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Canada warns LGBTQ citizens about traveling to US

Advisory notes states have implemented anti-LGBTQ laws

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Deputy Canadian Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, center, wearing white sweater, at this year's Toronto Pride. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian government)

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Deputy Canadian Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Global Affairs Canada has updated its travel advisory for the U.S. for LGBTQ Canadians. 

The new advisory reads “some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Check relevant state and local laws,” and directs people to a web page that CBC reported provides broad information on how members of the community could be targeted while travelling to foreign countries.

That advice tells travelers to beware of laws that criminalize same-sex activities and relationships, or target people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That advice also warns travelers that laws to curb vagrancy and public nuisance incidents could also be used to target them in an effort “to criminalize 2SLGBTQI+ people.”

During the press briefing Freeland said she supported the decision to update the travel advice but would not comment on whether U.S. President Joe Biden was informed before the update was made.

“Every Canadian government, very much including our government, needs to put at the center of everything we do the interests and the safety of every single Canadian, and of every single group of Canadians,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing now. That’s what we’re always going to do.”

Freeland also told reporters that as a former foreign affairs minister, she’s confident that travel advisories appearing on the Global Affairs Canada website are “done very professionally.”

“We have professionals in the government whose job is to look carefully around the world and to monitor whether there are particular dangers to particular groups of Canadians. That’s their job and it’s the right thing to do,” the deputy prime minister added.

In a media statement released by Global Affairs Canada, the department said:

“Since the beginning of 2023, certain states in the U.S. have passed laws banning drag shows and restricting the transgender community from access to gender affirming care and from participation in sporting events. The information is provided to enable travelers to make their own informed decisions regarding destinations. Outside Canada, laws and customs related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics can be very different from those in Canada.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 495 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. for the 2023 legislative year in over half of the U.S., a majority that would impact LGBTQ Canadian travelers.

Accurate IDs

These bills attempt to limit the ability to update gender information on IDs and records, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. This puts transgender people at risk of losing jobs, facing harassment and other harms. Trans, intersex and nonbinary people need IDs that accurately reflect who they are to travel, apply for jobs, and enter public establishments without risk of harassment or harm.

Civil rights

These bills attempt to undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses and even hospitals to turn away LGBTQ people or refuse them equal treatment.

Free speech and expression

Despite the safeguards of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, politicians are fighting to restrict how and when LGBTQ people can be themselves, limiting access to books about them and trying to ban or censor performances like drag shows.

Healthcare

These bills target access to medically-necessary health care, like Medicaid, for transgender people. Many of these bills ban affirming care for trans youth, and can create criminal penalties for providing this care. These bills exempt identical treatments offered to cisgender youth or are forced onto intersex youth. Other bills block funding to medical centers that offer gender-affirming care, or block insurance coverage of health care for transgender people.

Public accommodations

Public accommodations bills seek to prohibit transgender people from using facilities like public bathrooms and locker rooms. Everyone should have access to these spaces, no matter their gender identity or gender expression. If you can’t use the restroom, you can’t fully participate in work, school, and public life.

Schools and education

State lawmakers are trying to prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports, force teachers to out students, and censor any in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. Instead of limiting resources, education, and opportunities, our schools should protect and support all students to learn and thrive.

Other anti-LGBTQ bills

These bills don’t quite fit in any of the other categories, but nonetheless target the rights of LGBTQ people. Examples include bans on marriage and bills preempting local nondiscrimination protections.

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Canada

Eight jailed across Canada during anti-LGBTQ sex ed rallies

Prime minister condemned bigotry; counterprotests outnumbered demonstrations

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Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools took place on Sept. 20, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube CBC)

A highly coordinated series of anti-LGBTQ protests rocked more than 80 cities across Canada on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tactics by Canada’s anti-LGBTQ extremists.

The coordinated protests dubbed 1 Million March 4 Children are demanding an end to discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Canadian classrooms. They come as several Canadian provinces have enacted policies that require students to have parental permission to change their preferred name or pronoun used in schools, and shortly after the federal Conservative Party adopted a series of anti-trans policies at its national convention.

According to its website, 1 Million March 4 Children is calling for “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.” The website also lists among its supporters numerous groups that were opposed to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccine groups, groups that promote conspiracy theories, and groups that support the truck convoys that laid siege to Ottawa and several U.S. border crossings last year.

