealt with this issue in Vancouver and, you know, there was a specific policy plank in our platform, and I think members decided, a lot of social conservatives who, you know, have differing views on that decided, look, if it’s not something that’s ever going to be changed, it’s been this way for ten years – I have my own personal beliefs and, you know, my own faith background, but at this point in time with the Conservative Party of Canada trying to build a national viable coalition, it’s not something that …

Barton: But that sounds like, you’re just going to, you’re going to live with it. You’re going to live with the fact that gay people can get married; it’s not, but it’s not something you believe in.

Scheer: Look, it doesn’t matter, like if people have personal views on things, there’s a lot of things that divide us as Conservatives and there’s a lot of things that unite us. This is one of those issues that – it’s a – it happened in 2005, you know I was a Member of Parliament at the time, I voted my conscience, I voted for my constituents’ wishes, it’s not something that, you know, you say “live with it”, it’s not something that I’m looking to revisit or to re-open or to, I don’t – I think the party has other things that we want to talk about and connect with Canadians and deliver for the future. 

Maryam Monsef should do right by refugees and resign

Maryam Monsef is the Liberal MP for Peterborough-Kawartha, Minister of Democratic Institutions, and President of the Queen’s Privy Council. This is an impressive achievement for someone who fled war-torn Afghanistan at age eleven – to rise from refugee to Minister of the Crown in twenty years.

Not only did she win an election and become a cabinet minister, she also won our empathy with her story. She reminded me and so many other immigrants and refugees of our difficult childhoods, and she became an iconic figure for so many of us. That is why it is so troubling to me that she appears to have doctored her story for political gain, and that she has played on our emotions to have access to political power.

Ms Monsef has revealed that a key element of her story, her birth in troubled Afghanistan, is false. She was in fact born in Iran, something she claims not to have known until a few days ago when her mother revealed this to her. Since the story broke, people in her own riding have come forward and claimed that the circumstances of her Iranian birth were well-known in Peterborough since at least 2014 when she ran unsuccessfully for Mayor, and there have been suggestions that she pushed the Afghanistan birth story because it made her a more compelling candidate.

Monsef was born in Mashhad, the second biggest city in Iran and a place of religious significance to the Shia Muslims for housing the tomb of Imam Reza the eighth Shia Imam. Mashhad is a tourist destination and one of the wealthiest cities in Iran. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the Imam Reza shrine. However, she has until recently claimed she was born in Herat Afghanistan, a city which has seen much violence during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and in fighting between the Taliban and the western-backed government of Afghanistan in the early 2000s. Her passport lists her birthplace as Herat.

The confusion around Ms Monsef’s birthplace is troubling to me as a Muslim immigrant from the Middle East. It suggests that either she or someone in her family was not truthful in her application to come to Canada as a refugee, and later while obtaining official identity documents. For anyone other than Ms Monsef, who has the prestige and status of a cabinet minister, this would be enough to revoke her Canadian citizenship and have her deported. This kind of thing brings the whole refugee system into disrepute and casts suspicion on all refugees.

 It is unfortunate we have opportunistic people in the immigrant and refugee community like Monsef who use their stories for self-interest. It is sad that she continues to be evasive about her past instead of coming clean.

I am a gay Muslim who was saved from violence in my home country and given the opportunity to live freely in Canada. I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunities this country has given me. I am upset that a fellow immigrant has cast suspicion on us all by not being truthful about her story.

Ms Monsef said during an interview, “That, for me, was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be part of making this great country even better”. I would like to tell her that this country became great because of honest hard working people, including many immigrants who went through the refugee system in good faith. Her actions cast a shadow on all refugees and immigrants.

Minister Monsef owes us an apology for misrepresenting vulnerable immigrants and refugee communities. It is the duty of immigrants and refugees to challenge people like her who use misinformation for self-interest. There is only one thing left for her to do and that is to resign. Ms Monsef – have some dignity and do it.

