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EGALE Questionnaire on Sexual Orientation Issues, 1993
Canadian Human Rights Act
In 1985 the all-party Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights unanimously recommended that the Canadian Human Rights Act be amended to add sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. In 1986, Justice Minister John Crosbie responded to the committee’s recommendation by pledging that the government would take “whatever measures are necessary to ensure that sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination in all areas of federal jurisdiction.”
In August 1992, an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling (Haig v Canada) said that the Act must prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in order to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In December 1992, Justice Minister Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-108, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act. As required by the Haig ruling, the bill includes an amendment to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. At the same time, however, Bill C-108 attempts to restrict the rights of same -sex couples by defining “marital status” as limited to partners “of the opposite sex.” Contrary to the impression sometimes given in the media, this definition has nothing to do with the right to marry, which is regulated by federal marriage law. The definition would, however, continue to allow discrimination against lesbian and gay couples.
This restrictive definition of marital status has previously been found unconstitutional in September 1992 by an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, in the Leshner case. This raises the distinct possibility that the Bill C-108 amendment would also be found unconstitutional in a court challenge.
1. Do you support adding sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act?
2. Do you agree that the proposed definition of marital status in Bill C-108 (which defines marital status as applying only to heterosexual couples) discriminates unfairly against same-sex couples?
To date, same-sex couples in Canada have not been permitted to marry under federal marriage law. The constitutionality of these laws is currently being tested in an Ontario court in the Beaulne and Layland case.
In recent decades, governments have recognized that many heterosexual couples live in relationships outside of marriage. These “common-law” couples enjoy some of the benefits provided to married couples, and also bear some of their responsibilities.
A number of foreign countries and municipalities have enacted or are considering legislation to recognize same-sex relationships.
Many private and public sector employers in Canada (including many municipal governments and the Ontario government) have extended employee benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. This has resulted in little or no increased costs to employers.
In the September 1992 Leshner decision, an Ontario human rights tribunal ruled that the Ontario government must extend benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees, including survivor pension benefits regulated by the Federal Income Tax Act. If the federal government fails to amend the Act to recognize same-sex relationships, Ontario must establish its own pension plan.
Many lesbians and gay men believe that governments should provide benefits to individuals based on criteria other than family status or marital status. However in the absence of a fundamental restructuring of government benefits, same-sex couple should have equal access to the same benefits provided to heterosexual couples. It is unfair to expect lesbians and gay men to continue to subsidize social programs that we cannot participate in.
3. Do you believe that the federal government should extend employee benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees?
4. Do you support a review of federal legislation with the aim of allowing lesbian and gay couples to share the same benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual couples?
5. Do you support changes to federal marriage law to recognize same-sex marriages?
Although family reunification has been one of the cornerstones of Canadian immigration policy, the Department of Employment and Immigration has consistently refused to allow the immigration of the same-sex partners of Canadian citizens.
Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden all permit same-sex spousal immigration.
Canada also allows the immigration of refugees who have “a well-founded fear of persecution” in their country of origin. In 1992, the Immigration and Refugee Board granted asylum to several gay refugees who faced persecution on the basis of sexual orientation in Argentina and Russia. However, other similar applications have been rejected.
The minister of employment and immigration, Bernard Valcourt, recently introduced extensive amendments to the Immigration Act (Bill C-86). The bill contains no reference to sexual orientation issues.
6. Do you support amendments to the Immigration Act to allow the immigration of same--sex partners of Canadian citizens?
7. Do you believe Canada should grant asylum to refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation?
Court Challenges Program
The Court Challenges Program was established by the federal government to provide funding for groups and individuals seeking clarifications of the linguistic and equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Lesbians and gay men have received program funding to support landmark gay rights test cases.
The federal government canceled the Court Challenges Program in 1992. Numerous human rights groups, several provincial governments, the Canadian Bar Association, and a unanimous report by the all-party House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Rights have all urged the government to reinstate the program, saying that it is still needed to ensure access to justice for all Canadians.
