Last Monday, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Chris Alexander stated his commitment to look favourably on claims of prosecution by gay asylum seekers from Russia.
At a citizenship ceremony near Vancouver, Minister Alexander observed that Canada has traditionally been welcoming to asylum seekers, and that it will consider those being persecuted due to their sexual orientation as legitimate asylum claimants.
“refugee claims related to this particular issue will of course be looked at very seriously by our very generous system,” told Minister Alexander to local media. “This is a rights issue and Canadian values … require us to speak up when those rights are violated in gross ways.”
The federal government`s welcoming refugee stand towards gay Russian asylum claimants is a response to Russia`s catch-all new law banning gay “propaganda,” a policy that penalizes all forms of events and information distribution on “non-traditional” relationships, as well as exposes to prosecution all those who publicly express pro-gay views or behaviour.
Nicole Laviolette, University of Ottawa law professor who specializes in refugee law, said that Russia used to produce significant numbers of asylum claimants based on sexual orientation grounds in the early 1990s, but that this number had dropped in later years as the country temporarily softened its homophobic stances.
However, in spite of the fact that Russia decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990`s, homophobia has remained deeply engrained among the Russian population and, in turn, among governmental authorities and policy makers. “Now, we see there`s a complete roll back on gay and lesbian rights,” said Laviolette. “I do think we could see an increase in people having to flee … we could see an increase in claims again.”
Canada has had a long standing positive reputation for being welcoming among the international homosexual community. It accepts homosexual asylum seekers in the same way as it accepts members of any other persecuted group for religious or ethnic reasons. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, 48 claims have already been submitted by asylum seekers who fear of prosecution as a result of their sexual orientation. Of those claims, 35 per cent were accepted. Similarly, last year, 166 Russians sought refugee status in Canada. Of those claims, almost 60 per cent were accepted.
Canada is not alone in publicly denouncing this new law as an attack on civil liberties. Political leaders from Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United states have also spoken out against the laws.