Yusuf Cheliyan



Sue-Ann Levy – “not your typical Tory”

A number of LGBTory Canada members had the great pleasure to attend our friend and supporter Sue-Ann Levy’s book launch in September. Sue-Ann`s recently-published work Underdog – Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker was the subject of her talk, and she treated us to an intriguing look at her life and her journalistic career. Her experience as a conservative lesbian struck a chord with us; we can`t recommend her book highly enough.

Sue-Ann has been a reporter at the Toronto Sun for twenty-six years, during which time she covered City Hall politics and once ran for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party as its first openly-gay candidate in a by-election in a downtown Toronto riding. She writes candidly, passionately and humourously about Toronto and Ontario politics, and we think her experience as a married right-wing lesbian gives her a unique perspective that resonates with us and deserves to be widely heard.

As she writes in her book, “Who said one cannot be a fiscal conservative or support a right-of-centre political stance and be openly gay? Well, in fact, it’s the narrow of mind, those who should be ashamed of themselves for trying to pigeonhole a group into a singular stereotype.” Speaking as LGBT conservatives ourselves, we whole-heartedly agree.

Sue-Ann is a proud gay conservative, and she advocates strongly for more open, tolerant Conservative party politics in Canada. She writes that Conservative parties have “an uphill battle to dispel the myths that the Lib-left are only too happy to perpetuate – that ‘conservative’ stands for intolerant and homophobic”. She says that “the new breed of conservatives includes openly gay people like me and a cross-section of visible minorities. We represent a diverse, kinder, and gentler face of conservatism, without abandoning our core values and the fiscal positions we have supported from the very beginning.”

Sue-Ann is an important voice in the conservative movement, and she speaks with authority on conservative politics because she has lived it. We are proud to call her our friend and ally.

LGBTory Canada

The Courage of Patrick Brown

Dear friends,

I’ve said that I’m a pragmatic Progressive Conservative.

It means being willing to change your mind when presented with compelling evidence and accepting good ideas no matter where they originate. There are plenty of political experts who will say this is weakness. I think Ontarians are more reasonable. Yes, my views on Ontario’s sexual education curriculum—and similar issues—have evolved.

I opposed the changes to the curriculum when they were first announced. They were undeniably controversial and Kathleen Wynne failed to explain it adequately to parents. Even Dalton McGuinty backed away from implementing them.

Time and the evidence of my own eyes tells me that I was mistaken. Concerns were exaggerated and have not borne out. I’ve met with many educators, parents, and school boards—some of whom opposed the curriculum—and they are satisfied with how it’s been implemented. Further, I have since come to the conclusion that significant opposition to the curriculum was rooted in a refusal to accept LGBT elements into the curriculum.

It’s not the first time I’ve been on the wrong side of an issue. In 2006, as a young MP I voted for a motion to reopen debate on the definition of marriage. Like many people, I’ve been shown countless times in my life by friends, family, and those I love how wrong I was to take that view. Today I strongly support marriage equality. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you love and no government has any business saying it does.

As I said last month, and as I will continue saying, while I deplore the absence of consultation with parents, I strongly support the updated sex-ed curriculum. I will never support removing LGBT sensitivity or combating homophobia from schools. It is important to have sex education to combat homophobia, and raise important issues like consent, mental health, bullying, and gender identity.

The curriculum must take into account changing attitudes and the world in which children will grow. They are being asked to understand challenging topics in ways their parents were not.

I'm sorry that Mr. Fonseca and members of his group are upset. But I'm running to lead all Ontarians. And while I stand for consultation, it doesn’t mean opening the door to intolerance.

If the price to be paid is that my political opponents will say I’ve “flip-flopped,” so be it. If you want a rigid ideologue as premier, vote for someone else.

I am determined to lead an Ontario PC Party that is modern, inclusive, pragmatic, and that reflects the diversity and values of our province. To me that means one that is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I was proud to be the first PC leader to march in the Toronto Pride parade. I was proud to be the first MP in Barrie's history to attend a pride flag raising.

