Vast majority of Canadians support Ottawa's stance on gay rights: Baird

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is brushing off criticism of Ottawa’s defence of sexual minorities’ rights in other countries, saying the vast majority of Canadians support the government’s stance despite claims from a conservative women’s group to the contrary.

“We have put a great deal of emphasis on promoting Canadian values,” Baird told The Canadian Press from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Thursday.

“With respect to sexual minorities, we’ve focused on three things. One, against the criminalization of sexual minorities, two, against violence, and three, against the death penalty — and I think 99.9 per cent of Canadians support us on those three issues.”

Baird also said that political and religious freedoms and women’s rights’, including vocal opposition to rape as a weapon of war and early enforced marriage, are similar Canadian values that the government promotes around the world.

“I don’t know anyone in my party that supports the death penalty for sexual minorities. Not a single person,” Baird said, referring to reports that Uganda has considered the death penalty for homosexual relations.

His comments come in response to an attack from a conservative women’s group, which accused Baird of using taxpayers money to promote “his own personal agenda” and attempting to set standards of the laws of foreign countries.

REAL Women of Canada took issue with Baird’s comments in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, in which he said the Harper government had worked behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to follow through with a controversial anti-gay law.

Baird told The Canadian Press on Aug. 1 that he is deeply concerned that the new Russian law will be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and called the law an ”incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence.”

The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies.

In a letter to Baird that was provided to The Canadian Press, NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar called on him to continue speaking out against the homophobic legislation and attacks on LGBT Russians, in addition to determining ways to support LGBT activists in Russia and “to institute a visa ban for the originators of the law in question.”

“Passage of this legislation has led to mistreatment and persecution of LGBT individuals throughout Russia based solely upon their desire to express themselves and to associate with like-minded individuals and organizations,” Dewar said in the letter.

“Due to the harmful effects this law is having on its own citizens, Russian civil society organizations have rallied to this cause. They have been joined in their efforts by their concerned Canadian counterparts in expressing their discontent over the treatment of LGBT peoples and have voiced their view that this conduct is contrary to our collective Canadian value of respect for human rights.”

The vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, Gwendolyn Landolt, said in a statement on the group’s website on Wednesday that Baird’s actions are ”highly offensive‘‘ to conservative taxpayers.

“Just who does John Baird think he is?” asks Landolt while accusing Baird of using taxpayers’ money to ‘‘promote his own personal agenda and endeavouring to set standards of the laws of foreign countries.‘‘

Landolt says while Baird argues that ‘‘homosexual rights are a ‘Canadian value,’ this applies only to himself and his fellow activists and the left-wing elitists,” and that these are “not conservative values and that of grass roots Canadians.”

Baird is currently on a 13 day trip through Latin America, meeting with political and business leaders.