OTTAWA -- Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird denounced Russia's controversial new anti-gay law as hateful Thursday, saying it could incite violence.
In an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, Baird described how Canada has worked behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to follow through with the law.
Baird outlined the details of eight meetings, dating back to January, during which Canadian officials pushed the issue with the Russians, before and after President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial bill into law in June.
Baird said he is deeply concerned about Thursday's comments by Russia's sports minister that the new law will be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"As concerned as we are about the Olympics, that's nothing. That's two, three, four weeks for the athletes and participants and the visitors," Baird said in a telephone interview from Colombia.
"This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."
Baird said he is aware of hate crimes against gays in Russia and of Internet luring and violence in recent days and weeks.
The minister said Canada will work with like-minded countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to pressure the Russian government to change the law ahead of the Olympics.
The law imposes fines for spreading information about gay choices to minors, and it bans gay pride rallies.
It has also sparked calls for boycotts of the Olympics and of Russian vodka.
Baird did not endorse the calls for a boycott but said Russia's hosting of the Olympics would draw attention to the issue.
"In the run-up to the Olympics, it provides a spotlight on this mean-spirited and hateful law," he said. "Hopefully, we can use that spotlight to bring pressure to bear on the Russian government."
Earlier Thursday, Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said the law would be enforced against athletes and visitors to Russia during next year's winter games.
Mutko told R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti, "an athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation" would not be banned from the Games.
"But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."
Baird said Mutko's comments appeared to have "pushed aside" earlier assurances the International Olympic Committee received from Russian officials that athletes and other visitors would not be subjected to the new law.
-- The Canadian Press