What’s In a Word? Gay Rights in Canada, Apparently

New Canadian citizenship guidelines were released Monday, and the entire section on gay and lesbian rights is about as long as this sentence. Period.

The guide, which is called “Discover Canada,” was first released in November 2009. That edition, which was the first change the new citizen study materials in nearly 15 years, only mentioned gay rights in a caption under a photo of Mark Tewksbury, an Olympic gold medalist, describing him as a “prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.”

The edition released earlier this week isn’t much of an improvement. The entire section on gay and lesbian rights reads as follows:

“Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage.”

That’s it.

According to the Canadian Press, an early draft talked about gay rights milestones, the decriminalization of homosexuality in the late 60s, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. However, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office removed that information before publication, though Kenney has denied doing it personally. At a press conference earlier this week, Kenney told reporters,

“If you actually look at the previous guide, the one that was published under the Liberal government, there was not a single word or sentence or paragraph at all about gay or lesbian rights.”

This is somehow supposed to make it OK that there was supposed to be far more about gay rights this time around but he — sorry, his office — deleted most of it.

Egale Canada, a gay and lesbian rights advocacy group, released a statement saying that they are generally happy with the updated edition, except for its failure to mention trans rights:

“Egale Canada is pleased that the new guide accurately reflects the current climate in Canada. Nonetheless, its obvious omission of our trans population highlights the urgent need to pass Bill C-389 before the next election, in order to ensure the rightful inclusion of trans people within Canada’s human rights regime.”

Egale Canada has been criticized for this response, most notably by Canadian queer activist Justin Stayshyn in Xtra:

“‘We’ve seen other people responding in a way that I feel is more appropriate: demanding an apology, demanding to know why, demanding answers… the right tone for something like this,’ says Stayshyn. ‘Actual anger and outrage… The relevance of certain organizations needs to be reconsidered, given what our community can do using our own tools.’

He notes that more than 4,500 people have organized via a Facebook group calling for Kenney’s resignation. CUPE also launched an online petition Mar 4, demanding that the gay rights references be put back in the guide.”

Olivia Chow, a Member of Parliament for the NDP, is also disappointed. Last spring, Chow put forward a motion, which passed, to include gay and lesbian rights in the guide. In a recent interview with CTV, she said,

“It’s better than not having anything — at least the words ‘rights’ and ‘marriage’ are in there. They removed it (from the first version), they deliberately removed it.”

While calls for Kenney’s resignation might seem extreme, there are still obvious discrepancies between what people — MPs, the Canadian Press, gay people — thought was going to be in the guide and what actually appears in it. A second version of the guide is supposed to be printed, but whether or not it will expand on gay and lesbian rights – a pertinent issue for many new citizens coming from less tolerant nations – is unknown.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Yeah keep it down to one passable sentence. We wouldn’t want to scare away any poor homophobic immigrants by advertising Canada’s history in acknowledging homosexual rights. After all, we don’t expect new comers to be respectful of said rights. No, not at all…

    -And I hope Bill C-389 passes, so we can advertise that in an updated edition.

  2. its cool, they only have to walk around a big city for 5 min before running into BLISSFUL GAY HOAARRRRDESSSS

  3. Hmm, I see it a little different. It’s to the point and makes no excuses or apologies. This is what we believe and how we see ourselves. No hand wringing, “Oh, please accept up because…..” Just this is our view on gay rights. Next.
    I don’t know, maybe I’m being naive. I’m Canadian and I’m proud that it’s even in the guidelines to begin with.

    • I’m with you on this one. Short and to the point can be a good thing.

      If you are gay and considering immigration to Canada, this tells you that you a) receive equal protection under the law, and b) can get married. Sounds like a pretty good endorsement to me!

      I disagree with the failure to mention trans rights, though. Maybe if transgendered persons in Canada were fully protected from discrimination under the law the government would be more likely to advertize it in a brochure. Until then, I guess it’s nothing to brag to potential immigrants about.

      • This and this. I have difficulty being not okay with this sentence, however brief it may be. At least it is there.

  4. What on earth is Kenney doing giving a quote like that? It is bizarre that he would think it a good idea to bring up the Liberal government in a comparative way at all when discussing lesbian and gay rights in Canada, considering the Conservative party tried their very best to overturn the Civil Marriage Act after they took the leadership. Like they tried their very very best. I haven’t forgotten, I don’t know why he would think everyone else has.

    • He’s doing exactly what I hate about politics, where instead of saying “Hey, we did this!” it’s “Hey, look what these other people DIDN’T do, so we are better by default, and this totally negates all the bad shit we’ve done.” Or something like that, anyway.

  5. I dunno I kind of like that it’s so brief. Equality shouldn’t be a big deal, it should just be a fact of life. Equality is only a big deal when we don’t have it.

  6. i’m curious to see what the guide says about other things (i actually have no idea what’s in a new citizen guide) in canada – like is everything else reduced to one or two sentences? because if it is then there isn’t really cause to complain. what’s in a new citizen guide anyway? i’m imagining sort of a tour booklet that tells you which restaurants to eat at.

    • http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/discover/index.asp

      It’s the guide that potential immigrants need to study for their citizenship test, I think. It’s basically all the stuff that should be covered in elementary school but isn’t. Or maybe it just wasn’t covered in my particular school or something, but seriously, I looked through it once and felt like I was one of those people on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader who gets asked a question like “Name a president whose name starts with ‘U’ and ends in ‘lysses S Grant'” and has no clue what the answer is.

      Anyway what I’m trying to say here is that probably a restaurant guide would be way more useful.

      • oh cool, thanks. maybe i should read it, i feel like i probably don’t know/have forgotten some of these things.

        with the gay thing, i don’t really think it’s that much of a big deal, but a little more expansion would’ve been nice.

  7. Well, I just read the guide, cover to cover, and I gotta say: the section on the beaver is bigger than the one on gay and lesbian rights. O_o I know there’s a joke in there somewhere, but the funny escapes me at the moment.

    I’m proud to live in a country where I have equal rights and where I can get married and adopt, but the conservative government is clearly not proud of that fact and is trying very hard not to advertise it.

  8. I remember hearing about this because last semester I had to find three articles for my journalism class. If I recall correctly, this initially was a pretty big kerfluffle because the sentence or sentences were there in the first draft, but redacted out. So to my mind the issue wasn’t and isn’t the brevity as much as the deliberate act of editing the sentence out. Kenney came under fire for that, and claimed it was done by someone in his office without his consent. AS IF.

    Anyway, glad it’s back in, and I’m not having that many problems with its concision. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’ll give you your Official Canadian Hug.

  9. I always thought the stereotype had something to due with girls living together in the dorms and spending so much more time together. But what do I know? I went to an all women’s college but didn’t come out till a few years after graduation.

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