REAL Women of Canada, a privately funded socially conservative group, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is imposing his own views on Uganda, Kenya and Russia when he criticizes those countries for passing legislation targeting homosexuals.
The group, which describes itself as a "pro-family conservative women's movement," issued a press release Wednesday decrying what it called Baird's "abuse of office" and his awarding of a $200,000 grant to "special interest groups" in Uganda and Kenya "to further his own perspective on homosexuality."
REAL Women also lambasted Baird for admitting he worked extensively behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to pass laws restricting foreign adoption of Russian children by gay couples and cracking down on gay rights activism to control the spread of "homosexual propaganda."
Finally, the press release states, "Mr. Baird's actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party."
Asked for comment, a spokesman for Baird's office said in a statement, "The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy.
"Canada stands up for human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Rick Roth said.
Roth compared the criminalization of homosexuality to the suppression of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression. He continued, "This is not a left versus right issue. This is a position that is supported by a vast majority of Canadians."
In a telephone interview with CBC News, Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, disputed that defending the rights of gays and lesbians is a human rights issue in other countries.
"According to the culture and the religion of, you know, Uganda it's not a human rights issue. You can't imply that every country has to take our human rights issues and plunk it down in another country. And particularly when you're spending all that taxpayers' money to implement a standard which is not that of that country," she said.
When asked about reports that Uganda has considered the death penalty as punishment for having homosexual relations, Landolt said, "It may be unwise by Western standards, but who are we to interfere in a sovereign country?"
The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment.
Alex Neve of Amnesty International said Baird is making a clear and principled statement.
"This is not about Canadian values and Canadian interests, this is about international human rights standards," Neve told CBC News. "The kinds of issues that Mr. Baird has been flagging in countries like Russia and Uganda contravene not only our laws and principles here in Canada, they contravene standards that are guaranteed under international treaties."
Uganda, which has laws that impose 14-year sentences for homosexual behaviour, has not yet passed even harsher legislation that could include life sentences and penalties for Ugandans who don't report homosexual activity.
Criticizes Baird for 'insulting' Uganda
The REAL Women's press release criticized Baird for "insulting" the speaker of the Ugandan parliament at an international meeting in Quebec City, where Baird spoke out against Uganda's position on homosexuality.
The press release also singled out Baird for telling The Canadian Press last week that he had worked to prevent Russia from passing its anti-gay laws. Baird outlined the details of eight meetings, dating back to January, during which Canadian officials pushed the issue with the Russians, before and after President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial bill into law in June.
While Russia's law isn't nearly as harsh as Uganda's, it imposes fines for spreading information about gay choices to minors, and it bans gay pride rallies. Baird told The Canadian Press he plans to work with like-minded countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to pressure the Russian government to change the law ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
Landolt also was critical of U.S. President Barack Obama for speaking out about gay discrimination abroad. "Obama was in Africa in June, and every country he tried to come in and say, you know, 'you've got to have our standards on homosexuality and our law,' he was really really unpopular to say the least. And the leaders of the countries told him to shut up and butt out," she said.
However, Wednesday Obama cancelled a planned September meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the White House cited Russia's sheltering of Edward Snowden, the leaker of American national security information, as the primary reason for backing out, it also mentioned issues of "human rights and civil society" in Russia in the last 12 months as another source of discord.
Offer to meet with Real Women
A source in Foreign Affairs said the department has offered to meet with REAL Women to explain its position on opposing the criminalization of homosexuality. Attempts by CBC News to contact REAL Women again to confirm whether it agreed to such a meeting were unsuccessful.
In the press release, Landolt characterized Baird's views as that of a "left-wing elitist" and said, "These are not conservative values, and that of grassroots Canada, who, after all, pay the bulk of the taxes."
However, another conservative group, the non-governmental aid organization Crossroads Christian Communications, supports Baird's position.
In a statement issued in February, the group said, "Crossroads supports the Canadian government's position that strongly opposes the criminalization of homosexuality and violence on the basis of sexual orientation."
This was after The Canadian Press pointed out Crossroads' website referred to homosexuality as a "perversion" and a "sin" while at the same time the organization was accepting a half-million dollar grant from CIDA. Crossroads explained that the section of the website was there inadvertently and was meant to be taken down.
Last year, REAL Women of Canada was one of the groups invited by the government to select recipients of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medals.