It hasn’t been an easy year for Annamie Paul. Since she was elected to lead the Green Party of Canada in October 2020, the Toronto-based human rights lawyer-turned-politician has faced a number of crises. She’s still fighting for a seat in Parliament, in a longtime Liberal stronghold. One of just three elected Green MPs crossed the floor to join the Liberal Party in June. And even on the campaign trail, Paul recently admitted she’s wanted to step down and get away from the controversy within her party, if only it wouldn’t leave her candidates in the lurch.
But at a time when the climate crisis has never been more important to address, Paul has to set aside her own party turmoil. And there’s plenty to be proud of: the Green Party elected a historic three MPs in 2019. Paul herself is a trailblazer, the first Black Jewish woman to run a federal party. And under her leadership, Paul wants to make Canada a queerer, greener place.
To learn more about the Green stance on LGBTQ2S+ issues, diversity and climate, Xtra senior editor Erica Lenti spoke with Paul by phone while she campaigned in southeastern Ontario on Sept. 15.
One of the biggest LGBTQ2S+ policy issues this year has been the banning of conversion therapy across the country through Bill C-6. The legislation could not pass before this election was called. How would the Green Party work with other parties to ensure this ban will become law in the next Parliament?
We have been calling it more recently a “conversion practice”—therapy is too generous a word for it. We had supported a ban on the practice well before the introduction of the legislation [in 2020]. It was very, very disappointing to see that it died because we were thrown into this unnecessary and unwanted election. It’s the kind of legislation that all the parties should have been able to rally around and get it done. And we never should have gone into an election without it, because people have been waiting a long time. So we will absolutely work with any party, as always, that supports a ban. And it may be the only silver lining that, if it is reintroduced, we would want to push for that amendment to expand the legislation to also [prohibit the practice for] adults.
Speaking of amendments: there was a lot of criticism from trans and gender nonconforming communities that Bill C-6 did not adequately address conversion therapy that targets gender identity. Will the Green Party work to address this with other parties for the next iteration of the bill?
When we take approaches to either designing legislation or proposing amendments, we know we always need to be guided by those who are most directly impacted. The underlying idea here is that people should just be comfortable and not have anyone question how they choose to identify. We want to have the most expansive definition [of conversion therapy] possible so that no one is subjected to any kind of practice, anything that causes them to feel any pressure to change or alter their identity.
The Green Party platform explicitly calls for actionable measures for the safety and equality of trans and gender nonconforming Canadians—from making it easier to change one’s name on government-issued IDs to making bathrooms in federal buildings gender-neutral. What steps will you take to make these promises a reality?
Regardless of how many Greens head back to Parliament, the community can count on us to not only propose possible legislation on our own, but also to support legislation that is proposed by other parties. And now that people have become far more comfortable with online platforms, we have worked during the pandemic to offer the Green Party platform as often as possible so that the LGBTQ2S+ community and others can speak directly on these issues. We hosted roundtables and panels that we do live on Facebook so that when there is an important piece of legislation that’s either being proposed or one that’s missing, that we can get direct recommendations, direct feedback and most importantly, the community can speak directly to decision-makers about what they want to see. Because we know that in the committee stage, that’s not always a possibility, that groups most affected are shut out. And so that’s another way that we found we can help to highlight concerns, highlight amendments, highlight desired pieces of legislation even as a smaller caucus.
The platform also calls for the end of the blood ban for queer men and trans women. How will the Green Party work with other parties to make this happen?
I just don’t know what else is left to do. When I was running in 2019 for a seat in Toronto Centre, I was interviewed about the blood ban, and I called it unscientific, homophobic, something that promotes stigma and is just illogical. That was in 2019, after already four years of broken promises about ending the blood ban. And in terms of working with other parties, there’s nothing left but action now. We still do not understand why the Liberals have not completely eliminated it. The response is always that they’re guided by the science; I just don’t know what science that is. However many Greens end up back in Ottawa, this is certainly something that we will call for. And if there’s ever any legislation proposed about it, we’ll certainly support it and try to make it as strong as possible. Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to do it ourselves.
You are the only woman leading a federal party, and you are also the only Black and Jewish leader. You’ve spoken quite candidly about systemic racism, discrimination and bigotry in this country. Regardless of who wins the forthcoming election, what steps would you like to see taken by the next federal government to begin addressing systemic racism?
