More gay Russians may seek refugee status in Canada: lawyer
Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:47AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:57PM EDT
As the backlash over Russia's anti-gay laws continues to grow, fuelling anger that is overshadowing preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Canadian lawyers say there may be an increasing number of gay Russians seeking refugee status in Canada.
Jillian Siskind, president of the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, said the rhetoric from Russian officials toward the LBGT community has been "quite terrifying."
"There's a certain element of dehumanization of the LGBT community, which only helps to spur on a very negative public discourse and certainly violence," Siskind told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday.
"The police seem disinterested in helping whenever these (violent) incidents do happen and it is increasing."
Signed in June, Russia's anti-gay laws impose fines and up to 15 days in prison for holding gay pride rallies or for spreading "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors.
The law has spurred calls for a boycott of the Games and has soured an already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
President Barack Obama last week cancelled a planned summit meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Although Obama has ruled out a boycott of the Games because it would penalize the athletes, he has been very vocal of his support for the LGBT community.
"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a very long way in rejecting the kinds of attitudes that we're seeing here," he said on Friday.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has also expressed concern over Russia’s anti-gay laws. In a conference call on Friday, Baird said he hopes the controversy surrounding the laws will put pressure on Putin and Russia's lawmakers to change the legislation, passed in June.
"We've got an important opportunity for the free world to be able to focus on what's happening in Russia in recent weeks and months, and hopefully that can yield a change."
According to Siskind, Canada's reputation for taking in gay refugees in recent years has been "quite good."
"From what I've seen from studies, it's been more than 50 per cent (acceptance) of claims on this basis," Siskind said, adding that Canada is a leader in gay rights. “We have gay marriage. We have supportive laws.”
In British Columbia, lawyer Robert Hughes said he's had two clients in the past few months who have claimed refugee status after fleeing Russia because of their sexual orientation.
"What has been unusual for me is to see gay Russians contacting me before they come to Canada. They're afraid of staying in Russia," Hughes told CTV British Columbia.
One of his clients, Maxim Zhuralev said he was beaten up by a group of homophobic thugs after he revealed to a friend he was gay.
"It's not just my experience," Zhuralev said. "You can't tell anybody that you're gay in Russia and feel safe."