'I take full responsibility'

A day after the Jason Kenney’s press secretary said “the minister’s signature isn’t on any decision note or anywhere else,” Mr. Kenney rose during Question Period and said, “I take full responsibility for Discover Canada.”

That was in response to Olivia Chow’s first question. With her follow-up, she suggested “newcomers need to know that gay-bashing is illegal” and that “they need to know that gay marriage is to be celebrated.” Mr. Kenney responded that perhaps he has “a higher estimation than the member does about new Canadians” and that he does not believe “that new Canadians are potential gay-bashers.”

This particular point is perhaps interesting because the new citizenship guide does specifically warn that Canada does not tolerate “spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence.”

The full exchanges between Marlene Jennings and Kenney and Chow and Kenney after the jump.

L’hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.): Monsieur le Président, il devient maintenant de plus en plus clair que ce guide sur la citoyenneté canadienne est plutôt un guide sur la citoyenneté conservatrice. Je comprends que le ministre n’est pas d’accord avec le mariage entre conjoints de même sexe, mais il ne peut pas choisir les droits fondamentaux qu’il veut faire respecter et les autres qu’il veut supprimer. Le ministre peut-il expliquer pourquoi il a volontairement biffé toute référence à la légalisation du mariage gai dans son guide partisan?

L’hon. Jason Kenney (ministre de la Citoyenneté, de l’Immigration et du Multiculturalisme, PCC): Monsieur le Président, je crois que la contestation de ce document est malheureuse. Il était bien accepté même par les députés du parti de ma collègue. L’ancien guide, publié sous le gouvernement libéral, ne faisait aucune mention des gais et lesbiennes au Canada, ni du droit de vote pour les femmes, ou de l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes au Canada, de la taxe d’entrée pour les Chinois, de l’internement pendant les guerres, de la Révolution tranquille, de Louis Riel, du gouvernement responsable, des sports, des artistes et des héros canadiens. Cela ne faisait même pas référence au sacrifice des soldats canadiens durant les deux guerres du siècle dernier. Toutes ces choses sont mentionnées dans notre document.

Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the minister takes the gold for skating. The Conservative government always refuses to take responsibility for its actions, shifting the blame to public servants and to political staffers. The government cannot pick and choose which equality rights to respect. The minister should admit that it was wrong to censor out this fundamental right or tell us whose rights are next on the Conservative chopping block, women, visible minorities, the disabled? Whose rights are next?

Hon. Jason Kenney (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, CPC): Mr. Speaker, after her party originally endorsed Discover Canada, it is unfortunate to hear her efforts to politicize it. I take full responsibility for the content of that document, which according to The Globe and Mail is “a welcome move that places a new and appropriate emphasis on Canada’s history and personalities”. The guide published under the Liberal government made zero mention of gays or lesbians, women’s voting rights, equality of men and women, aboriginal residential schools, the Chinese head tax, wartime internment, the Quiet Revolution, Louis Riel, responsible government, Canadian sports, artists, heroes, Remembrance Day or even the 110,000 Canadians who died in the two wars in the last century.—

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP): Mr. Speaker, memos show that references to gay rights were shamefully deleted from the citizenship guide at the behest of the immigration minister. Half a million copies have been printed with gay history censored. The minister will not take responsibility and instead leaving his staff to blame. That simply is not acceptable. Will the minister do the right thing, admit his mistakes, stop laughing about this and immediately apologize to Canadians?

Hon. Jason Kenney (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I take full responsibility for Discover Canada. About that the Montreal Gazette that “The 62-page guide is a solid step toward a healthy self-respecting Canadian nationalism we can all share”. Maclean’s said, “The remedy of the historical oversights of the previous versions the new citizenship guide also provides clear-eyed and forceful statements of the expectations of current Canadian values”. The old study guide, the one that is replaced, had zero mention of gays and lesbians in Canada. We corrected that in the new guide. However it is true, there is no section on marriage, there never was, and we are proud of this guide. We believe it does reflect the diversity of Canada.

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP): Mr. Speaker, newcomers need to know that gay-bashing is illegal. They need to know that gay marriage is to be celebrated. Is the minister saying that those important elements of Canadian law should not be made known to new Canadians? Why is it missing? Why is it censored away from the new citizenship guide? Canadians are tolerant, peace-loving and we value our freedom. Let us make sure that newcomers are welcomed in this spirit. Will the minister immediately restore this reference to gay rights and gay history to the citizenship guide right now?

Hon. Jason Kenney (Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, CPC): Mr. Speaker, perhaps I have a higher estimation than the member does about new Canadians. I do not believe that new Canadians are potential gay-bashers. I believe that new Canadians come here to respect our laws and the dignity of other Canadians. We make very clear in this document that was well accepted right across, I believe, the political spectrum, right across the country, that there are rights and responsibilities, and among those responsibilities are following the laws and respecting the dignity of all Canadians. I am proud that this is the first citizenship guide that does mention gay and lesbian Canadians, unlike the one that it replaces.

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