How Jason Kenney Kept The Gay Out of The Citizenship Guide
Last November I wrote about Discover Canada, a guidebook for new immigrants introduced under the auspices of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. I was generally positive about the new guide, especially with respect to its treatment of Canadian history, but I also complained that “the guide has some suspicious twists of emphasis, dispensing with public health care in a single rather ambiguous sentence while waxing poetic about our economic links to the US and sometimes paying exaggerated attention to the role of religion”.
Uncle Jason recently got into a bit of trouble with the media over one of those twists of emphasis, although one that I didn’t pick up on:
Internal documents show an early draft of the guide contained sections noting that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969; that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation; and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005. But Kenney, who fought same-sex marriage when it was debated in Parliament, ordered those key sections removed when his office sent its comments to the department last June.
The problem is not so much the omissions themselves as Uncle Jason’s explanation for them. He had previously said that the topic of homosexuality had simply been “overlooked”, which is a far cry from deliberately cutting most references to it out of the final text.
Chris Selley, in the National Post, rightly took Uncle Jason to task for having “managed to create a needless, unedifying sideshow” by apparently concealing his motivations. After all, he could simply have said that he had not considered the status of homosexuality in Canada to be a topic worthy of inclusion in the guide, and given his reasons. The obfuscation about having “overlooked” homosexuality comes across as an attempt to pass off an ideological decision as an administrative oversight, and a pretty feeble attempt at that. It’s hard not to see this as one more example of a senior figure in the Harper government simply refusing to be straight with the media and the public, as happened over the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik and of course over the Afghan detainee scandal. Sometimes the obsession with message control seems to create more problems than it solves.
Uncle Jason’s slippery explanations aside, I think some discussion of homosexuality would have been well worth including in Discover Canada. After all, the point of a citizenship guide is first and foremost to educate immigrants about their new country. Even a committed ideologue like Uncle Jason ought to realise that this entails describing Canada as it really is, not as he might like it to be. Personally, I can sympathise to some extent with his apparent distaste for gay marriage, which has always struck me as a bit silly and misguided – not immoral, not a threat to the fabric of society, but just silly and misguided. However, I think an anthropologist or sociologist would have to acknowledge that gay marriage is an important social custom distinguishing Canada from many of the countries that supply large numbers of immigrants.
Of course, this argument could be generalised to cover sexual freedom in general. Apart from gay marriage, Canada has sex shops and adult bookstores, pornographers and prostitutes, polyamorists and sadomasochists and swingers. Admittedly, much of the good clean fun takes place within lingering, more or less prudish constraints, but even so Canada is far more relaxed about such matters than many countries – here in China, for example, social acceptance of even garden-variety homosexuality is tentative at most. It seems only fair to warn newcomers to Canada at a fairly early stage about some of the things that go on in the bedrooms of the nation. Accordingly, I humbly suggest to Uncle Jason that the next edition of Discover Canada should be just a little sexier.