It’s who I am.  

Patrick Brown
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario

Turkey’s President cracks down on Kurdish teachers

On September 8 reports emerged from Turkey that President Erdogan had fired almost 12 000 teachers, mostly Kurds working in the eastern part of the country, for alleged links to Kurdish separatist terrorists. My friend and fellow LGBTory Yusuf Cheliyan has a sister and brother-in-law in Turkey who were high-school teachers there. They were both fired and now have no means to support their family. Their story resonated with me; I am a former high-school teacher who recently retired after a thirty-year career teaching in Eastern Ontario. I wrote the following letter to Paul Elliott, the president of my former union the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, urging them to do something. Please contact your MP and ask them to pressure the Government of Canada to condemn the undemocratic and autocratic actions of President Erdogan and to stand up for the oppressed people of Turkey.

Dear Paul:

I am a recently-retired Ontario high-school teacher who has retired after a thirty-year career as a member of the OSSTF teaching in Eastern Ontario. I am writing to you to add my voice to those of the many Canadian teachers who are concerned about the repressive and undemocratic actions taken by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, against that country’s teachers. I urge you and the OSSTF to publicly condemn what is going on in Turkey and to work with the Canadian government and the international community to stop this persecution of our Turkish colleagues.

On September 8 2016 President Erdogan fired 11 500 teachers in Turkey. This was the second wave of firings – the first action earlier this summer saw the layoffs and arrests of some 15 000 teachers and the forced resignations and licence revocations of thousands more.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan © AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan © AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

A friend of mine, Yusuf Cheliyan, has spoken to me about the dire situation for Turkey’s teachers. He is a Kurdish immigrant to Canada from Turkey, now living in Ottawa, and his sister Hanim and her husband are high school teachers still living in eastern Turkey. They have two young children. A few days ago both of them were fired by President Erdogan. They now have no means to support their family and travel restrictions have been placed on them and the other fired teachers so they cannot leave their home towns. They are currently trying to sell their homes and other property so they can look after their children.

Yusuf’s sister and brother-in-law were fired for belonging to Egitem-Sen, one of Turkey’s three teachers’ unions. The reason this union was targeted was because its members had signed a petition pleading with the government for peace in the region and had also organized a brief strike protesting a new law giving school principals the right to fire teachers without cause and without a hearing. The members of Egitem-Sen are also mostly Kurdish, and Erdogan has accused the union unjustly of supporting Kurdish separatist terrorists. His actions are consistent with his heavy-handed crackdown on the Kurdish people since the attempted coup earlier this year. There are approximately 15 million Kurds in Turkey’s population of 72 million.

Hanim and her husband have not only been left without paycheques but they have also been stripped of their accumulated pension benefits. A number of recent retirees belonging to Egitem-Sen have also been stripped of their pensions, many after thirty years or more of service. The Turkish government threatens anyone who hires people who have been fired under these circumstances, so it is impossible for them to continue to earn a living.

After the first round of firings earlier this summer, thousands of teachers were arrested and imprisoned. Stories soon emerged that they had been tortured and raped in prison. Hanim and her husband are terrified that this fate awaits them, all just for being teachers and belonging to a union that the government has targeted.

The OSSTF has always had a strong focus on social justice. Our colleagues in Turkey are being subjected right now to unprecedented abuse from their own government because they are teachers and belong to an ethnic minority that the government perceives as a threat.

It is time that Canadian teachers spoke up and took action. Please speak out against this on behalf of all current and former members of the OSSTF and push for action against President Ergogan and his increasingly autocratic regime.

