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Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.
Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.

opinion

Gay men are being persecuted in Chechnya – but Canada says it’s not our problem Add to ...

Gay men fleeing the pogrom of arrests and beatings in Chechnya that have cost at least three lives should not look to Canada for help.

Human-rights and LGBT-aid groups have been urging the Liberal government to offer emergency aid that would permit victimized Chechen homosexuals to apply for refugee status in Canada.

But in a statement provided to The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship indicated the men would not qualify because they were hiding out in Russia.

“In order to be considered for resettlement, individuals must be outside their country of origin,” Remi Lariviere said via e-mail. Last word was that the Russian LGBT Network had found shelter for about 30 Chechen men. Because Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, they don’t qualify as refugees.

As for the possibility of issuing special visas to get these men from Russia to Canada, “we cannot speculate on any future policy,” the statement said.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen similarly refused to make any commitment when asked on Thursday about the persecution of gay Chechen men.

“We strongly support that community and the difficulties that they are going through,” Mr. Hussen said. But he would not promise any specific action, saying the government was “responsibly looking at what options we have in responding to that really difficult situation in a complex and volatile region.”

“I’ve run out of patience with the government,” said B.C. MP Randall Garrison, the NDP’s critic on LGBT issues. “All we hear is that they’re world leaders, and that they’re great at this, but when you ask them to do something, it’s not there.”

Russia is hardly a safe place for gays fleeing persecution. Homosexuals face widespread discrimination; there are reports of beatings and hate crimes that go unpunished. But to escape Russia and come to Canada, Chechen gays would need to obtain special visas.

Should the Canadian government issue those visas? There is a good argument that it shouldn’t. Homosexual acts are illegal in 73 countries; in several of them, the death penalty applies. In other countries, women are at daily risk of rape and religious minorities face discrimination. Why should these Chechen men go to the front of the line?

The answer is that, from time to time, ethnic, religious or sexual minorities are subject to purges, such as in Chechnya, where the government appears to be inciting, or at least condoning, the rounding up, incarcerating and torturing of gay men.

“There will be spikes in homophobic and transphobic violence across the globe,” said Sharalyn Jordan, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University who studies the impact of violence and other traumas on sexual minorities. “Canada needs to be prepared to proactively and flexibly promote safety for LGBTQ people who have survived these kinds of violence.”

The previous Conservative government operated a small program that supported an underground railroad helping homosexuals escape from Iran, one of the countries where the death penalty for homosexual acts applies.

“Canada has set international benchmarks in the past for saying we have the ability and political will to make our refugee system flexible,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said. “What is happening in Chechnya is a sudden and immediate and direct threat to a sexual minority group.”

The question of priorities is vexed. But we know this: Only weeks ago, gay Chechen men were living quietly, if furtively, in their native land. Suddenly, they were rounded up, thrown into detention centres and beaten day after day, then taken to their families, who were told the victim was a pervert. Or they heard of all this happening and knew they could be next. Fearing for their lives, they fled Chechnya and now are more or less in hiding in Russia, while many wait to be transported to a country they had never thought of immigrating to before.

At this point, it appears that country won’t be Canada. Maybe other countries will take them in. Maybe they will just learn to survive in Russia. Maybe they’ll do okay. Maybe they won’t.

With a report from Scott Wheeler in Toronto

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Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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