8. Do you support the reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program?
According to a recent study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, one in three lesbians is likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime -- a rate approximately three times higher than that of the general female population. A June 1992 report by the House of Commons Health Committee described breast cancer as a problem “of near epidemic proportion.”
9. Would you support federally-funded research and public education programs to address the problem of breast cancer among lesbians?
In 1990, eight years after the first case of AIDS was reported in Canada, the federal government announced a federal AIDS funding program of $37.5 million annually for three years. This funding program expired on March 31, 1993.
In November 1992, national health organizations recommended to Health Minister Benoit Bouchard that a minimum of $55.35 million annually in federal funding is required over the next five years to adequately address Canada’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. This proposal was unanimously endorsed by the Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on AIDS.
Mr. Bouchard announced on March 11, 1993 that the government will spend $42.2 million a year on AIDS for the next five years.
Almost 5,000 Canadians have died of AIDS, and an estimated 30,000 Canadians are now living with the HIV infection.
10. Do you agree that federal AIDS funding should be increased to $55.35 million a year?
Many lesbians and gay men are parents, and many others want to be. Lesbians and gay men have told the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies that they want the same access as heterosexuals to technologies such as artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization. This is particularly important for lesbians and gay men as they are often denied the right to adopt children.
11. Do you support health system policies that would provide lesbians and gay men with the same access to reproductive technologies as heterosexuals?
Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to incite or promote hatred against an identifiable group, or to advocate or promote genocide against an identifiable group. The Code defines “identifiable group” as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, or ethnic origin.”
In considering whether this definition is unduly restrictive, the Law Reform Commission has noted that “in recent history, homosexuals have been subjected to hateful attacks which led to their physical harm... homosexuals were also victims of the genocidal policies of the Nazis.”
It is clear that lesbians and gay men in Canada continue to be the victims of hateful attacks based solely on their sexual orientation. The distribution of anti-gay hate literature and gay-bashing incidents are common in Canada. In December 1992, two Montreal gay men were murdered by neo-Nazi skinheads. At least thirteen gay men have been murdered in Montreal since 1989.
12. Do you support amendments to the Criminal Code to prohibit hate crimes based on sexual orientation?
Lesbian and Gay Participation in Government
Canadian political parties have made attempts to represent the diversity of the Canadian population, but the lesbian and gay community is usually overlooked. By failing to actively encourage the participation of lesbians and gay men in public life, political parties perpetuate the invisibility of the lesbian and gay community.
There is only one openly gay Member of Parliament in Canada (Svend Robinson, Burnaby-Kingsway), and none in the provincial legislatures. There are more than 70 openly gay and lesbian elected officials in the United States. President Clinton had at least 15 lesbians and gay men on his transition team, and he has pledged to appoint openly gay men and lesbians to important positions in his Administration. Ontario Premier Bob Rae has appointed both a lesbian and a gay man to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. A number of political leaders in the U.S. and other countries have appointed official to act as liaison persons with the lesbian and gay communities within their jurisdictions.
13. Would you encourage your party to actively recruit lesbian and gay candidates?
14. Would you encourage your party to appoint a staff person to act as a liaison with the lesbian and gay community?
15. If your party forms the next government, would you support the appointment of well-qualified, openly gay men and lesbians to Order-in-Council positions?
Promoting Greater Awareness of Sexual Orientation Issues
Because most lesbians and gay men are not recognizable as such to the general public, many people believe that the community is a very small one. This invisibility is perpetuated by politicians who fail to publicly address sexual orientation issues. Few politicians are well-versed on these issues, few attend lesbian and gay community activities, and many seem reluctant to even say the words “lesbian” and “gay” in public.
16. Have you spoken in the House of Commons or elsewhere on sexual orientation issues? (If yes, please provide details.)
17. Have you attended lesbian and gay community activities? (If yes, please provide details.)
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