Jason Kenney, the federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister, has come under fire for not including any mention of gay “rights” in the new Canadian citizenship study guide. The guide, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, will replace the 1995 version created by Jean Chretien’s Liberal government. The current edition includes more information on Canada’s military history, aboriginals, gender equality and minorities. Applicants for Canadian citizenship will be tested from March 15 on information from the new guide.
The Canadian Press, under the Access to Information Act, obtained earlier drafts of the guide with sections stating that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, that sexual orientation is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that same-sex “marriage” was legalized in 2005. CP reported that Kenney’s office ordered the removal of these sections, even though senior department officials recommended they be reinstated. Kenney, after denying on March 3 that he made the changes, took “full responsibility” a day later on March 4 in the House of Commons.
The decision to exclude references to gay rights from the study guide drew criticism from other MPs. Openly gay Liberal MP Scott Brison said, “It’s becoming very clear that minister Kenney never intended this to be a Canadian citizenship guide, but instead a Conservative citizenship guide.” Brison added, “They have selectively listed the Charter decisions that they agree with and have ignored those that they don’t.”
Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, appointed to speak on behalf of Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua, said the absence of gay propaganda in the guide tells “prospective refugee claimants that have a clear and convincing reason to fear persecution because of their sexual orientation in their country of origin – don’t bother to come to Canada.” NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow and NDP gay and lesbian critic Bill Siksay also criticized the silence on gay issues in the citizenship guide.
“We can endlessly debate what was included or not included,” Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s spokesman, said in an e-mail to the Canadian Press, “Unavoidably, choices had to be made about content, because we had to ensure the guide did not become encyclopedic.”
The Liberals’ 1995 guide contained no reference to homosexuals. Meanwhile, the Conservative guide does not completely ignore the homosexual issue. It has a caption under a photo of Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury that states he is “a prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.”