By Dean Beeby, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blocked any reference to gay rights in a new study guide for immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship, The Canadian Press has learned.
Internal documents show an early draft of the guide contained sections noting 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.
But Kenney, who fought same-sex marriage when it was debated in Parliament, ordered those key sections removed when his office sent its comments to the department last June. Senior department officials duly cut out the material, but made a last-ditch plea with Kenney in early August to have it reinstated.
"Recommend the re-insertion of the text boxes related to ... the decriminalization of homosexual sex/recognition of same-sex marriage," says a memorandum to Kenney from deputy minister Neil Yeates.
"Recommend the addition of 'equality rights' under list of rights. Had noted earlier that this bullet should be reinserted into the list as a means of noting the equality of all based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc ..."
In the end, however, Kenney's view trumped that of the bureaucrats. The 63-page guide, released with fanfare last November, contains no mention of gay and lesbian rights.
About 500,000 copies were printed and citizenship applicants will start being tested on its contents March 15.
The $400,000 project substantially updated an earlier edition of the guide created in 1995. The new version significantly expands sections on Canada's military past and on aboriginals, drawing on the views of a panel of prominent Canadians.
The new guide got generally positive reviews when it was launched, though some immediately noted the absence of gay rights, including same-sex marriage.
The publication does include a picture of Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury, however, with a caption saying he is a "prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians."
Drafts and other internal documents related to the guide were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 and more recently, civil marriage rights to same-sex couples was legalized nationwide in 2005," the earliest draft of the guide says under the section Towards a Modern Canada.
And in the section on citizenship rights, the early draft said: "Equality Rights - Canadians are protected against discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age."
Neither sentence survived the minister's red marker.
Kenney has steadfastly opposed same-sex marriage since his time as an opposition MP in the House of Commons.
He spoke against the Civil Marriage Act, or Bill C-38, when it was debated in the Commons in February 2005. And days earlier, Kenney told a session with Toronto-area Punjabi journalists that gays had every right to marry - as long as it wasn't someone of the same sex.
He reaffirmed his stand in 2006 when the newly elected Conservative government attempted without success to revoke the legislation.
Last year, Kenney appointed a longtime Conservative who opposes same-sex marriage to the Immigration and Refugee Board, which among other things makes decisions about whether gays can be given refugee status in Canada.
When the new guide was released Nov. 12, Kenney brushed off a reporter's question about why it lacked any reference to same-sex marriage.
"We can't mention every legal decision, every policy of the government of Canada," he said.
"We try to be inclusive and include a summary. I can tell you that if you were to read the old book, you wouldn't even know that there are gay and lesbian Canadians." He then noted the caption under Tewksbury's photo.
Kenney's spokesman reiterated that the 1995 guide "produced by the Liberals" did not mention gays and lesbians.
"We can endlessly debate what was included or not included," Alykhan Velshi said in an email last week. "Unavoidably, choices had to be made about content because we had to ensure the guide did not become encyclopedic."
Velshi also noted the new guide does not refer to marriage at all, whether opposite sex or same sex.
The gay-rights group Egale Canada met with the minister in early December after learning the booklet made no reference to gay and lesbian rights, and is negotiating with the department to have them included in the next printing, about a year away.
Executive director Helen Kennedy said Kenney told the group that gay rights had been "overlooked" when the guide was being prepared. She expressed surprise when told draft versions contained references to gay rights and that they were ordered removed.
"I'm hopeful and optimistic that we're going to get it fixed because we're not happy with it."
Liberal MP Scott Brison, who was married in a same-sex ceremony in 2007, said the Conservatives carefully excluded from the guide the charter rights they don't agree with.
"It's becoming very clear that Minister Kenney never intended this to be a Canadian citizenship guide but instead a Conservative citizenship guide," he said in an interview.
"They have selectively listed the charter decisions that they agree with and have ignored those that they don't. And the Charter of Rights is not a buffet - you can't pick from it the rights you like and ignore the rest."
Brison added that Canada's progressive record on human rights has helped make the country a magnet for those escaping oppression around the world.
The NDP's critic on gay and lesbian issues said new immigrants need to know about basic rights guaranteed by the charter.
"The minister, Jason Kenney, can't edit gay and lesbian Canadians out of Canadian history," Bill Siksay said. "That's something that newcomers to Canada should know about."
The Canadian Press previously reported that other sections of the draft version of the guide were excised at the suggestion of the panel of prominent Canadians.
The deleted sections included one reference that said Canadian churches ran Indian residential schools, where aboriginal children were abused.