Graeme Reid is director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
"Take them to Canada," Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov said when renewing his cynical vow to rid the North Caucasus territory of gay people. This week, the Canadian government announced that nearly 30 victims of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya have been safely resettled. Canada deserves praise for standing up – in word and deed – to Kadyrov's gruesome purge by publicly condemning his actions, pressing the Russian government to intervene, and now providing safe haven in Canada to individuals who were stranded in Russia, at risk from Chechen security forces and even their own families. The Canadian group, Rainbow Railroad, provided safe passage for these men out of Russia where they were under the temporary care of the Russian LGBT network.
It is a humanitarian gesture that echoes the words of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to the Canadian Parliament in June. She observed: "It is our role to provide refuge to the persecuted and downtrodden, to the extent that we are able." At that time, plans were already under way to provide sanctuary to gay men fleeing arbitrary arrest and torture in Chechnya. In the same speech, Ms. Freeland noted the U.S. abdication of its traditional role defending the postwar liberal order, and asserted Canada's role in defending it. Just two days later, on June 8, Canada joined Chile as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, a global network of LGBT friendly states.
As co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, Canada is well-placed to play a more proactive role on the international stage. Canada has taken significant steps domestically – apologizing for past mistreatment, committing to expunge criminal records, creating a non-binary gender option on passports and passing legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination. Read more via The Globe and Mail