Why did Canada take days to respond to the reported Chechen deaths?

Foreign affairs minister tells Xtra she’s ‘looking into ways’ to support LGBT Russians

The federal government faces mounting pressure to respond to reports of gay men being rounded up and killed in Russia.

On April 1, 2017, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that as many as 100 gay men in the Chechnya region had been detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” according to a New York Times translation.

The paper, known in Russia for its investigative clout, named three men purportedly killed by Chechen officials. The region’s leader denied the reports by claiming gay people “don’t exist” in Chechnya.

“Some news reports outside Russia have referred to the secret prisons as ‘concentration camps,’” notes fact-checking website Snopes.com, “but it is unclear from the evidence at hand to what degree the comparison may be apt.”

On April 7, the US State Department expressed concern about “numerous credible reports” while Britain’s foreign minister called on Russia to investigate the situation.

In Ottawa, two gay NDP members of Parliament asked the Liberals to follow suit.

MP Sheri Benson asked the Liberals on April 7 to formally condemn the reported “torture, humiliation and abuse.”

On April 11, MP Randall Garrison accused the government of using “symbols and platitudes” instead of calling for an “international investigation” of the arrests and torture. The government responded by noting it appointed an LGBTQ advisor, MP Randy Boissonnault. Though Boissonnault has not yet responded to Xtra’s request for comment, he publicly tweeted his concern and support for the LGBT community in Chechnya shortly before Xtra published this story.

Prior to Boissonnault’s tweet, Xtra asked foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland about the situation in an April 11 media conference call.

Credit: @R_Boissonnault/Twitter

“I’m extremely concerned about these reports that we are hearing from Russia,” she said. “Canada strongly stands up for those rights, in Canada and around the world.”


Freeland noted that she visited queer groups in Ukraine last summer, where groups are gaining more acceptance and visibility “in a region that has been hostile to LGBTQ rights.”

“I do really want the LGBTQ community in Russia, including in Chechnya, to know that it has Canada’s strong support,” she said. “And we will be looking into ways that we can make that support further manifest.”

(Editor’s note, April 12, 2017: This story has been updated to include Randy Boissonnault’s tweets on Chechnya, and the headline has been corrected accordingly.)

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