Protests happened from coast to coast, in big cities, suburbs and small towns, but in most cases, they were met with coordinated counter-protests in support of LGBTQ rights who greatly outnumbered the protesters. 

CBC reported that counter-protesters numbered roughly double the anti-LGBTQ protesters in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  

Inclusive sex education has long been part of school curriculums in most provinces in Canada and has generally enjoyed support from all major political parties.

While the protests where mostly peaceful, at least four anti-LGBTQ protesters were arrested after getting into altercations with counter-protestors in British Columbia, and police advised that the protest in front of the provincial legislature had become “unsafe.”

Police in Nanaimo, British Columbia, tackled and arrested one man who attempted to flee after allegedly getting into a physical altercation at City Hall. Two protestors were also arrested in Victoria, British Columbia, as they demonstrated in front of the provincial legislature, and another protester was arrested in Vancouver. Police in both cities did not provide additional information.

Ottawa police also arrested two protesters for allegedly inciting hatred and another for causing a disturbance in at the protest in front of Parliament.

And Toronto police arrested 47-year-old protester Julia Stevenson for allegedly bringing a weapon to the demonstration outside the provincial legislature. Police did not give further details about what kind of weapon she is alleged to have been carrying.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, condemned the anti-LGBTQ protests in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country — you are valid and you are valued,” he wrote.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre did not put out any statement on the protests, nor did deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is openly lesbian and has previously spoken out on LGBTQ issues on behalf of the party. 

The leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh joined the counter-protestors who demonstrated in Ottawa and marched toward Parliament Hill.

“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh told CTV. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling says the protesters are part of a North America-wide movement fomenting hatred against queer people using misinformation and lies.

“Using ‘parental consent’ as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” Schilling said in a statement.

In many cities, the anti-LGBTQ protests were officially condemned by mayors and school boards.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who has publicly supported LGBTQ rights since the 1980s, issued a strong statement condemning the protests

“We stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all young people. Some wish to target our schools and libraries to spread hate. We know these must be spaces that welcome everyone, especially students,” Chow wrote.

The city of Whitehorse, Yukon, issued a statement condemning bigotry in advance of the protests.

“While the city supports people’s right to organize and protest, we stand by our 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and their right to live their true selves safely and free of harassment and hate. The promotion of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ ideas has no place in our community and messages that target fellow community members will not be tolerated,” the statement says.

However, New Brunswick Primer Blaine Higgs, who was the first to introduce a “parental consent” policy for trans students, joined the protesters in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton. 

“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16-years-old,” Higgs told reporters.

British Columbia Conservative Party leader John Rustad went further in a statement on the protests. While he says he doesn’t “officially” support the protests, if his party wins next year’s election, he promised to cancel the province’s sex ed curriculum and implied he would ban transgender girls from sports.

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Canada

Canada’s conservatives take hard turn against transgender people

Party leader Pierre Poilievre spoke at policy convention

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Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre speaks to delegates to the federal Conservative Party’s policy convention in Quebec City. (Photo courtesy of the Conservative Party of Canada)

Canada’s federal and provincial Conservative Parties are suddenly joining American-style culture wars centered on transgender issues, announcing new policies to crack down on access to medical care and women-only spaces, and restricting trans children from using chosen names and pronouns in schools.

At the federal Conservative Party’s policy convention in Quebec City this past weekend weekend, 69 percent of delegates voted to bar trans children from receiving gender-affirming care, while 87 percent of delegates voted to define “woman” as a “female person” and to demand that trans women be barred from women-only spaces.

The policy vote, which was initiated by the party’s grassroots, will only become a part of the Conservative Party’s official platform if current leader Pierre Poilievre decides to include it. The party has been riding high in the polls for several months as Canadians deal with a growing cost-of-living crisis, but a federal election isn’t scheduled for two more years.

While the federal Conservatives had recently tried to focus on economic issues rather than culture-war issues, the convention vote is emblematic of how social conservatives have come to dominate the party’s agenda. 

The vote also comes as a wave of anti-trans and anti-drag protests has appeared across Canada. 