Thank you

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

Lessons from the Scarborough-Rouge River By-election

On September 1 voters in the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Rouge River went to the polls in a provincial by-election called to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon. In a significant win for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (OPCP), candidate Raymond Cho took the riding from the Liberals by a vote margin of 10%. The final days of the campaign were dominated by a controversy involving OPCP Leader Patrick Brown’s statements on the province’s sex education curriculum, with social conservatives attacking Brown for his apparent flip-flop on the issue. The election result is a significant vindication for Brown and an indication of the waning influence of social conservatives in the OPCP.  

About a week before the election, a letter composed over Brown’s signature was circulated to voters in the riding which promised to “scrap” the province’s controversial sex education curriculum and replace it after extensive consultation with parents. Social conservative activists were vehemently opposed to the new sex ed guidelines; they backed independent candidate Queenie Yu who was running on the single issue of withdrawing the curriculum. When Brown’s letter apparently acknowledged the legitimacy of their position, they saw this as a victory. Meanwhile, critics on the left and moderates in the OPCP viewed the letter as a cynical attempt to court the immigrant communities that dominate the riding.

Brown initially defended the letter, but a few days later reversed course. In an op-ed in the Toronto Star he wrote:



It was a mistake for a letter to go out to Scarborough-Rouge River voters saying that I would “scrap” the updated curriculum. This is not my view. This is not what I will do. In fact, the opposite is true. I apologize.

I strongly support an updated curriculum that takes into account changing attitudes and the world in which children now dwell. They are being asked to understand challenging topics in ways their parents were not. It is important to have sex education to combat homophobia, and raise important issues like consent, mental health, bullying, and gender identity. The world has changed and so should the curriculum.

Brown went further and affirmed his support for Ontario’s LGBT community:

I also want to be very clear about something else. Consultation doesn’t mean opening the door to intolerance. I will never support removing LGBT sensitivity or combating homophobia from schools. I will always support consulting with parents and giving them a voice, but I will never support intolerance in our society.

I am determined to lead an Ontario PC Party that is modern, inclusive, pragmatic, and that reflects the diversity and values of our province. I was proud to be the first PC leader to march in the Toronto Pride parade. I was proud to be the first MP in Barrie's history to attend a pride flag raising. I fully support marriage equality. It doesn't matter who you love, the government has no business in your personal life.

When Brown’s apology was published, social conservative activists were furious. Charles McVety, president of the Institute for Canadian Values and Canada Christian College, called for Brown’s resignation:

It is always sad to see a politician be deceitful, but it is especially troubling when he is so brazen that he will flip three times on the same issue. We have been used, deceived and betrayed. For the sake of our children, Patrick Brown must step down and allow a principled, trustworthy person to lead the party.

Jack Fonseca of the Campaign Life Coalition weighed in:

All [the OPCP caucus] have left now is a party leader who voters, in general, now know is a two-faced politician that cannot be trusted. PC members should start talking about a leadership review to replace the no-credibility Patrick Brown with someone who will respect parental rights and proudly take on this winning issue of repealing the Liberal sex-ed curriculum.

REAL Women of Canada was also upset:

The one thing we have learned definitively about Patrick Brown, Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (PC), is that he is totally untrustworthy. He cannot be trusted in any way.

Social conservative groups worked hard for Queenie Yu’s campaign, redoubling their efforts after Brown’s gaffe. In the end, the whole sex ed fiasco had little effect on the OPCP; Cho took the seat from the Liberals by a wide margin of 39% to 29%. Yu received 2.3% of the vote, or 582 votes. By comparison, candidate Above Znoneofthe of the None of the Above Party received 135 votes, almost a quarter of Yu’s support.

The Scarborough-Rouge River by-election had some important outcomes. For one, Patrick Brown has once and for all clarified his position on social issues. In an interview the day after the election, he promised a “laser beam focus” on the economy. “I’m interested in the fiscal issues. I’m interested in economic issues. I’m not interested in revisiting social issues.” His unequivocal statement of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality, is clear, and he will be held to that promise.