I think the first thing all of our parties need to do is to look inside. It’s very hard to create effective policies externally when there are still so many problems within the political system internally. There’s no party that’s immune to that. We really have to ask ourselves why in 2021, all of these years after Confederation, I still was only the fifth woman to be elected to represent a party with seats in the House. I’m only the second person of colour. We have so many other identities that have never had the opportunity to stand up on the debate stage on behalf of people in Canada. It clearly is not because of a lack of talent. It clearly isn’t because of a lack of interest in our political system. And if that’s not the case, it means that there are tremendous systemic barriers within the parties to the full participation of equity-seeking groups. So that’s the first place to start.
Once you have that in place, a lot of [change] flows out of that. Once you get diversity at decision-making tables, some of these things just go from there. People who have [lived] experience, of course they’re going to bring that policy. Of course they’re going to be able to more easily identify and help dismantle bias and discrimination in the system and design policy that doesn’t have as many unintended consequences. And that’s really what we need, because it’s a holistic approach. We need to make sure that every piece of legislation, every single policy, every single regulation has been filtered through the lens of a commitment to dismantling systemic discrimination. And that only happens if you have greater diversity at the very beginning and the people most directly impacted are involved.
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that, according to an internal report, the Green Party is dealing with serious issues of racism and transphobia, specifically at the governance level. The report also notes that there have been several complaints of offensive conduct that have gone unresolved. Can you speak to how you, as leader of the party, are working to resolve these issues?
One of the things that I’ve tried to do as a leader is I have really committed to not not discussing documents or conversations that are supposed to have been held in a safe space. But I can answer the question more generally without speaking to the specific document.
Just as I said before, issues around discrimination, systemic racism, transphobia—these are things that every party has to acknowledge and grapple with. There are no institutions or parties that are immune—and certainly ours isn’t as well. One of the things that I was elected to do—and I was very clear about it—was to make our party not only the most diverse in Canadian politics, but also the most welcoming and inclusive as well. I don’t have control over all of the levers of the party, and I don’t expect to; we have to work with others. But one of the things that I was able to lead was our Time to Run campaign, which was about attracting new voices to run as candidates in our party and helping put in place a nomination process that would be as open as possible so that people who hadn’t traditionally been part of our party could feel welcome. I’m gratified that, even though we didn’t have a full slate of candidates, we do have 70 percent of them come from equity-seeking groups. And so that is definitely a step forward for the party.
We also have a new federal council, and I’m hoping that they will work to implement the results of a diversity report that was commissioned back in 2020. It’s something that’s very, very important to me, and I hope that will be reflected in the decisions of the rest of the leadership going forward.
The climate crisis is the number-one election issue for many Canadians. The Green Party has always had a focus on the environment, but given that other parties have beefed up their climate plans, why should Canadians vote Green?
Because the other parties have not beefed up the climate plan. It’s one of these areas where, at the end of the day, political parties are going to have to do some soul searching about what their commitment to the future of our planet is. We have academics in our shadow cabinet who study communications on climate, trying to figure out how to communicate messages on the climate in a way that the public can be responsive to. We know how challenging it is. I’ve come to realize that it is very hard for the general public to be able to distinguish between a good plan, a strong plan, a plan that is going to achieve our objectives and a plan that isn’t going to. There’s a lot of numbers about targets and carbon budgets and there’s a lot of technical jargon. And unfortunately, the other political parties have used that in order to make commitments that, even if we were to do everything that they suggested, wouldn’t get us anywhere near reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by the amount that we need to.
The fact is, you cannot continue to build pipelines. We have to stop every new pipeline project right now. We have to stop fracking gas right now. We have to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. We have to stop every single new oil and gas exploration project. This is what other countries who are serious about the climate have been doing, and there is no other party than ours who, at the moment, is committed to that. And I don’t say that with pride. I say that with deep concern because we have very little time left and the parties are still not persuaded. If people are committed to the climate, then every Green they send [to Parliament] is someone who is going to be working very hard to build that cross-party consensus, to get the other parties to respect the science and not confuse the public with false hope about plans that aren’t going to work.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.