Russia’s new law against homosexuality is an affront both to people in that country and around the world. The law, which came into effect last month, makes the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” illegal and punishable by arrest, fines up to $3,000, 15 days in prison, and, for foreigners, deportation. It’s been condemned by the European Union and by groups such as Human Rights Watch, but for Canada it stands in direct contrast to the values for which we are internationally lauded. And while another country’s laws are rarely within the sphere of Canadian action, in this case we must give serious consideration to our participation at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
As Canadians we can be proud of participating in the Olympic movement. The Olympic pillars of co-operation, harmony, and peace are ideals that we not only subscribe to, but also actively spread throughout the world. The Olympic Charter calls for promotion of “human dignity” and states: “Any form of discrimination… is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.” The Charter even goes on to say that “belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter” including, presumably, the anti-discrimination section. But, holding aside for the moment how the International Olympic Committee will deal with the issue internally, is Canada able to participate in an Olympics held in a country that would send, for instance, our former Olympic national Chef de Mission to jail for simply giving an interview, or deport a gay athlete for giving his husband a kiss after a medal win?
It’s been 30 years since a large-scale boycott of the Olympics took place. In 1980 and 1984 it was a global divide that saw dozens of countries take a political stand over ideology. The communist/capitalist split saw great numbers on both sides of the argument but in this instance it is truly telling that eight of the top ten winter medal-earning countries (Canada, Germany, The United States, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and the Netherlands,) have laws advancing the rights of gay and lesbian people. There is no ideological divide this time. There is only a country doing wrong, and countries with the clout to do something about it.
We ignored the calls to stand up for Canadian values when the Games were held in China. Let’s make sure that we have a real discussion about where we stand this time.
Gerrit Theule is a law student at the University of Manitoba.