REAL Women of Canada, the group that last week criticized Foreign Affairs minister John Baird for speaking out for gay rights in Uganda and Russia, issued a statement yesterday in an attempt to defuse criticism directed at them.
The group said that they have “experienced an orchestrated campaign of hate and intimidation as a result of the media coverage.”
The fall of what was once a significant, if loony, addition to our political scene confirms one of the great truths of Canadian politics: try not to act like a Republican, especially if you’re a social conservative.
Indeed, Barbara Kay, a conservative columnist at the National Post and someone who regularly agrees with the lobbyists, wrote a somewhat mournful column, explaining that while REAL Women “have commanded my intellectual respect and not infrequently my approval” it “may just have imploded as a credible organization.”
The release itself, while not quite apologetic, at least clarifies the position of REAL Women, which was inarticulately burbled by founder Gwendolyn Landolt on the CBC following her organization’s press release last week.
At that time, Landolt said she didn’t think that Canada’s foreign affairs minister should be interfering with the laws in a sovereign state by directing funds to gay rights groups in Uganda to fight oppressive legislation. When confronted with the information that Uganda had indeed considered capital punishment for gay people, she described it as “unwise by Western standards.”
REAL was primarily upset that the Department of Foreign Affairs had given $200,000 to gay rights groups in Uganda and Kenya to “further [Baird’s] own perspective on homosexuality.” Notwithstanding the fact that what Baird is espousing are actually Canadian values, the whole affair really began back in February when the story broke that CIDA was actually funding anti-gay groups in Uganda.
In their release, thankfully, REAL said it did not actually support incarcerating gay people in Uganda, and indeed corrected the record on whether or not gay people could face a death sentence for their actions.
However, it was on Russia that REAL displays the insidiousness of homophobia.
The ‘p’ word – propaganda – that Orwellian relic from the Cold War era, forms the basis of REAL’s fear. It has long been used by the paranoid Right (and, admittedly, the paranoid Left, albeit on different issues) to fret over the influence that gays have. In the United States, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has written about the power of the “homosexual agenda,” as if there’s some vast cadre of queers attempting to overthrow the Constitution.
It’s a powerful word, though, and so it’s used to shroud politically incorrect beliefs in a palatable, indeed desirable, veneer. REAL complains simultaneously about muzzling traditionalists — which their initial release very carefully described, using the language of draft resisters as “conscientious objectors” — and that there is some influx of homosexual propaganda that’s warping our children.
Leaving aside the former, it’s the latter that has some traction in Canadian politics; Maurice Vellacott, an outspoken and unabashedly conservative backbench member of Parliament wheedled to Postmedia News that he wouldn’t want his own children exposed to “homosexual propaganda.”
In their press release, REAL suggests that, “The Russian law in question concerns itself mainly with eliminating homosexual indoctrination of minors.” This is flagrantly dishonest.
First of all, no law can be considered without the context of the penalty, which is over $3,000 CAD, a monstrous fine, given the crime the law targets. According to the Washington Post the penalties vary, and quite frankly, speak for themselves:
The law sets fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and 1 million rubles ($30,000) for organizations convicted of violating the law. Punishments are more severe for propaganda on the web or in the media — up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles for organizations. Foreign citizens are subject to fines of up to 100,000 rubles, up to 15 days in prison, and deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.
Secondly, the law more precisely forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” This, again according to the Post is a bit of a dragnet: gay men and women are caught under the law, as are bisexuals and transgender people.
The reason it’s flagrantly dishonest is this idea that somewhere out there, gays are indoctrinating our youth. All movements for equal rights have a modicum of political agitation, all movements have spin doctors and hacks — this is true of gay rights as well. But the idea that there’s something unique to the gay rights movement is just plain dumb.
Moreover, it is ill-defined what gay propaganda even means. Variously, it seems to mean sex-ed, education about birth control, the legalization of oral and anal sex by striking down sodomy laws in the United States and modifications to age of consent laws. Which of these does REAL fear?
I just don’t know, and frankly, I don’t really know if they do either. But the crux of the matter is this: If there really was some sort of homosexual agenda that gay rights folks wanted to inculcate in our kids, the message certainly wouldn’t be so muddled.
It was not so long ago that Canada adopted gay marriage; the United States and Britain lag far behind.
The reality is this, and sorry if I’m the one to break it to the Helen Lovejoys of Canada: your kids are going to be gay, or they’re not, regardless of your own stupid beliefs about homosexuality.
Furthermore, this defence of the anti-gay laws in Russia is joined by what amounts to a pretty lame vision of how we conduct our foreign policy.
The fact is, Mr. Baird gave $200,000 of the taxpayers’ money to homosexual groups in Uganda to promote political agitation there. This sets a dangerous precedent for Canada’s taxpayers to fund special interest groups in foreign countries.
REAL Women has no objection to Canada speaking out against violations of human rights if it is carried out appropriately, in dealing with sovereign nations such as through diplomatic channels, the media, Parliament and the imposition of economic sanctions which has proved to be effective in ending apartheid in South Africa, and is working today in Iran.
The thing is, the imposition of economic sanctions doesn’t have a clear record of success. In North Korea, for example, sanctions have had limited short-term effect, while the population slowly starves to death. Not only that, but when dealing with colonial narratives of Western interference in foreign countries, isn’t it better to empower locals, as opposed to throwing around our economic and political weight? The mechanisms that REAL identifies — diplomacy, working with the media and others — won’t necessarily work in places where the state has a stranglehold on the media, or where religious values run through a society so strongly that the normal avenues of diplomacy are hopelessly impassable.
What is needed abroad is — as much as I hate to praise Baird — a strong stance that tells the world what our values are. They’re good ones, more or less, and many of them have been accepted after decades of struggle and sacrifice. It’s true, in that sense, that in places like Uganda and Russia, or even parts of Canada and the United States, people aren’t going to change decades and centuries of bigotry overnight. But, giving locals the power to agitate — also nothing new, contrary to REAL’s assertion — instead of crippling them economically, is the only real way to promote change abroad.
There are actually a couple other things that need to be addressed from the press release.
Should bigots be muzzled? REAL dresses the language up a bit, making it seem as though truly vile men like Bill Whatcott are just traditionalists, but there is actually a substantive debate to be had here.
There are major problems with Human Rights tribunals: they dump the presumption of innocence and the defendant has to pay all legal costs, just to name two. Ezra Levant has documented some of the egregious examples in his book Shakedown, and the well-publicized absurdity of the downfall of Levant’s Western Standard, and the legal battles Maclean’s fought make these issues well known.
However, what needs to be said is that these are outstanding instances: your average Baptist isn’t being dragged into a pseudo-court for his views. No, what has happened is what should happen.
Governments have, in many ways, stayed out of the debate. There has been a slow process of social change, and people now accept that there are gay people, and as such, aren’t particularly tolerant of intolerance. Just as we laugh ordinary racists out of the room or off the podium, we can’t take freaked out traditionalists seriously.
They complain about not having a debate, and being muzzled. Nah, we aren’t muzzling you, it’s just that when your views are so damn silly, and haven’t progressed meaningfully in several decades, we’re not about to give you the time of day.
This isn’t censorship, it’s just what happens to bad ideas.