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‘Scare stories’ of Russia’s anti-gay persecution untrue, ambassador to Canada says

Gay rights activists carry rainbow flags as they march during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg on May 1, 2013.

DMITRY LOVETSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Russia's ambassador to Canada says Canadians shouldn't believe "scare stories" about the persecution of gay and lesbian people in Russia.

Georgiy Mamedov told reporters Tuesday that Russia respects Canada's experience and judgement, but would follow its "own road" on laws dealing with gay and lesbian rights. Russia faced international scrutiny during the Sochi Winter Olympics for the country's ban on gay "propaganda," which prompted complaints from LGBT rights groups and some athletes.

Facing questions about its decision to hold the games in Russia, the International Olympic Committee said last week that it would consider blocking future Olympic bidders from hosting the Games if their laws are deemed to be discriminatory.

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Mr. Mamedov said other countries should not be too quick to judge Russia, noting that Canada and the United States have both discriminated against people based on their sexual orientation in the past. "It changes," he said during a press conference. "So I think you shouldn't judge others too severely, because you've come a long [way]. And it takes time."

The ambassador pointed to frequent media interviews during the Games with the owner of a gay club in Sochi as evidence that gays and lesbians are not facing persecution. "Don't believe all these scare stories about persecution of gays in Russia. It's not the case," he said.

Mr. Mamedov added that the massive construction work needed to prepare for the Olympics created new opportunities for Sochi to act as an athletic training centre, tourist destination and host of international summits now that that the Games have ended.

Sochi was in "a very shabby form" before the Olympics, he said. "There were no hotels there. There were no roads, and we couldn't, you know, afford to put the American president in some kind of hole," Mr. Mamedov said. "Now it's a little different and Russian people will be able to spend their summer vacations in Sochi."

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