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Equality and human rights in the Commonwealth

17 May 2023

To mark this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a Commonwealth Parliamentarian from Canada, Senator René Cormier, shares his experience.


Advancing human rights for all is an incremental initiative but we must show courage to face every challenge

Being a 2SLGBTQI+* Canadian Parliamentarian is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. In the past, becoming a Parliamentarian was virtually impossible for us. It is thanks to the commitment of the 2SLGBTQI+ communities and the bold work of some legislators that progress has been made allowing me to assert my sexual orientation with more confidence.

*2SLGTBQI+ is an acronym for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex and the plus reflects the affirmative ways in which people choose to self-identify.

I fully understood the importance of my role as a legislator when I sponsored two Bills in the Senate of Canada. In 2018, one year after my appointment, I was asked to be a sponsor of Bill C-66, which sought to correct the historical injustice of criminalizing sexual activity between consenting same-sex adults by allowing for the expungement of their criminal records. While the Bill contained some provisions that were a step in the right direction, it had some significant flaws. For example, the offences relating to a common bawdy-house ("gay meeting places") that were also used in the major raids of the 1970s were excluded from its scope. Having myself narrowly escaped a police raid on a bar on Stanley Street in Montreal at that time, this Bill took on a special meaning. Although it was passed in 2018, it wasn't until March 2023 that the offences relating to a common bawdy-house was finally added to this legislation, allowing for the expungement of many criminal records. As a legislator, I realised then that it takes time, patience, collaboration and determination to advance human rights. The evolution of Bill C-66 was an important learning experience in that advancing human rights is an incremental initiative.

In 2021, as a sponsor, I also had a front row seat to the passage of Bill C-4 to criminalize conversion therapy practices. Today, despite its passage, we must be vigilant in ensuring its implementation.

Canada, as a member of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, understands the importance of working together to ensure that human rights are respected around the world. In 2021, I had the honor as a Canadian Parliamentarian to participate in the Europride in Belgrade, Serbia. While recognising the tireless work of LGBTI activists in that country, I was able to witness the challenges that this community still faces today. I salute the resilience and determination of the organisations and individuals with whom I had the privilege of marching despite the ban imposed by the Serbian authorities during this event. This experience allowed me to appreciate how essential solidarity between countries is to ensure the advancement of human rights. This solidarity is galvanizing and hopeful for those who work hard to advance 2SLGBTQI+ rights under difficult conditions. Alone we go faster, but together we go further.

Until there is full equity between the rights of all human beings, there will always be battles to be fought. In Canada, we have a record number of 2SLGBTQI+ Parliamentarians and many allies, which undoubtedly influences the progressive landscape of 2SLGBTQI+ rights. More can be done. It is in this context that we have created the Canadian Pride Caucus, whose primary objective is to work in a non-partisan manner to advance the rights of 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada and beyond, while ensuring active dialogue with civil society organizations. As co-chair of this caucus, I look forward to working collaboratively with my fellow 2SLGBTQI+ Parliamentarians.

In closing, I reiterate that progress on 2SLGBTQI+ rights is incremental, but we cannot tolerate the status quo and must show courage and commitment in the face of setbacks and the many challenges still present in the world.

Senator René Cormier is an Independent Senator from Canada. He is the co-chair of the Canadian Pride Caucus in the Federal Parliament of Canada and a member of the Steering Committee of the Global Equality Caucus.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and should not be attributed to the CPA or individual Parliaments.