15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
— Matthew 7:15 – 20
Gwen Landolt, of R.E.A.L. Women of Canada (RWoC), has drawn fire for a press release she sent out last week, in which she condemned Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s support for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in highly oppressive nations like Uganda and Russia. Landolt takes issue with government agencies advocating for their safety both publicly and behind the scenes.
What her action has really done, though, was to expose the naked truth about the attitudes held by some of the leaders and spokespeople of some of Canada’s far-right organizations, and the depths of their intolerance.
What remains to be seen is whether Canadians will sit up and take notice of what has in fact been a growing trend.
The press release criticizes Baird for “[abusing] his position as a cabinet minister to impose his own special interests in the foreign countries of Uganda, Kenya and Russia,” saying:
“He awarded $200,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money by way of the Department of Foreign Affairs to special interest groups in Uganda and Kenya to further his own perspective on homosexuality. He also insulted the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, at a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Quebec City when he criticized Uganda for its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage…
“Last week, Baird admitted working extensively behind the scenes to prevent Russia from passing legislation designated to protect Russian minors from homosexual propaganda. Baird blasted these laws as hateful, anti-gay and intolerant. Russia has also restricted foreign adoption of Russian children after incidents of horrendous child abuse; for example, adoptive “fathers” in Australia together with other men, sexually abused a 6 year old boy, starting at 22 months of age, born of a Russian surrogate mother…”
“Pro-Life” Apparently has an Exception
What Landolt is deliberately omitting is the fact that the attention being paid to Uganda specifically has to do with its Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which had at its genesis included a death penalty for homosexuality. While this death penalty may or may not still be in the bill (which is awaiting reintroduction and being kept somewhat secret, at the moment), homosexuality is already criminalized in Uganda with sentences of up to 14 years in prison, and the bill would add several alarming new dimensions, including:
- A definition of “homosexuality” which is so vague that almost anyone could be convicted of it;
- A definition of “aggravated homosexuality” which is overly-broad, and includes “serial” offences. If the death sentence remains in the bill, then aggravated homosexuality is the charge to which it would apply;
- A weird “intent to commit” clause that could open any physical contact to interpretation;
- A financial incentive for people to accuse others of trying to seduce them;
- The targeting of friends, family and landowners for aiding / abetting LGBT people, for failing to report LGBT people, and for renting a room to LGBT people;
- The criminalization of advocacy for or even defending an LGBT person, with a sentence of 5 – 7 years (criminalization of LGBT advocacy has also been an objective in recent bills proposed in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others); and
- The criminalization of anyone who fails to report in under 24 hours anyone who is gay, who witnessed a same-sex wedding (it’s unclear if said wedding had to occur in Uganda), who rents a room to a gay person, and more, with a sentence of up to 3 years.
Landolt’s characterization of Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” bill is no better. She repeats the Russian claim that the bill is to protect minors, even though the law applies to virtually any positive portrayal of LGBT people, and in any public or Internet space. Emboldened by the passage of the legislation and the sentiment surrounding it, violence and predation has surged dramatically.
More importantly, Gwen Landolt demonstrated that she is aware of the facts she is omitting… and doesn’t care. In an interview with CBC, she made a weird argument that a human rights issue isn’t a human rights issue if the nation in which it is occurring doesn’t consider it to be a human rights issue. And then, she went further:
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?”
A Far Right Group Implodes
This was too much for even Canada’s ideological right, drawing criticism from Barbara Kay, of the National Post, who said that Landolt “set at an unbridgeable distance well-wishers and occasional collaborators,” herself included:
Does she realize the implications of what she has said? And from whose moral-relativist playbook she has drawn this leaf?
… If Ms. Landolt believes it is justifiable to ignore the persecution of people whose beliefs or behaviours she is unsympathetic to, as long as it is happening elsewhere, she has lost the moral authority to criticize persecution in other countries of those whose beliefs and behaviours she *is* sympathetic to.
Kay closed by speculating that R.E.A.L. Women of Canada “may just have imploded,” while other conservative writers are dismissively writing off RWoC with characterizations like “a housewives’ advocacy group that’s view of women was frozen in time around 1958.”
R.E.A.L. Women of Canada presents itself as “one of Canada’s leading women’s organizations,” but has for decades has been directly opposed to feminism and womens’ issues that they find theologically offensive, such as abortion, contraception, sex work, affirmative action and even unions (which have driven several of the gains that women have made in the workplace). RWoC also has a reputation for trying to stymie international initiatives to better the lives of women, if those initiatives include reproductive rights (i.e. contraception), LGBT rights, feminist objectives and more. They have acted as legal interveners on nearly every major social issue that has come before Canadian high courts, including a 1993 attempt to prohibit abortion, the 1999 ruling that gave same-sex couples the same legal and economic rights as opposite-sex couples, the legal battle over whether spanking was child abuse, a court decision on whether safe injection sites could be legalized, a few different cases where they attempted to establish legal personhood for the foetus, and the Supreme Court’s hearing on the sex work. Gwen Landolt is famous for apologizing to the world on Canada’s behalf when Canada legalized same-sex marriage, and earlier this year, R.E.A.L. Women of Canada claimed that extending human rights protections to trans people was a plot to normalize pedophilia.