More importantly, the election has exposed the specious claim of social conservatives to be the “base” of the conservative movement in Canada. In a riding where a hot-button socon issue became a major factor just days before the election, and where socon activist groups threw all their support behind a candidate who was campaigning solely on that very issue, social conservatives could only muster 2.3% of the vote. Socons are already rationalizing the result of the election (see, for example, here) but it is clear that social issues had little traction in this by-election.

Similarly, the claim by socons that conservative parties must adopt socially conservative policies to attract new voters among recent immigrants has been proven to be without foundation. When we worked at the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) policy convention in Vancouver in May to re-write the party’s marriage policy, our opponents from the Campaign Life Coalition repeatedly proclaimed that adopting socially liberal policies would “kill the CPC’s ability to grow by taking away our ability to attract new Canadians.” They claimed that if, on these issues, “no difference exists between the parties, they’ll keep on voting Liberal.” Well, in Scarborough-Rouge River that threat proved to be empty. In a riding where 84% of the residents are from immigrant families and where there was no difference between the OPCP and the Liberals on this supposedly crucial social issue, the voters handed the OPCP a convincing and historic victory over the incumbent Liberals.

Canada is a diverse, tolerant and secular society. Canadians generally believe that, as Patrick Brown stated in his apology, “the government has no business in your personal life”. They support policies that encourage acceptance and equality, and they are uncomfortable with religious ideologues dictating public policy. The potential growth for Conservative parties is not among religious fundamentalists, but with fiscally-conservative voters who believe in personal freedom. Policies that appeal to this group are essential if Conservatives expect to break through in urban centres where they have been shut out in recent elections. The Scarborough-Rouge River result has shown the way forward for the OPCP, and we are happy that Patrick Brown has chosen this path.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario

Social Conservatism and the Future of the Conservative Movement

In May of this year I attended the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) national policy convention in Vancouver. The convention was the culmination of months of lobbying by LGBTory, during which we tried to build support for an amendment to the CPC’s policy on same-sex marriage. During this process we encountered serious resistance from organized social conservatives who proclaimed proudly that they were “fighting for the soul of the Conservative Party”. Now several of our socon opponents have announced that they are running for the leadership of the CPC. Our experience in Vancouver made me come to believe that if a social conservative wins this contest, we will witness the slow, painful extinction of the party as a politically viable movement.

Along with dedicated allies across the country, we were trying to change the party’s Policy Declaration in order to remove exclusionary language defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman”. (I’ve told the story of why we fought to change the CPC’s marriage policy here). We expected some opposition, but we were surprised by the vehemence of the reaction by social conservatives who did everything they could to prevent the amendment from coming to a vote at the convention. We believed that it would be relatively easy to get the proposal through the party’s complicated multi-stage approval process so that it could ultimately be decided by delegates in Vancouver, but coordinated opposition surfaced as soon as the issue appeared on the radar.

At regional policy meetings, we were opposed by fringe groups of anti-abortion Christian activists who tried to stop the proposal from reaching a final vote by opposing it in the social policy breakout sessions. On the CPC’s on-line policy forum IdeasLab, social conservatives tried to stop the amendment from reaching the convention whenever it was raised by a sympathetic electoral district association. Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost wrote on IdeasLab, “This motion has the potential to cause a floor fight in Vancouver, it would be much wiser to let it not make it to the floor.”

Ultimately it did make it to the convention floor, but things only got more heated. We had learned our lesson and spent months communicating with sympathetic delegates to make sure they were present for the vote at the social policy breakout session – the first stage in the convention vote. Our opponents were similarly organizing their delegates. In the packed room, socons used procedural rules to try to keep the proposal from reaching the final plenary session. Using repeated “point of order” objections they challenged our speakers, tried to keep delegates from entering the room to vote, and ultimately accused us of cheating (you can see video of the session here).

