Commonwealth countries ignoring hatred, Baird says

Canada won't stand by while its "Commonwealth cousins" criminalize homosexuality and ignore fundamental freedoms, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a U.K. audience Monday.

Foreign affairs minister cites China, Iran for religious intolerance

Canada won't stand by as other Commonwealth countries ignore basic human rights and criminalize homosexuality, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday in London. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada won't stand by while its "Commonwealth cousins" criminalize homosexuality and ignore other fundamental freedoms, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday in a sweeping speech about human rights.

Speaking to an audience in London, England, Baird said Canada and the U.K. share values and won't compromise on basic rights.

"Dozens of Commonwealth countries currently have regressive and punitive laws on the books that criminalize homosexuality," Baird said in his prepared text. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

"We will continue to press countries in the Commonwealth to live up to their international obligations, and uphold the basic contract any government should have with its people. To inform, to educate, to be tolerant and accepting."

Baird said Canada will speak out on issues that matter to Canadians, including on how women are treated around the world, the persecution of gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgendered people, and targeted attacks on those practicing their faith.

"We will not sit in our far-off homes and plead ignorance to crimes against those who seek the same freedoms we enjoy," he said.

Religious minorities in China, Iran

Baird's speech mentions China, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit next month, citing raids against Roman Catholics and other Christians and harassment of "Falun Gong practitioners," Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims.

Baird also singles out Egypt, where Coptic Christians have been attacked, and Iran.

"Nowhere is religious intolerance more present than in Iran. Baha'i's and Christians are consistently threatened with death and torture for simply believing," Baird's speech reads.

Last November, Baird took on Nigeria when the country considered toughening anti-gay laws and punishing same-sex marriages with 14-year jail terms.

A month before that, Canada was one of the countries pushing at a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government for member states to decriminalize homosexuality.

Baird says he's found as foreign minister that there are times diplomacy must be balanced with tough talk in the course of frank discussions.

"For we cannot be selective in which basic human rights we defend," he said in the text. "Nor can we be arbitrary in whose rights we protect."

Baird also echoed some of the darker themes Prime Minister Stephen Harper has referred to in the past, where Harper talks about new forces rising in the world that Canada must resist.

"Darkness still lives," Baird said. "And so the fight for what is right and just persists."