Marginalized communities’ concerns not election focus, expert says

From L to R: Bill Morneau (LIB); Chris Tolley (green); Craig Scott (NDP) at LGBTQ debate held in Toronto on Thurs, Sept 24, 2015. (Brent Jolly)

The continual jockeying by mainstream political parties to be seen as champions of the middle class, in the eyes of the electorate, has meant that the concerns of many marginalized communities have fallen by the wayside during the election campaign.

One glaring example of this is the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community, says Kyle Kirkup, a 2013 Trudeau Foundation Scholar at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law.

“The Conservatives have stopped attending debates where LGBTQ issues are discussed,” says Kirkup. “At the same time, we haven’t heard much from the NDP and the Liberals about how their parties would better protect LGBTQ rights, either.”

Last week, debates on LGBTQ issues were held in Toronto and Ottawa on successive evenings. At both events the NDP, Liberal and Green parties were represented. The Conservatives, however, declined to send a candidate or spokesperson to highlight their party’s position.

Kirkup says the issue of LGBTQ rights is something voters — and elected officials — should be talking about given that two prominent pieces of legislation were tabled during the previous session of Parliament.

The first of these bills, C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, is now law.

Under this legislation, Kirkup says the government has, essentially criminalized prostitution by punishing sex workers who solicit business near places such as public parks. While the objective of the legislation was to quash the demand for sex work, he says, it will only force the industry underground to avoid police detection, and will make those who ply their trade more vulnerable to violence.

The other piece of legislation, C-279, is commonly known as the ‘bathroom bill.’ This private member’s bill was put forward by an NDP MP in 2013 with the objective of adding gender identity to both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code.

Despite passing the final vote in the House of Commons, with some support from all parties, the legislation died in the Senate before the election was called because Sen. Don Plett proposed amendments that stalled the approval process.

Brought together, these actions have exhibited very little goodwill on the part of the federal government to build bridges with groups typically seen as “others,” says Susan Gapka, chair of the Trans Lobby Group.

“As a society, we should be judged by how we treat those who are most vulnerable,” she says. “Unfortunately, the federal government has been lagging behind on making laws that promote the equality of LGBTQ peoples.”

Given the growing attention being paid of late to LGBTQ issues in media and popular culture, Gapka says she hopes this will help lay the foundation for conversation and understanding between her community and “straight” society, even if the discussion has been largely absent from the hustings during this campaign.

If discussion does increase during the homestretch of the campaign, she says, hopefully, the debate will focus attention on protecting the well-being of citizens, rather than “just being another political football that gets thrown around.”