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Toronto Pride Parade 2016. Photo: CIJnews

Liberals criticized for ending refugee resettlement program for Iranian LGBT

Following numerous reports of abductions, unlawful detentions, torture, beatings and killings of men perceived to be gay or bisexual in the Muslim-majority Russian republic of Chechnya, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland issued the following statement on April 15, 2017:

“‎Recent and ongoing reports of the persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya are reprehensible. We call on the Russian authorities to thoroughly investigate these reports and to immediately ensure the safety of all persons in Chechnya who may be at risk due to their sexual orientation.

Human rights have no borders. Canada believes human rights are universal and indivisible, and these include the human rights of LGBTQ2 people.

We deplore acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As a strong, vocal and forceful advocate for equal human rights for all, the Government of Canada is committed to combatting discrimination, violence, and unjust laws targeting the LGBTQ2 community around the world.”

Prime Minister Trudeau, who has long been a champion of gay rights and made history when he became the first sitting Prime Minister to march in the Toronto and Vancouver Pride Parades, has put equality at the heart of his leadership by speaking out against homophobia when he raised a Pride flag on Parliament Hill.

Trudeau, who is eager to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, has yet to condemn the systematic persecution of LGBT community in the Islamic Republic.

In February, the Liberals were harshly criticized by the Conservatives for turning away Iranian LGBT refugees, effectively ending a program started by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010 which made LGBT Iranians a priority for resettlement in Canada. Under the program, which asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to refer to Canada any refugees who fled Iran for Turkey on the grounds of persecution because of sexual orientation and gender identity, hundreds persecuted Iranian LGBT were resettled in Canada.

According to a report from the Daily Xtra, a Canadian Gay and Lesbian publication, within weeks of the Liberals taking office in November 2015, wait times for Iranian LGBT applicants “ballooned”, and by February 2016, when the Syrian resettlement program was in its heyday, applications hit a total standstill. According to Xtra, Canadian government has stopped accepting LGBT Iranian refugees in order to prioritize Syrian refugees.

“Why has the government ended the practice of prioritizing persecuted Iranian LGBT as refugees to Canada?” asked Official Opposition Critic for Immigration Michelle Rempel during question period on Feb 10, 2017. “Why are the Liberals turning their back on the most vulnerable?”

In Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death according to fatwas (Islamic rulings) issued by Iranian clerics, gays risk horrific punishments, including death by hanging or heavy jail sentences. The lucky ones are forced into exile.

The Iranian Islamic Penal code’s punishment for “sodomy” is execution, which is decided by a Sharia (Islamic law) judge. According to Iran Human Rights, Iranian authorities often present execution for homosexuality as rape, to make it more palatable to the international community.

Psychologists and psychiatrists in Iran still view homosexuality as a mental illness and many LGBT members in the country feel excluded from society.

In a speech at Columbia University in New York in 2007, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously denied that homosexuality doesn’t exist in the Islamic Republic when he said: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like you do in your country … In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you that we have!”

Sayeh Hassan, a prominent Iranian Canadian lawyer and pro-democracy activist, criticized Trudeau for wanting to normalize relations with Iran.

“The fact that he wants to have normalized relations with the Islamic Regime in Iran is a clear indication that he is willing to turn a blind eye not only to the grotesque human rights violations the Regime is responsible for, but also to the Regime’s financial support for international terrorism and its dangerous nuclear ambitions! If Mr. Trudeau wants the Iranian-Canadian vote he will have to engage the Iranian pro-democracy movement instead of the dictatorship in Iran, and he will have to prove that he is a supporter of freedom and democracy, not tyranny and brutality!”, she wrote in a statement.

Excerpts from the debate in parliament on LGBT in Iran (February 10, 2017)

MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, why has the government ended the practice of prioritizing persecuted Iranian LGBT as refugees to Canada?

MP Ahmed Hussen (Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, this year we welcomed 40,000 refugees. That includes 25,000 resettled refugees, which is double what the previous government brought. We take seriously our refugee commitment to ensure that it is compassionate and focused on the most vulnerable people. We work very closely with the UN refugee agency and private sponsors to continue to identify the most vulnerable, and that obviously includes members of the LGBTQ2 community.

Michelle Rempel:

Mr. Speaker, LGBT in Iran are beaten, tortured, and executed, all while being sanctioned under the law, simply for who they are and for whom they love. To me, that is the definition of the most vulnerable. The minister did not answer the question. The minister used the talking point of 25,000 Syrian refugees. I am talking about the practice of allowing and prioritizing Iranian LGBT refugees coming to Canada. Why are the Liberals turning their backs on the most vulnerable, and no talking points, please?

Ahmed Hussen:

Mr. Speaker, we will take no lessons from the previous government when it comes to identifying, welcoming and being compassionate to those most vulnerable, as well as refugees in need of resettlement. We work very closely with the UN refugee agency to ensure that we continue to identify those in the most need for resettlement, which obviously includes members of the LGBTQ2 community.

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About Ilana Shneider

Ilana Shneider
Ilana Shneider is the co-editor of CIJnews and the founding executive director of Canada-Israel Friendship Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mutually beneficial, long-standing diplomatic, economic and cultural ties between Canada and Israel. She can be reached at [email protected]

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