Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 1/9/2017 (1505 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A gay MP who recently travelled to Ghana said he’s hoping to meet the Winnipeg LGBTTQ* refugees pushing for human rights in their home country.
"I’m looking forward to meeting them," Rob Oliphant said in an interview Friday, a day after returning from West Africa. "I think I now have a good sense of the country that they’re coming from."
As co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, the Liberal MP was among six parliamentarians who spoke with government officials, activists and civil society groups in both Ghana and Gambia.
Oliphant’s visit came as eight Ghanaians living in Winnipeg made headlines back home.
Clad in pink shirts, they collected more than 5,200 signatures at Folklorama, calling on Canada to push Ghana to protect LGBTTQ* people. Specifically, the group wants Ghana to repeal Section 104 of its criminal code outlawing "Unnatural Carnal Knowledge" which makes same-sex activity a serious crime punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
All eight crossed near Emerson, making an illegal entry to Canada in order to claim asylum, which shields them from prosecution. Some of the group have secured refugee status, while others are waiting for their asylum hearing.
Oliphant heard about the group while on the ground in Ghana. Last week, a Ghanaian politician accused them of trying undermine societal values, and even the country’s constitution.
John Ntim Fordjour, a Ghanian MP who is a pastor, reportedly told a television show: "There is no culture, there is no tribe, there is no religion in whose doctrines glorify homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality."
But Oliphant is a United Church minister. "I'm not sure we glorify homosexuality, but we certainly accept it as part of nature and part of our reality," said Oliphant, who plans to reach out to Fordjour.
"I want to make friends with people and help them perhaps see a different way of looking at the world."
Oliphant met with gay activists as part of a roundtable on human rights at Canada’s high commission in the capital, Accra, and spent time with them that evening. They took him to an underground club popular with gay men, lesbians and transgender people.
The MP learned that while Ghanian police don’t often prosecute people under anti-gay laws, they frequently threaten and extort gay men in particular, and don’t investigate when they’re attacked.
Oliphant says his government is "walking a fine line" of respecting a country where gay activists quickly point out that anti-gay laws are a colonial legacy of the British Empire, but the vast majority — 96 per cent according to a 2013 Pew Research poll — believe society should not accept homosexuality.
He says LGBTTQ* rights in Africa require a mix of activism, lawsuits, media campaigns and role models, a long process he witnessed when Canada mostly decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, when Oliphant was 12 years old. "It's not ancient history," he said.
At a closed-door meeting on peace and security, groups discussed myriad issues like disabilities and women’s rights, but Oliphant got pushback when he raised gay rights, with one activist saying no one is pushing for those rights.
"At that point I said, if it's illegal to be that person, it's going to be very hard for them to organize openly. So I don't really buy the argument."
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He said Canada’s role should be to welcome asylum-seekers while supporting activists on the ground.
"We have to provide safe havens for people who are persecuted. At same time, we have to slowly but continually persist on helping a country which is extremely religious, and perhaps needing to find a way to move on."
Oliphant says he’s aware of pushback against people crossing near Emerson. But he’s confident the security agencies are screening everyone who enters, and that those who make a claim get a fair hearing.
"We have a system where people are allowed to make a claim for asylum, and I will fight to protect that right," he said. "A country will be judged on how we apply our rights to everyone, not just on the people we may agree with, or know."
Data obtained through freedom-of-information laws show that the Immigration and Refugee Board accepted 85 of the 147 asylum cases from Ghana based on "sexual orientation and gender identity" between 2011 and 2015.
Dylan Robertson Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"
Ottawa ‘monitoring’ Manitoba, but focused on Quebec
Ottawa is apparently doing no outreach to ethnic communities in the Midwestern United States who are considering irregularly crossing into Manitoba.
At a Friday news conference, the Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration said it’s focused on media outreach to Haitians in the U.S., thousands of whom have crossed into Quebec.
“Looking at the statistics, the vast majority of people who are coming to the border are coming in Quebec,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau. “But we're monitoring Manitoba, British Columbia, any other province as well, and we'll watch that situation very closely.”
Canadian consulates have tweeted general information about asylum claims, but none have posted information specific to West African and Somali citizens, who form the vast majority of those crossing near Emerson.
Minnesota groups have told the Free Press that many are eying the well-worn path to Canada as the U.S. ends temporary-stay permits for citizens of multiple countries.
In a press release, Ottawa said its task force has will “undertake more engagement activities in the United States and with Canadian multilingual communities in the coming weeks,” but the group only includes Ontario and Quebec.
This week, Conservative MP Ted Falk called on Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to use his Somali language and cultural skills to dissuade more Somalis from making irregular entries and claiming asylum in Canada. Last month, Ottawa sent a Haitian Creole-speaking MP to Miami to speak with Haitians.