The latest salvo in the culture war battles against trans Canadians was ignited this spring, when the deeply unpopular Conservative premier of New Brunswick announced a new policy that would bar students from changing the name or pronoun they use at school without written consent from their parents. Two cabinet ministers resigned in protest over the new rule, which was immediately criticized by LGBTQ activists and teachers unions, who pointed out that it would be impractical to enforce and would violate trans students’ human rights. Nevertheless, the policy came into effect in September, although it has faced a court challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.

Shortly after, the conservative-affiliated government of Saskatchewan introduced a similar rule that has also been subject to a court challenge. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has announced he intends to bolster the regulation with a “parental rights” law this fall as it prepares for an election next year. An anti-LGBTQ Christian organization called Action4Canada has claimed credit for lobbying the government to introduce the school reforms. 

That was followed by the Conservative government of Ontario led by Premier Doug Ford announcing that it was developing a similar policy. Ford’s government has been mired in a series of scandals recently, including most prominently a land reclassification that saw a handful of party donors receive billions of dollars in land value uplift while degrading environmentally sensitive land around Toronto. 

Ford and his ministers have repeatedly described the new policy as protecting parents’ rights in speeches and campaign-style events, although a provincial election isn’t scheduled for another two years.

“Parents rights. They need to be … informed when they [students] make a decision. It’s not up to teachers and school boards to indoctrinate our kids. I can’t even figure out what school boards do anymore,” Ford said at an event in Kitchener, Ontario, last week. 

Many activists have pointed out that Ford appears to be attempting to use the new policy to shift attention from the corruption scandal that has already led to the resignation of one cabinet minister.

“Shame on Premier Ford. Schools are not indoctrinating students. This ‘parental rights’ rhetoric is just a good slogan hiding an anti-trans and social conservative agenda. And — right now — it’s a desperate distraction from his scandal-plagued track record,” tweeted Fae Johnstone, a trans activist and president of the advocacy group Queer Momentum. 

Five of Canada’s other seven provinces are currently governed by conservative-leaning parties, though none of the others have announced plans to copy the student name and pronoun policy yet. 

Although Canada’s Conservative Party and its provincial cousins have a long history of pursuing policies that have harmed LGBTQ communities, the sudden wave of anti-trans policies has come of something of a surprise, after what appeared to be several years of détente on culture wars.

In 2021, the federal Conservative Party allowed Parliament to pass a bill banning so-called conversion therapy by unanimous consent and in 2017, dozens of Conservative MPs joined the government in passing a bill that banned anti-trans discrimination and hate speech. Saskatchewan’s conservative government banned discrimination against trans people in 2014, and Conservative parties also gave unanimous consent to provincial conversion therapy bans in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Yukon in the last decade.

In the last federal election in 2021, the Conservative Party fielded its first ever openly trans candidate, Hannah Hodson, who ran in the district of Victoria, British Columbia, placing third with 13 percent of the vote. Though Hodson served for years as a staffer for conservative politicians, she announced this year that she was leaving the party due its turn to anti-trans policies. 

“To all the [Conservative Party of Canada] people who have told me they love me, support me, and would fight for me, and who are now telling me to calm down and just go along with this, or worse, telling me to stay quiet. I see you and I will not forget,” Hodson wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, in response to the convention vote on anti-trans policies. 

While the federal government doesn’t generally control health services, Health Canada could regulate the use of medications and treatments for trans children. The federal government also doesn’t generally have the ability to regulate access to women’s spaces in schools or businesses, but does control prisons, airports and federal government offices. 

Nevertheless, trans activists say that if the proposed policies are enacted by a future federal Conservative government, they would greatly harm trans people. 

“I would like everyone to recall, quite simply, that trans people are generally poor, more likely to be homeless, and experience a whole lot of hate for being ourselves. This is the community that the Conservative Party of Canada is picking on. Because they can,” says Johnstone. 

The new provincial policies around trans kids mirror legislation proposed or passed in several U.S. states that requires schools to out students to their parents if they appear to be LGBTQ. 

It’s somewhat whiplash-inducing to see Conservative legislators who just a few years ago supported banning conversion therapy now call for parental consent over gender identity. Under the federal and provincial laws that Conservatives previously supported, it would be illegal for parents to try to change their child’s gender identity or expression by forcing them to undergo conversion therapy. But under the education policies enacted by Conservative provincial governments, parents would essentially hold a veto over their children’s gender expression. 

