The Trudeau Record
In November 2016, just over a year into his mandate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Edmonton Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault the first Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues to any prime minister. Boissonnault, a press statement said, would “advise the Prime Minister on the development and co-ordination of the Government of Canada’s LGBTQ2 agenda,” including “working with LGBTQ2 organizations from across the country to promote equality for the LGBTQ2 community, protect the rights of its members, and address discrimination against them – both historical and current.” When making the announcement Trudeau said, “We have made great strides in securing legal rights for the LGBTQ2 community in Canada – from enshrining equality rights in the Charter to the passage of the Civil Marriage Act. But the fight to end discrimination is not over and a lot of hard work still needs to be done. Canadians know our country is made stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it.”
In 2016, the federal government introduced legislation to enshrine special protections for people who self-identify as transgender under federal human rights and hate crime law, recognizing gender identity and gender expression as classes of vulnerable people accorded privileged protection, like race and sex, under federal statutes. Previous private members bills failed to include gender identity as a specially protected class, but with a Liberal majority, NDP support, and some Conservative backers, Bill C-16 passed easily, 248-40 in the House and 67-11 in the Senate. Despite being contentious, it was rammed through quickly. The Trudeau government introduced the legislation on May 17 and it received Royal Assent on June 19.
On June 1, 2016, Trudeau raised a rainbow pride flag on Parliament Hill for the first time, on a temporary flag pole in front of Centre Block, in recognition of what the Prime Minister called a long fight for equal rights for LGBT Canadians. Joined by four openly homosexual MPs – Randy Boissonnault, Seamus O’Regan, Rob Oliphant, and Scott Brison – Trudeau said the flag raising was, “a great day for Canada and it’s part of a long series of milestones this country has hit over the years. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been automatic, a lot of people fought for a long time for this day to happen.”
The next month, Trudeau became the first prime minister to walk in a pride parade. Although Trudeau has long taken part in pride parades as an MP, it was the first time the head of government had participated. On July 3, he addressed the kickoff of the Toronto Pride Parade, attended a church service where he sang along to Lady Gaga’s gay/trans anthem “Born that Way,” and waved a rainbow flag as he blew kisses to parade revelers. Trudeau said, “It shouldn’t be a big thing that a prime minister’s walking a pride parade, and from now on it won’t.”
In 2017, Trudeau made a formal apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to LGBTQ2 Canadians for criminal prosecutions and other discrimination due to federal legislation, policies, and practices. Following up on “The Just Society” report by EGALE, a gay rights activist group, Trudeau formally apologized to those who worked in the federal government, including the public service and military, who lost their jobs and faced criminal prosecution for violating laws against buggery and gross indecency. Trudeau said in the House of Commons, “Over our history, laws and policies enacted by the government led to the legitimization of much more than inequality – they legitimized hatred and violence, and brought shame to those targeted. While we may view modern Canada as a forward-thinking, progressive nation, we can’t forget our past: The state orchestrated a culture of stigma and fear around LGBTQ2 communities. And in doing so, destroyed people’s lives.” He committed the government to destroying the criminal records of convictions involving consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners that would be lawful if it occurred today. He vowed to settle a class action suit launched by the surviving victims of the so-called “Purge” of homosexual federal employees. But he also went beyond addressing the specific grievances when he said, “And whether you discover your truth at 6 or 16 or 60, who you are is valid. To members of the LGBTQ2 communities, young and old, here in Canada and around the world: You are loved. And we support you.”
In the federal 2019 budget, the Liberal government announced $20 million for LGBTQ2 community service organizations. In an announcement last month, fulfilling their budget promise – and just two months before the Oct. 21 federal election, Maryam Monsef, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, and, Randy Boissonnault, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues gave three organizations over $1 million to “build stronger, more resilient LGBTQ2 community organizations, networks, and infrastructure:” The Canadian Rainbow Coalition for Refuge was given $150,000 to “ensure that LGBTQ2 refugee newcomers feel safe, can access resources, and find community in their new homes;” Enchanté, a Network of 2SLGBTQ+ Centres of Canada was given $700,000 “to strengthen its organizational capacity to undertake its incorporation and expansion across Canada,” including funding to hold its founding assembly; and, 2 Spirits in Motion Foundation was provided with $200,000 in taxpayer money to “foster safe and supportive environments for Two-Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQ2 people in Canada through collaborative knowledge generation and a national Two-Spirit gathering.”
The Trudeau government has also promoted LGBTQ+ issues abroad.
Ahead of the November 2016 International Organization of la Francophonie summit in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Trudeau castigated countries that do not protect sexual minorities, many of them African nations. Trudeau said, “Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities suffer in too many countries, including certain members of la Francophonie who are here today … We owe them the same respect, the same rights and the same dignity as all other members of our society.”
Ottawa provides LGBQT groups around the globe with foreign aid. In July, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau announced a five-year, $30 million fund ($6 million a year) to promote same-sex and transgender rights in foreign countries. Bibeau said, “Globally, LGBTQ2 communities continue to face discrimination and injustice because of who they are. Everyone matters, no matter who they choose to love, no matter where they live.” Bibeau said that, after the initial five-year provision, as long as the Liberals were in power, Canadian taxpayers would have to continue to hand over a further $10 million annually, with no end in sight, to LGBTQ groups to “advance human rights and improve socio-economic outcomes” for sexual minorities in developing countries. A Global Affairs Canada statement said the funding would go to projects aimed at preventing violence, raising awareness, and advocating for LGBTQ rights.
Pro-family critics of the Trudeau foreign policy, such as Campaign Life Coalition, called the foreign aid funding “ideological colonization” for its “aggressively targeting the deeply held beliefs on sexual morality and the traditional family of those living in the developing world.”
For his work promoting the LGBTQ agenda, EGALE honoured Trudeau in May 2018 with an award at its Identity Gala in downtown Toronto, where he received a standing ovation. He told the audience, “I am on your side. I will fight for you, and I will fight with you.” He noted that when he offered his 2017 apology in the House, he pulled his children out of school so they could witness the event and calling it the most poignant moment of his political career. He also compared it to the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982, when he watched his father sign the document alongside Queen Elizabeth II. “Ella and Xav watched their dad stand on the floor of the House of Commons, surrounded by colleagues, and promise that we as a nation will do better.”
As our series over the last few months illustrates, social issues such as promoting abortion, legalizing marijuana, and advancing the LGBQT+ agenda are at the heart of Justin Trudeau’s mission as prime minister. And as his statements on abortion and gay/transgender issues makes clear – “the fight … is not over and a lot of work still needs to be done” – Trudeau is intent on pushing the envelope for even more social change.