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Opinion Canada’s action on queer rights is a good first step. Now it’s time to go international

Michael Motala is a law and graduate student at Columbia University and Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. He is a co-author of Egale's Just Society Report.

In my first year of law school, I was given two warnings. High-paying business law firms would work me to death. Social justice could mean fewer hours, but I'd take a pay cut.

Then there is the advice of Douglas Elliott, chair of the just society committee at Egale, a national organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians: "LGBT advocacy," he said, "is financed by the bake-sale method."

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Mr. Elliott's efforts in championing gay equality before the Supreme Court of Canada have been a labour of love. After our 10 exhausting weeks of researching and writing the Just Society Report, however, it was clear that his turn of phrase had deeper meaning. Bake sales bring the community together, both locally and, in Egale's case, internationally. Addressing queer injustice in Canada, as the government is laudably prepared to do, is a step in the right direction.

News that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will adopt most of the recommendations from the Just Society Report is a heartening victory. Canadian gay rights groups have advocated for law reform and redress since 1971. An apology is overdue. The unofficial list of reforms, as outlined in The Globe and Mail, looks very promising. But process, policy and law reform must be done right.

Details about the government's plans are silent on key international questions. While the LGBT community has won many battles in Canadian courtrooms, it is clear Canada must do more for human rights in the global context. The scale of the Orlando massacre in June was a tragic first. Similar violence, however, is commonplace around the world. A month before Orlando, seven gay men were killed in a gay bar in Veracruz, Mexico. In Montego Bay, Jamaica, a gay couple were shot to death in May. Acts of senseless violence flourish in societies that condemn same-sex intimacy.

Mr. Trudeau must be a vocal advocate in foreign policy. Depending on the interpretation used, 75 countries in the world criminalize homosexual activity in some form. Most of those countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Anti-sodomy laws are, as a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch astutely put it, Britain's "alien legacy." Addressing the legacy of colonialism must form a bigger part of Canada's Commonwealth diplomacy.

Canada's former envoy to the Commonwealth Secretariat does not mince words about his frustration about inaction on LGBT issues during his tenure. "The Commonwealth went through a trying period under the former secretary-general," said Hugh Segal, now master of Massey College at University of Toronto. The secretary-general "was afraid of something uncomfortable," such as the LGBT criminalization issue, Mr. Segal said.

The Commonwealth situation also presents opportunities for Canadian foreign policy strategy. Britain's interest in the Commonwealth, amplified by the trade implications of the U.K. leaving the European Union and the need to address the injustices of its colonial legacy, create a favourable context for mutual co-operation. Canada should elevate LGBT rights to the top of its foreign-policy agenda.

Meanwhile, journalists are the invisible handmaidens of LGBT political history. Pierre Elliott Trudeau's famous quip – "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation" – was coined in a Globe and Mail editorial. John Ibbitson's recent reporting has been similarly influential in this fight.

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Mr. Trudeau's legacy should aspire to be more than an extension of his father's national project of a just society. Canada must take great strides, not baby steps, toward a more just global society.

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