Canada pushes Russia on gay rights in leadup to Sochi


Canada wants Russia to end discrimination against gays — both during the Sochi Winter Olympics and afterwards.

In a letter obtained by the Star, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urges Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to act in the “Olympic spirit” of fairness and tolerance and uphold human rights for Russians — as well as foreign visitors — regardless of sexual orientation.

“In the leadup to Sochi, Canada remains concerned about the legislation passed in June 2013 that places a ban on the ‘propagandizing of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,’ ” Baird says in the Dec. 11 letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Baird says the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee have received assurances from Moscow that the June 2013 law will not affect those taking part in the Sochi Games.

But, Baird adds, “we encourage the Russian Federation to extend to all its citizens — as well as foreign visitors — full human rights protections, including freedom from violence, harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Russia’s anti-gay laws have become a flashpoint in advance of the Feb. 7-23 Olympics in Sochi.

U.S. President Barack Obama will not be attending the Games and the White House has said the American delegation in Sochi would include three openly gay athletes: former tennis star Billie Jean King, Olympic figure-skating champion Brian Boitano and Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow.

“I think the delegation speaks for itself,” Obama told reporters last week when asked if the group’s makeup was intended to send a message to Putin.

“When it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we do not make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation,” Obama commented. “We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field.”

Canada has yet to name its Olympic delegation but Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be attending, according a PMO spokesperson.

In his letter to Lavrov, Baird says Ottawa has established a consular strategy to manage any issues that may come up during the Games. Baird says he is confident that Canada can count on full co-operation from Russian authorities, including “speedy and regular access to any Canadian citizen, should the need arise.”

“In the circumstances that any cases arise, our ability to respond quickly and effectively will contribute to the international perception of the success of the Games,” Baird writes.

Federal officials said a Canadian consular team will be deployed to Sochi to provide assistance to Canadians who might encounter problems. A consular office will be open at the Games and staff will also be reachable on-site 24 hours a day, officials said.

Russian authorities have yet to respond to Baird’s letter, federal officials said.

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