Both sides were handing out literature to delegates as they entered the session; it is informative to compare this material. We appealed to notions of equality, inclusiveness, and personal freedom, and urged the party to bring its policy in line with Canadian law and jurisprudence while recognizing the rights of religious institutions to decline to participate in same-sex marriages:

Our opponents attacked us personally and accused us of promoting “factionalism” in the party (as if their own supporters didn’t constitute a “faction”), called us “homosexualist agitators”, and warned that we were trying to “infiltrate” the party.

They warned that passing the resolution would tell socons that “you reject them/not welcome in the party”, although telling same-sex couples that the party doesn’t recognize their legal marriages is apparently acceptable.

They blatantly appealed to immigrants from homophobic cultures with horrific human rights records, suggesting that recognizing marriage equality would “kill the CPC’s ability to grow” in this demographic by alienating new Canadians from places like the Middle East and Africa, where they “place great value on traditional marriage” (and, incidentally, imprison homosexuals and throw gay men from the tops of buildings).

When the scare tactics proved unsuccessful and the amendment passed the breakout session, Brad Trost was interviewed by CPAC (watch video here). He said “We cannot have a functioning free-enterprise society without [traditional marriage]” and “the language of equality and comparisons, to me that’s socialist language the way they talk about it.”

Ultimately the resolution made it to the plenary session, and the final vote speaks for itself. By a vote of 1036 to 462 (approximately 70% to 30%) representing a majority in all provincial and territorial delegations except Saskatchewan, delegates agreed to drop all reference to marriage from the Policy Declaration. As we suspected all along, when the convention delegates were finally allowed to vote on the proposal, they supported it overwhelmingly (and in proportions that closely mirror the opinion of Canadians in general on the issue).

Our experience at the convention taught us a few things about social conservatives. Despite their claims to be the “base” of the CPC, when party members were permitted to vote on a hot-button socon issue, they mustered only 30% of the delegates. Nevertheless, socons refuse to accept that the Canadian public has moved on, and continue to advocate policies that a large majority of Canadians find unacceptable. This is a position of electoral suicide, but they’re still fighting the Culture War as if nothing has changed. In a way they’re like those Imperial Japanese soldiers in the Pacific who, decades after the end of the Second World War, emerged from the jungle refusing to believe that the war was over and the Emperor had surrendered.

We experienced first-hand the anti-democratic tactics of social conservative groups at the convention, and it was a disturbing experience. Rather than allow a civil debate on the issue and a free and open vote, they fought us for months to try to prevent the proposal from reaching the convention floor. They believe fundamentally that the issue is not open to discussion, let alone a democratic vote. They refuse to accept that a democratically-elected Parliament made same-sex marriage legal eleven years ago, and they will not accept that LGBT people in Canada should be treated equally under the law. Now they want to lead the party.

Social conservatives and their fundamentalist religious allies believe they know what’s best for Canada. Unlike more libertarian conservatives who believe that matters of family and morality are best left up to individuals and that the state should stay out of the personal lives of citizens, social conservatives want to impose a rigid model of morality on all citizens whether they like it or not, and are not above using the coercive power of the state to enforce their moral code. This is fundamentally wrong, and should be alarming to all Canadians, including Conservatives.

There is a leadership race going on in the CPC right now with the new leader to be chosen by party members in May 2017. Brad Trost and defeated Ontario MP Pierre Lemieux, a fellow socon who opposed us in Vancouver, have declared their candidacies and have vowed to turn back the clock on the policy that was approved by a strong majority of party members and make same-sex marriage illegal again.

The party cannot win an election with such a leader. The result would be permanent opposition status, with the party reduced to a rump of bitter-enders sulking in the far reaches of the opposition benches, dreaming of a Canada that doesn’t exist anymore. Contrary to their claim that a pro-gay marriage vote would “ensure Liberals hold power for a generation”, electing a socon leader would guarantee that the CPC would be a footnote in Canada’s political history, taking its place in the Museum of Failed Political Experiments alongside the Anti-Confederation and Social Credit Parties.

Eric Lorenzen
Hastings County, Ontario