Ottawa: Canada has hammered Russia, blasted Uganda and even gone after the US state of Arizona for their anti-gay laws but has remained silent over India re-criminalizing gay sex, upsetting many gay rights activists.
“When Canada does stay silent with respect to a powerful country, a country with whom we do have an important economic relationship, it inevitably leads to the conclusion, right or wrong, that the reason for the silence is the trade relationship,” said Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve in a montrealgazette.com report.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has strongly criticized gay rights abroad but has failed to criticize India.
His silence hasn’t gone unnoticed among some rights advocates who say that the federal Conservative government is actively courting India as a trade partner, and its low-key approach may be designed to keep from angering the emerging economic powerhouse.
India’s Supreme Court in January upheld a colonial-era law that makes gay sex a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A lower court had struck down the law in 2009.
The higher court decision has been described as a dramatic reversal for gay rights in the world’s second-most populous country, putting tens of millions of people at risk of persecution and harassment.
Baird has come down hard on laws that target gays in a number of countries, including Russia, Nigeria and recently, Uganda.
“This act is a serious setback for human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms and deserves to be widely condemned,” Baird said in a statement of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act. “Regrettably, this discriminatory law will serve as an impediment in our relationship with the Ugandan government.”
Baird has even spoken out against a proposed law in the U.S. state of Arizona that would let people refuse service to gays and others because of their religious beliefs. That law, which caused a lot of national and international uproar, was later vetoed by the state governor.
But Baird has said nothing in public about India, reported montrealgazette.com.
Asked about Canada’s position, Baird spokesman Adam Hodge said, “We have a respectful dialogue with the Indian government on these issues, and have raised our concerns with them directly.”
Hodge would not provide further details about any discussions, including when the law might have been raised in conversation, with whom and in what context.
He denied the government’s failure to speak publicly about the anti-gay law was because Canada is pursuing stronger economic relations with India.
Those efforts include free-trade talks between the two countries, a pledge to increase two-way trade to $15 billion by next year, and numerous high-level visits.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to these situations,” Hodge said. “We have to be prudent about how we engage with all countries.”