Children and youth advocates, LGBTQ activists, as well as teachers unions have pointed out that the new rules violate the rights of trans students to a safe learning environment. The rules also put educators in an impossible position of policing the gender identities of their students.

“While we believe that the ideal situation would include parents and guardians in the conversations and decision making, we support current school board policy in Ontario that centers the students in the decision making and honors their right to self-identify, even when parental consent is not given, to support an equitable and inclusive learning environment,” wrote the Ontario Principals’ Council in a statement on the proposed rule

“Students who do not have parental, family and community support that respects and validates them face higher risks of self-harm, emotional distress, isolation, deteriorating mental health and increased bullying. Gender-affirming practices such as honoring preferred names and pronouns help to reduce those risks and contribute to greater inclusion, belonging and success at school,” the statement says.

Watch Pierre Poilievre’s full speech at the Conservative policy convention in Quebec City:

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Canada to expunge records of people convicted under ‘unjust’ laws

Government announced new regulations on Wednesday

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(Photo by Mehaniq/Bigstock)

The government of Canada announced on March 7 that new regulations were in place allowing people who had been convicted of historically unjust offenses that targeted queer people and women seeking abortions to have their criminal records expunged.

Under the new regulations, people who have been convicted of the offenses related to being found in a “bawdy house” or putting on an “indecent performance” or exhibition — offenses that had in the past been used to target queer people — as well as various offenses related to seeking or providing an abortion, can now apply to the Parole Board of Canada to have all records of their conviction destroyed. Deceased persons can have their records expunged by a representative. There is no fee to apply for the expungement.

The regulations are an expansion of the 2018 “Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions” law, which originally allowed men who were convicted under laws banning “gross indecency,” “buggery” and “anal sex” to have their records wiped.

“We need to recognize the historic injustices that wrongly targeted vulnerable communities,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino of the new regulations in the House of Commons. “This is about recognizing the legacy of discrimination suffered by women and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community while protecting their right to choose and access safe reproductive health care. This is one more step toward building a compassionate, inclusive and diverse country.”

According to the government’s analysis included in the announcement of the new regulations, the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records identified 18,579 records related to bawdy houses and indecent acts and 67 abortion-related convictions that may be eligible for expungement. The Parole Board is expecting up to 2,500 people to apply for expungements. 

Canada’s “bawdy house” law formerly criminalized anyone who worked in or was found in a place where prostitution or indecency occurred. The intentionally vague law was used regularly as an excuse to raid queer spaces — particularly bath houses. 

Coordinated raids on four bathhouses in Toronto in 1981 led to the arrests of more than 300 men in one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. The event, dubbed “Operation Soap” by Toronto Police, sparked massive protests that are frequently cited as the start of Toronto’s Pride Festival. Bathhouse aids continued to be a semi-regular occurrence in Canada until 2002, when Toronto Police raided a lesbian event called “Pussy Palace.” In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex in a bawdy house is not indecent, and therefore not illegal, significantly narrowing the scope of the law. 

Abortion in Canada was generally illegal unless a hospital committee determined that it was necessary to save the life of the mother until 1988. That year, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws as a violation of women’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. 

The bawdy house and abortion laws were finally repealed from the Criminal Code in a general overhaul that had also struck out defunct laws that established a different age of consent for anal sex. The indecency law remains in the Criminal Code, but its use is generally limited. 

Although the entire bawdy house law was repealed, the expungement order explicitly does not apply to anyone whose conviction stems from a bawdy house used for sex work or anyone who engaged in sex work in a bawdy house. The expungement order also does not apply to convictions for indecent acts that occur outside a bawdy house, for example, cruising in a public park. 

“Canadians deserve non-discriminatory policies that put their safety first, which is why the Government of Canada recognizes that past laws and regulations were unjust and compromised the freedoms of 2SLGBTQI+ communities and women,” Women, Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marci Ien said in a press release.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a number of steps to address historic injustices against LGBTQ and intersex Canadians since being elected in 2015. In addition to repealing unjust laws and creating the record expungement program, the government issued an apology for past persecution of queer Canadians in 2017, and reached a settlement with queer government employees who had been purged from the civil service from the 1950s to the 1990s.The government also prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression under the Canada Human Rights Act, banned conversion therapy, and recently ended the ban on blood donations from gay men. However, a regulation banning gay men from donating sperm still exists in Canada.

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Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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