Baird’s silence on Indian anti-gay law puzzles human rights experts

Published: February 28, 2014

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird speaks as he participates in a joint press availability with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade January 17, 2014 at the State Department in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

LEE BERTHIAUME
POSTMEDIA NEWS

OTTAWA – He has hammered Russia, blasted Uganda and even gone after the state of Arizona.

All of which makes Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s silence on a tough anti-gay law in India puzzling to outsiders who have come to expect a strong Canadian statement when it comes to gay rights abroad.

Baird’s office says the federal government has raised the issue in private discussions with Indian officials, and that there is no “one-size-fits-all approach” when it comes to the issue of gay rights abroad.

But it also hasn’t gone unnoticed among some rights advocates that the federal Conservative government is actively courting India as a trade partner, and its low-key approach may be designed to keep from angering the emerging economic powerhouse.

“When Canada does stay silent with respect to a powerful country, a country with whom we do have an important economic relationship, it inevitably leads to the conclusion, right or wrong, that the reason for the silence is the trade relationship,” said Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve,

India’s Supreme Court recently upheld a colonial-era law that makes gay sex a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A lower court had struck down the law in 2009.

The higher court decision has been described as a dramatic reversal for gay rights in the world’s second-most populous country, putting tens of millions of people at risk of persecution and harassment.

Baird has come down hard on laws that target gays in a number of countries, including Russia, Nigeria and, just this week, Uganda.

“This act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned,” Baird said in a statement of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act. “Regrettably, this discriminatory law will serve as an impediment in our relationship with the Ugandan government.”

Baird has even spoken out against a proposed law in the U.S. state of Arizona that would let people refuse service to gays and others because of their religious beliefs.

“I join (U.S. Senators) Mitt Romney and John McCain in urging Arizona’s (Governor Jan Brewer) to veto (the) discriminatory gay bill,” the minister said on Twitter Wednesday. That same day, Brewer said she would veto the bill, which would have allowed business owners to cite their religious beliefs in turning away gay customers.

Gay rights activists from India’€™s northeastern states participate in a protest against a recent Indian Supreme court decision upholding a law that criminalizes gay sex in Gauhati, India, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. AP Photo/Anupam Nath

But Baird has said nothing in public about India.

Asked about Canada’s position, Baird spokesman Adam Hodge said, “We have a respectful dialogue with the Indian government on these issues, and have raised our concerns with them directly.”

Hodge would not provide further details about any discussions, including when the law might have been raised in conversation, with whom and in what context.

He denied the government’s failure to speak publicly about the anti-gay law was because Canada is pursuing stronger economic relations with India.

Those efforts include free-trade talks between the two countries, a pledge to increase two-way trade to $15 billion by next year, and numerous high-level visits.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to these situations,” Hodge said. “We have to be prudent about how we engage with all countries.”

Gov.-Gen. David Johnston is currently on a nine-day trade mission to India, but Baird’s office could not say whether he was raising the anti-gay law during his meetings.

Neve said he welcomes the minister’s strong support for gay rights in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria, “but it’s really crucial that we see consistency with the government.”

“There’s all sorts of diplomatic language to make it clear that the Canadian government is concerned and troubled without getting involved in name-calling and finger-pointing, obviously,” he said. “But we need to see something that’s on the record.

“And if that’s not there, then it only adds to the sense of despair and isolation that people feel.”

An Indian gay rights activist shouts slogans during a protest against a Supreme Court verdict that upheld section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

Stephen Brown, an expert on international gay rights at the University of Ottawa, said it’s true that different countries require different approaches, “but that doesn’t explain why we’re not doing anything on India.”

He believed the bigger issue is that the Conservative government is making things up on the fly, issuing “ad hoc statements” without a real gay rights strategy.

“In light of so many apparently ad hoc decisions about when to speak out about gay rights or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, it would be appropriate for the Canadian government to develop a strategy for promoting LGBT rights worldwide,” he said.

“So rather than sometimes making statements and sometimes not, they should have a more coherent policy, but also a more proactive plan for promoting LGBT rights internationally.”

