Federal government does the Right Thing with the stand taken on gay athletes.



April 21, 2013

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  Last June, the Russian parliament unanimously passed a law that criminalizes “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”.    Presumably directed at the media, fines can reach as high as a million rubles, about $30,000 (Can) for a violation.  It is unclear whether religion, increasing social conservatism, or the perceived need by Russians to reverse their falling birthrate was the stimulus for this bill.  It is also unclear how broadly the authorities will interpret the new law.

 We need to understand that homosexual relations in Russia have been legal since 1993 and still are.  And though we see this new law as objectionable, when it comes to sexual discrimination Russia is in a far different league from the 38 African countries, including Uganda, which criminalize or otherwise repress homosexual activity.  And Russia is nothing like Qatar and Iran where, under Iranian law, someone committing a homosexual act may receive 60 lashes or even the death penalty.

The LBGT community has chosen to be very public in response to the repressive actions of the Russian government.

It has taken a long time for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community to finally achieve a broad measure of equality and human rights in places like Canada and the USA.  It was only 1967 when a young minister of justice named Pierre Trudeau ‘liberalized’ Canada’s criminal code on homosexuality, saying “the state has no business in the nation’s bedrooms”.   Finally passed in 1969, this legislation also decriminalized abortion, and contraception, and further regulated lotteries, gun possession, drinking and driving offenses, harassing phone calls, misleading advertising and cruelty to animals.  Passed by a two-thirds majority it was mostly opposed by the Conservatives, Social Credit and a lone Liberal. 

 In 2005 Paul Martin’s Liberals passed the Civil Marriage Act, making same-sex marriage legal in Canada, the fourth nation in the world and the first outside of Europe to do so.  Again, the Conservatives were generally opposed.  In fact, one of the early acts of the new Conservative minority government in 2006 was to reconsider (revoke) that legislation, a bill which was rebuffed by the other parties.

 So, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, deserves considerable credit for taking on Russia, and Uganda and for bringing his Prime Minister and his political party on-side.  He did the right thing, getting onto the curve of social opinion.  Canada’s pro activity on this issue has not been unnoticed around the world, and is a much-needed step to restoring our international reputation.  And John Baird, the former Tory bulldog has emerged as a respected diplomat for his efforts.

 Our advocacy on this issue today is important, as the world community prepares to assemble in Sochi, Russia for the winter olympic games next year.  Canada’s role has, no doubt, emboldened similar responses from the US, EU and IOC (Olympic Committee).   Russia’s sports minister counters that this is an invented crisis, and he has promised to preserve the rights of all athletes attending the games.  So why, then, did the Russians choose this time to pass such regressive, discriminatory, poorly defined and probably unworkable legislation? 

Russian athletes make their views on gay relationships really clear.

Indeed Baird has displayed a progressive social characteristic that many complain is often so absent among conservatives and conservative policy.  But we should remember that it was the capable Conservative justice minister Kim Campbell who liberalized and, thus, ended the abortion debate in this country.  It was Brian Mulroney who led the attack on South Africa’s apartheid policies, in the face of American and British opposition.  And Mulroney, despite his close relationship with US president Reagan, stood up against US aggression in Nicaragua, recalling another Canadian PM’s ethical positions on Vietnam and Cuba.

 Russia’s new law may put an end to re-runs of ‘Will and Grace’ on Russian TV.  The new censors there will have their hands full, cutting the ‘art’ which happens to ‘imitate life’ from the global media for Russian viewers.  But it won’t stop the progress of civil and human rights everywhere.  LGBT rights in Canada are among the most advanced in the world, and the debate here is over.  It has been a long road and there is no going back.  In the words of a former prime minister, “ what’s done in private between (consenting) adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code”. 



Ray Rivers was born in Ontario; earned an economics degree at the University of Western Ontario.  He taught in New Zealand and earned a Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.  His 25 year stint with the federal government included time with Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Agriculture and the Post office. Rivers left the federal government to consult for private sector and government clients.  He completed his first historical novel The End of September in 2012; a story about what might have happened had Quebecers voted for sovereignty association in the 1980 referendum.  Rivers is active with ratepayers groups, a food bank, environmental organizations, community journalism and policing.  He has run for municipal and provincial government offices and  held executive positions with Liberal Party  riding associations.  He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.


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2 comments to Federal government does the Right Thing with the stand taken on gay athletes.

  • bill statten

    Mr. Rivers, It is encouraging and refreshing to see you give credit to some Conservative politicians, and put aside your normal criticism of conservatives and the Conservative Party.
    Perhaps there is still hope that conservatives and liberals may yet co-operate and construtively work together to built a better Canada. Or is this just a dream!

  • Fred Pritchard

    If John Baird really wanted to defend Gay Rights, he could do much more by comming out already! We already have a Lesbian in charge at Queens Park, why can’t our Foriegn Minister be an out Gay man? John, you hold the press conference, I’ll bring the Diane Ross song…. I’m coming out I want the world to know…..