It remains to be seen if the group’s special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations will be affected by Landolt’s antics.
Fringe ≠ Alone
Gwen Landolt’s devil-may-care attitude is far from unique among the Canadian far right. (And it is at this point that I need to clarify why I use the phrase “far right” so much, and “Christian” not at all. Although many of the ideological far right phrase their perspective as being Christian, it is not truly representative of Christian faiths, at least a few of whom are LGBT-affirming. I believe it’s important to make that distinction for many reasons, including the fact that this clarification dispels the belief that there is an inherent and irreconcilable conflict between LGBT human rights and religious freedom).
Indeed, it takes little time to find other far-right figures sharing similar perspectives.
RWoC’s frequent collaborator, LifeSiteNews (the media arm of Campaign Life Coalition), has lauded Nigeria for its anti-LGBT legislative proposals, and also applauded Uganda’s refusal to bow to pressure to drop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, in 2009. They later softened the stance on Uganda’s bill, but continue to collaborate with an organization singled out as one of three key groups fomenting anti-gay hatred in Africa. LSN and C-FAM have also portrayed Russia’s anti-gay law as one of protecting children from the promotion of “deviant sexual behaviors,” saying that the suggestion that the law is a form of discrimination “appears to be more hyperbole than anything else.” LSN even recently attacked American televangelist Pat Robertson for not being extreme enough. Naturally, the website has also posted a more-or-less one-sided article echoing Gwen Landolt’s sentiments, and posting the Prime Minister’s office information so that readers can flood him with same.
Although less known, Ron Gray, RoadKill Radio host and former leader of the Christian Heritage Party, also touted Russia’s anti-gay law as something that Canada should strive for, adding (barely a minute into the video):
“People who take children to watch a gay pride parade, for example, or in any way put such propaganda on innocent children are in my mind actually guilty of child abuse. And that goes for teachers, politicians, and media types who tell children the lie that homosexuality is praiseworthy…”
RKR has also campaigned against LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, networked with Scott Lively (an architect of both Uganda’s and Russia’s infamous laws), and has also been guilty of obscuring facts about Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
When Was the Last Time an American Conservative Wanted to Emulate Russia?
Gwen Landolt’s comments also come at a time when American far right groups are trumpeting Russia’s law in similar fashion, and encouraging developing something similar on this continent, such as this declaration from a National Organization for Marriage spokesman:
With the battle for the family waging across this nation, instead of condemning a sovereign nation for its laws we need to be changing ours. The family unit is under attack and we must stand against those who want to redefine and destroy it. The family is the foundation of a society and the glue that holds it together. I applaud the Russians for taking a stand for children!
The day may be coming soon in which Canadians will need to decide whether these things are truly representative of the Christian perspective, or whether “Christian” is being exploited as an excuse to hate.
While it is tempting to dismiss Gwen Landolt and R.E.A.L. Women of Canada as being “fringe,” it’s important to realize that their ambivalence toward the lives and well-being of LGBT people is not occurring in a vacuum. It’s also important to know that given the group’s seeming ability to regularly circumvent Parliamentary process so that they can be added on to committee and Senatorial meetings (as happened on at least two occasions with the recent trans human rights bill C-279), it has not been without its influence. Indeed, the press release was just starting to appear on news sites’ front pages, when senior Foreign Affairs officials already met with RWoC representatives to hear their grievances. “Fringe” isn’t supposed to have government departments on speed dial.
They Hypocrisy of Crying Colonialism
And what’s more, Canada’s ideological far right seems to be unable to recognize that these attitudes are indeed hateful, and out-of-step with Canadians. Instead, Landolt says:
Mr. Baird’s actions are highly offensive to conservative taxpayers. He cannot and must not undermine other countries’ sovereignty and dignity, rooted in stable family structures and religious faith, in order to impose his own value system on them.
Incidentally, Landolt’s discussion of sovereignty and accusation of colonialism is curious, in that this tactic is the means by which American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have successfully swayed discussion in many African nations. Given that many countries on that continent suffered under colonial rule and are still relatively recent to sovereign status, it is an accusation that resonates with many African peoples, who still desire to resist western influence and remain self-determining.
Ironically, the tactic is being used to deflect attention from the fact that those same Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are attempting to export their homophobia to Africa, a continent where anti-gay sentiment and rhetoric was not previously of any significance.
And if RWoC is aware of and careful to use similar talking points, then it’s safe to say that their — and Landolt’s — attitudes have not developed in a vacuum.