Interview with Randy Boissonnault
March 13, 201713 March 2017
Randy Boissonnault, the MP for Edmonton Centre, is the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues. His job is to advise on the federal government’s advancement of the LGBTQ2 agenda, working to promote equality for the LGBTQ2 community, protecting its members’ rights, and addressing discriminatory practices against them. Michael Motala interviewed him for CBA National.
Michael Motala: Last June Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Egale's Just Society Report, saying the government shared the same values and objectives and that it would work with Egale “to end discrimination and further guarantee equality for all citizens." Can you please elaborate on what those values and objectives are?
Randy Boissonnault: The values are pretty clear. We believe fundamentally that we are stronger because of our differences, [we are] a welcoming country and that includes LGBTI newcomers in the regular immigration stream, but also LGBTI refugees. This is a place where you can come and you can be who you're meant to be and you have protection under the Charter’s rights freedoms to worship if you want to worship, to love who you want to love and that you're not going to be discriminated against.
In terms of some of the objectives, we [introduced] legislation to have gender diversity and gender expression written into the six sections of the Criminal Code but also to protect people under the Canadian Human Rights Act. That passed the House of Commons; it just last week passed second reading in the Senate. Now, it's going to one of the senate justice committees, then will go to the Senate for a vote. We need to see that get over the goal line, but that's progress.
Just [last week] the Minister of Justice put a piece of legislation in front of the House that will get rid of Section 159 [of the Criminal Code], an anti-sodomy provision that's just going to come off the books. Just the fact that the Prime Minister has announced a special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues is an indication of where our government's heading.
MM: How does the government respond to groups that have been extremely disappointed with the pace at which this process is unfolding?
RB: We need to be very clear about all the work that is happening behind the scenes in the government that people on the ground are unable to see. We have been working towards making improvements to the lives of LGBTQ2 communities including some of the repeat of the legislation that I referenced earlier. […] We will take exactly the right amount of time to get an apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians right. […] It would be a mistake to rush to an apology and have it not broadly accepted. Part of my role across the country is to listen is to a board swath of Canadians and the LGBTQ2 community so that we understand all the elements that need to be part of an apology. It is also very important for Canadians to understand and that includes member of the LGBTQ2 community to understand that there are two class actions that are taking place right now. One in English Canada and one in French Canada and [some] of the plaintiffs […] are meeting with Justice lawyers.
We can’t apologize until we know what happened. I can’t know what happened until both sides sit down and talk. They are talking but they have to come to an end point in the class action negotiation with Justice before part of my role can continue.
It takes a while to get all of the different pieces moving and in place, and so there is progress. I understand that some members may feel like the process could be faster.
MM: Can we expect to see the following: an apology, an end to the MSM blood ban, and work on training police and prosecutors vis-à-vis LGBT issues within the next few years of your mandate?
RB: What I can say is that we are fully mindful of the items that are in the Egale [Just Society Report] and the Dignity Initiative report, and we've identified those issues. We are looking at other recommendations in the Egale report; the [Justice] Minister and I announced in December our process to work with Crown prosecutors across the country with prosecutory guidelines regarding victimization of HIV. Now, this is where we have to [rely on] science [and] public health agencies. They can show us that low viral loads mean that transmission is not possible, then we can include that in prosecution guidelines and that can then help Crowns understand there's no need to process it or proceed with a charge.
MM: Final question. With the Orlando massacre in United States, Brexit, and President Trump rolling back protections for transgendered people, do you see the global context as a threat or an opportunity for Canada's LGBTIQ2S efforts?
RB: I'm not going to sugarcoat this for anybody, there's work to be done in our own country. This isn't about international winning hearts and minds; this is the work we have to do on the ground. If we have to do work in a city like Toronto, then we have a lot of work to do in every part of the country […] so that LGBTQ2 Canadians in rural Canada don't feel isolated and victimized or discriminated against. We have a lot of work to do within the community so that we understand as best as we can what it's like to be a trans person in 2017. We have a lot of work to understand the realities of being a queer personal of color. What's it like to be an LGBTQ2 person who has a disability? What's it like to be a two-spirited person who's First Nation's society may not want anything to do with them. There was an awful lot of work for us to do in our own back yard and we are very focused on that and we will be working with the civil society, we will be working with provisional territorial government and we will demonstrate continued leadership in our own country and what we can do.
When we are abroad, we have conversations and it might be with officials of the government. Every relationship that we have with another country is a one on one relationship. Sometimes we can work with civil society organizations in that country more easily than we can work with legislators. If there isn’t a one size fits all approach and we know if we go into certain countries too strongly, we do more harm on the ground than help. That is not what we want, we want to avoid those situations.
This interview transcript has been edited and condensed for publication.