Related stories:

 

lberthiaume@postmedia.com

twitter.com/leeberthiaume


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,





Featured

PRV0826-SOCIETYEVICTED_217653098

City of Vancouver gives multicultural society the boot

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI The Vancouver Multicultural Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations have hit a major snag after the city issued the group notice of eviction…
Continue Reading »

lakme_fashion_week

Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive (w/gallery)

The Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2014 held at Palladium Hotel in Mumbai ended with a bevy of Bollywood stars taking to the runway. Our gallery…
Continue Reading »

Mystic India: The World Tour takes the PNE stage Tuesday and runs until Sept. 1. Submitted photo.

Bollywood dance group Mystic India takes stage at PNE for one week only

VANCOUVER DESI Internationally acclaimed Bollywood dance troupe Mystic India will be transporting Vancouver audiences overseas as it takes the PNE stage for one week only….
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

PRV0826-SOCIETYEVICTED_217653098

City of Vancouver gives multicultural society the boot

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI The Vancouver Multicultural Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations have hit a major snag after the city issued the group notice of eviction…
Continue Reading »

Mystic India: The World Tour takes the PNE stage Tuesday and runs until Sept. 1. Submitted photo.

Bollywood dance group Mystic India takes stage at PNE for one week only

VANCOUVER DESI Internationally acclaimed Bollywood dance troupe Mystic India will be transporting Vancouver audiences overseas as it takes the PNE stage for one week only….
Continue Reading »

File photo: King George Skytrain Station in Surrey on August 20, 2013. City councillor Barinder Rasode has scheduled a telephone town hall to discuss the city's transit issues. Wayne Leidenfrost/ PNG

Surrey politician schedules telephone town hall session on transportation issues

VANCOUVER DESI Surrey city councillor and potential mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode is holding a telephone town hall to address the city’s ongoing transportation problems. “Residents…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

india

Indian minister refers to Dec. 16 fatal gang rape as “small incident” that hurt tourism

IANS New Delhi  – An Indian minister is embroiled in controversy after he referred to Delhi’s fatal Dec. 16 gang rape as a “small incident”…
Continue Reading »

common krait

Man bites, kills poisonous snake slithering towards him in bed

VANCOUVER DESI In a shocking incident, an Indian man bit and killed a venomous snake in his bed, according to the Daily Telegraph. Rai Singh, from…
Continue Reading »

teen music video

Vancouver teen’s music video gets over 300k views in less than a week

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver teen and aspiring musician Sid Bhullar has released his third music video online  – and within one week he’s already surpassed 300,000…
Continue Reading »

Unruly passenger tied to his seat

Drunk Air India passenger tied to his seat on flight after attacking people onboard, tearing clothes of two pursers

VANCOUVER DESI An Air India passenger, who went wild after a few drinks and allegedly tore the clothes of two pursers and bit some fellow…
Continue Reading »

Const. Ian MacDonald says: ‘You don’t want to see anybody carted away in an ambulance over this, and that is a very real possibility. Ric Ernst/PNG

‘It’s pride getting in the way’: Feuding Indo-Canadian youth factions worry Abbotsford cops (w/ video)

JENNIFER SALTMAN  VANCOUVER DESI  No one really knows how the conflict started. According to a number of people who are involved, in February one person…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Actress Alia Bhatt attends the Highway premiere during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Zoo Palast on February 13, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

After becoming the butt of all jokes, Alia Bhatt joins in with viral video ‘Genius of the Year’

IANS Mumbai  – After she became the butt of all Internet jokes for incorrectly naming India’s president on Karan Johar’s chat show, Alia Bhatt has…
Continue Reading »

Indian Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra poses for a photograph during the final night of the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Winter/Festival 2014 in Mumbai on late August 24, 2014. STRSTRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Priyanka Chopra not interested in ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

IANS Mumbai — Bollywood sweetheart Priyanka Chopra has been nominated by many to take up the ALS ice bucket challenge – but she has openly…
Continue Reading »

Indian Bollywood actress Dia Mirza Khan showcases a creation by designer Vikram Phadnis in collaboration with Nakkashi during the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Winter/Festival 2014 in Mumbai on August 24, 2014. STRSTRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Dia Mirza unveils musical short film B for Braille

IANS Mumbai — Actor-filmmaker Dia Mirza Monday unveiled B for Braille, a musical short film that aims at promoting Braille literacy in the country, and…
Continue Reading »