Citizenship guide gets single sentence on gay rights
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, March 9, 2011.
OTTAWA - A revised citizenship study guide for new Canadians released Monday contains a single sentence on gay and lesbian rights, which is a sentence more than in the first version of the book published a year and a half ago.
The added material on gay rights -- a topic completely absent from the first release of the federal government's guide in November 2009 -- was among several notable additions to the document unveiled by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, including denunciations of violent extremism and forced marriage.
The "Discover Canada" booklet replaces a study guide that hadn't been changed in nearly 15 years, updating the curriculum and requiring newcomers to gain a broader range of knowledge about Canada before becoming citizens.
The first version of the rewrite was released in the fall of 2009, and contained only a passing reference to gays and lesbians -- a photo caption below a photo of Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury, who was described as a "prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians."
However, an early draft obtained by The Canadian Press contained sections citing milestones in gay rights, including decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and the same-sex marriage law of 2005.
Kenney's office ordered all of that material excised from the book before it was published. Kenney, who in Opposition was a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, has denied personally ordering the information deleted.
The latest version acknowledges gay rights in Canada, but still doesn't outline how those relatively recent rights came about. It simply says: "Canada's diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage."
On Monday, at a swearing-in ceremony for new Canadians in Vancouver, Kenney said the guide should be praised for having any mention at all about gay rights.
"If you actually look at the previous guide, the one that was published under the Liberal government, there was not a single word or sentence or paragraph at all about gay or lesbian rights," Kenney told reporters.
The revised edition also adds forced marriage to a list of gender-based crimes that aren't tolerated in Canada, which already included spousal abuse, honour killings and female genital mutilation.
Another passage now says immigrants who come from war-torn nations should not bring their "violent, extreme or hateful prejudices" with them to this country.
Kenney highlighted that passage in a speech to a roomful of new citizens.
"Sadly, over the years, we have sometimes seen people who have had conflicts in their countries of origin bring those conflicts to Canada, and sometimes violence -- sometimes even terrible violence -- has resulted," Kenney told the crowd, many holding small Canadian flags.
Egale Canada, a national gay and lesbian advocacy group that pushed for the guide to be changed, posted a statement to its website welcoming the addition, while calling for transgender rights to also be added to the guide.
The group cited a piece of legislation that would add protection for transgendered people to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bill has passed a vote in the House of Commons, but faces resistance in the Conservative-controlled Senate.
"Egale Canada is pleased that the new guide accurately reflects the current climate in Canada,"it said.
"Nonetheless, its obvious omission of our trans population highlights the urgent need to pass Bill C-389 before the next election, in order to ensure the rightful inclusion of trans people within Canada's human rights regime."
Olivia Chow of the NDP said the changes to the guide were overdue, criticizing the Conservative government for failing to address gay rights in the first place. Chow suggested Kenney's office only reversed course because of pressure from Parliament.
"It's better than not having anything -- at least the words 'rights' and 'marriage' are in there," Chow said in an interview. "They removed it (from the first version), they deliberately removed it."
Unrelated to the guide, a group of a dozen or so rowdy protesters showed up to confront Kenney over other aspects of his immigration record, including tougher refugee laws.
The protesters blocked a door into the citizenship ceremony for about half an hour before they were removed by police.