Politics

Scheer doesn't belong at Ottawa Pride, LGBTQ author and journalist says

Although the Liberals have been calling on him publicly to end his "lifelong boycott of Pride events," a leading figure in Canada's LGBTQ community says Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has no business attending Pride festivities in Ottawa this weekend — unless he first offers an apology and an explanation of his past views on same-sex marriage.

Writer says Conservative leader must apologize, explain his past views before he can be welcomed

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke out against same-sex marriage as MPs were debating whether to legalize it nearly 15 years ago, and the Liberals are reminding everyone about it while pressuring him to attend the Ottawa Pride parade. Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer arrives at a child care facility in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Christopher Katsarov/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Although the Liberals have been calling on him publicly to end his "lifelong boycott of Pride events," a leading figure in Canada's LGBTQ community says Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has no business attending Pride festivities in Ottawa this weekend — unless he first offers an apology and an explanation of his past views on same-sex marriage.

Rachel Giese, editorial director of the news and culture website Xtra and winner of the 2019 Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing, told CBC Radio's The House on Friday that any politician who has expressed the sort of negative feelings about same-sex couples that Scheer has in the past does not belong at tomorrow's Pride parade in the nation's capital.

"It's an insult to the community," Giese told host Chris Hall. "If he continues to feel the way that he said he felt in 2005 — and we have no reason to believe his views have changed at all — then I think it's best he stays away from Pride."

But she didn't spare the Liberals from her scorn, calling the video a "strange" tactic and accusing them of "exploiting the community to take a hit at the Conservative party."

Her comments came after Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale this week tweeted a video of a 2005 speech Scheer delivered in the House of Commons and called on the Conservative leader to attend Pride events in Ottawa this weekend.

In that speech, the young backbencher opposed the Civil Marriages Act that legalized same-sex marriage in Canada later that year, saying that same-sex couples can't call themselves "married" because they can't have children together naturally.

Scheer went on to describe the concept of same-sex marriage as absurd. "Just because you call a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg," he said. "If this bill passes, governments and individual Canadians will be forced to call a tail a leg, nothing more."

The reappearance of that 2005 speech in the context of the coming federal election — reawakening the same-sex marriage debate years after successive court rulings and an act of Parliament effectively put the issue to bed — has upset many in the LGBTQ community.

"It wasn't easy to relive that moment," Giese said. "I'm old enough to have been around when we had federal politicians debating marriage equality in Canada. It was a distressing time, hearing your human rights and your relationships being debated."

Giese said she doubts a Conservative government elected this fall would go after gay marriage because any attack on marriage equality would be challenged in the courts.

"I think this is fearmongering on an LGBTQ issue that is actually not the most pressing of issues for the community right now," she said.

Views have evolved

This week, Scheer's spokesperson said the Conservative leader "supports same-sex marriage as defined in law and as prime minister will, of course, uphold it."

Putting Goodale in charge of reminding voters of what Scheer said nearly 15 years ago is a "perplexing strategy," Giese said, because Goodale himself voted against a motion to recognize same-sex marriages in 1999 before ultimately voting in favour of the Civil Marriages Act in 2005.

Asked Friday to address this apparent contradiction, Goodale said there's been a "huge evolution" in the public's attitudes toward the LGBTQ community over the past 25 years.

"I, too, have evolved in that period of time," Goodale said.

"The world has moved along in a constructive, progressive, inclusive direction, and it's important for all political leaders to demonstrate that they're part of that."

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