Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Two gay men from Chechnya embrace one another in a safe house in Moscow in April. From June through August, 31 persecuted gay Chechen men were spirited to Canada via a secret underground railroad the federal government set up.

JAMES HILL/The New York Times

Persecuted gay men from Chechnya who sought refuge in Canada now fear for their safety after a disturbing incident in which one of them was physically threatened.

The Liberal government is worried about the security of the men taken from safe houses in Russia and brought to Canada as refugees under a secret program that Ottawa has still not officially acknowledged.

Although the victim refused to report the incident out of fear of retribution, Toronto police are investigating. The question now is how serious the risk to the men might be, and what can be done to deter people who might wish to harm them.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution

As previously reported by The Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spearheaded a secret program to rescue Chechen men who had been arrested, detained and tortured earlier this year because they were homosexual.

As a result of the detentions, dozens of men fled from Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus region of Russia to safe houses operated by the Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental organization.

From June through August, 31 of them were spirited to Canada via a secret underground railroad the federal government set up.

According to two sources, speaking on deep background because they are not authorized to discuss the situation openly, at least one of the refugees has been threatened since arriving in Canada.

In August, a young Chechen male who came to Canada via the underground railroad talked with another man on a dating app and the two agreed to meet at a certain time and place in Toronto. When he arrived for the rendezvous, two men confronted him. They placed him in the back seat of a car and began swearing at and berating him in Chechen, saying his homosexual lifestyle had brought disgrace to Chechnya. He was released physically unharmed.

A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service confirmed the force is investigating an incident involving a Chechen refugee, but could provide no other information.

Story continues below advertisement

Word of the incident has alarmed other refugees. They are emotionally vulnerable, having been subjected to persecution and abuse. They spent months in hiding, fleeing from that abuse, but were assured they would be safe in Canada. This incident brings into question those assurances.

The Chechen-Canadian diaspora is small, and largely concentrated in Toronto. It is not known whether any of the members of that diaspora would truly wish to harm homosexual members of their community who were brought to Canada as refugees from their homeland.

However, government and other officials agree that the best protection for the men is to get them settled and integrated into Canadian society as quickly as possible. This involves finding each of them appropriate housing, enrolling them in language training, providing mental-health counselling as required and helping them to find work.

A spokesperson for Ms. Freeland declined to comment on the situation of Chechen refugees in Canada on Wednesday.

Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, which is helping to settle the refugees, also declined an offer to comment.

The Toronto police force “regrets” raids more than three decades ago that targeted the city’s gay community, Chief Mark Saunders said Wednesday. Globe and Mail Update

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies