The on-going altercations between the Canadian and Saudi governments are at an all-time high. Our foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, has rightfully criticized Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses.
Women’s rights are at the centre of this fight, and both Justin Trudeau and Ms. Freeland have indicated they will keep up the pressure for change. This is a decided switch for our country as the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, was a close friend of this Arab nation. He called the king a close ally of Canada and completely ignored the crimes against humanity that have been part of Saudi Arabia for years. The present government must be congratulated for not closing eyes to the abuses.
Women’s rights are at the forefront of our government’s objection, but one must emphasize that abuses of all sorts are dominant in that nation. The countless human rights abuses are horrific and the future looks rather dim. The fact women were given the “right” to drive a car does not indicate that we will see revolutionary changes in attitudes, or indeed the laws.
The LGBTQ+ citizens are also deemed as second-class beings and the following are some of the inhumane treatments that exist in Saudi Arabia. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal. Being gay or transgender are viewed as immoral and indecent activities, and the law punishes acts of “homosexuality” or “cross dressing” with punishments ranging from fines, public floggings, life in prison, torture and even death.
Saudi Arabia has the distinction as being the very worst in human rights abuses. It is a living hell for gays, if found out. In 2002, three men were beheaded for ‘committing homosexual acts.’ Many were arrested between 2005 and 2006 for attending a gay wedding. If one chooses to come out as gay, families will in all likelihood disown them. A 15 year-old boy who told his parents he was gay was kicked out of the house and his family threatened to kill him, telling him could never return home. The boy, named Roshan, committed suicide eight days later. If found out, a stoning to death may be the punishment.
Trade agreements sometime will interfere with the call for human rights, as is the case in the United States. When Donald Trump paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, he praised the king and the government for showing huge support for the U.S. Trump, with a huge grin, and seemingly proud of the fact that support was no doubt for him personally, signed away any hope to criticize the country’s human abuses. Of course, we are reminded of the Trump administration, as constant news stories tell us of officials who refuse to support LGBTQ+ equal rights. It is a travesty and sends a strong message that this administration is on the side of blatant discrimination.
Foreign secretary, Mike Pompeo, who travels around the world, will not address the issue. Vice-president Pence, also a right-wing religious figure, has on many occasions spoken against LGBTQ+ equality, as has his colleague, attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Canada also has its right wingers such as, Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Kudos to our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland and other MPs in our Parliament for standing firm against human rights abuses. We have Members of the Legislatures in our provinces who are not afraid to speak up for equal rights. A prime example is Nova Scotia PC MLA and interim opposition leader, Karla MacFarlane, who will be introducing a bill to ban gay conversion therapy.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must learn to respect human rights, and if that means less, or no trade, so be it!
Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News. Comments and information: firstname.lastname@example.org