“Canadian citizens enjoy many rights, but Canadians also have responsibilities. They must obey Canada’s laws and respect the rights and freedoms of others.” — Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship
Most Central Albertans will never read Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.
But for recent immigrants to this country, the booklet is the resource used to prepare for the citizenship test, which evaluates their knowledge of Canada and their language abilities.
In the 63-page booklet, immigrants learn about the process of applying for citizenship, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, Canada’s history and its regions, among other topics.
They also learn that men and women are equal under the law, and that Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to “barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence.”
One topic citizenship applicants learn nothing about from the booklet is Canada’s progressive record on gay rights.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made certain of that.
This week, The Canadian Press revealed that the Conservative MP personally blocked any reference to gay rights in Discover Canada.
Drafts and other internal documents relating to the booklet, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, contained sections stating that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969; that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation; and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005.
Kenney struck those sections from the draft.
The documents go on to suggest senior department officials pleaded with Kenney to reinstate those sections.
Kenney, a steadfast opponent of gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular while he was an opposition MP, refused.
The sole reference to gay and lesbian Canadians in the final version of Discover Canada is a picture of Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury, with a caption saying he is a “prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.” And it’s buried under the heading “Arts and Culture in Canada,” far removed from the “Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.”
Kenney’s decision to excise from the booklet any reference to gay rights — rights entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — is an abuse of power. That alone is enough to demand his resignation.
But Kenney’s abuse of power is compounded by his attempts to distance himself from the changes.
When the gay-rights group Egale Canada met with the minister in early December to discuss the issue, Kenney told the group that the inclusion of gay rights had been “overlooked.”
As the internal documents obtained by The Canadian Press show, the inclusion of gay rights was neither overlooked nor omitted by mistake — it was removed on the minister’s watch.
Kenney continues to deny striking the sections. Asked again on Wednesday about the issue, Kenney said: “I did not do such a thing. No, no, you are wrong.”
One of Kenney’s staffers went so far as to suggest that someone else in the minister’s office made the gay-rights decision on his behalf.
If that’s the case, it begs the question of whether Kenney is in control of his department at all.
On Thursday, Kenney said he took “full responsibility” for the booklet’s contents, again without offering an explanation for the cuts.
Canada will begin testing citizenship applicants on the contents of Discover Canada beginning on March 15. Some of those applicants will undoubtedly come from countries where being a gay or lesbian is punishable by imprisonment or death, or they may be gay or lesbian themselves.
It is Kenney’s responsibility as immigration minister to ensure citizenship applicants are prepared to obey Canada’s laws and respect the rights and freedoms of others, including gay and lesbian Canadians.
In this case, Kenney has failed in his duties as a minister and a Canadian citizen, and he should resign.
Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor