In contrast to the present spastic colon-afflicted, stingy, xenophobic U.S. government, Canada has been quietly engaged in a program transferring persecuted Chechen gay men from safe houses in Russia to Canadian soil for the last three months.
Conservative Islamic Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic within Russia, and is currently in oppression mode of the LBGT community. Though the human rights situation has long been dire, in March 2017 Chechen security forces started a crackdown targeting gay and bisexual men, abducting then torturing them while held in detention. It is estimated that several hundred individuals have suffered under this state-ordered abuse, with three confirmed dead but as many as 20 assumed killed.
As of September 1, the current liberal Canadian government (led by the dashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) has evacuated 22 Chechen men to Toronto and other safe harbor cities, with about 40 more expected to arrive soon.
“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, in a telephone interview. “The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”
The mission has been a collaboration between Canada’s government and non-governmental organizations such as Rainbow Railroad based in Canada. Since Chechnya remains in a dark age, the program had until now been highly covert to protect the men who need refuge.
At the moment the news is being made public, as the refugees need resources, which are inaccessible if the men are in hiding, says Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad. The displaced Chechens will need assistance with jobs, language and of course counseling for successful integration into Canadian life.
The Canadian program has also been under wraps due to strained relations with Russia. As it stands, the record for LGBT rights in Russia is abysmal under Vladimir Putin, who of course has looked the other way as Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, has conducted the pogroms. “Honor” killings of homosexual persons by the victim’s family members are not prosecuted in Chechnya, and are in fact encouraged by the local government.
As far as the Canadian government goes, it seems to now be the beacon of the free word. At a gathering of political and thought leaders called the Sedona Forum, Human Rights Watch’s Ms. Lokshina shared a panel with Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. During the discussion about the purges in Chechnya, Lokshina said to Freeland, “The victims desperately need a safe sanctuary and Canada should set an example for other governments by welcoming them.” Freeland then set the wheels in motion.
Soon thereafter the rescue program commenced, with the knowledge and support of Trudeau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen. From within Canada, Rainbow Railroad had already been after the government to intervene, making that organization an ideal partner as conduit to the Russian LGBT Network. This program has produced such noble achievements, starting with Ms. Freeland who “wanted to be able to save a few individuals,” states a Canadian government source. “And we also wanted to allow Canada to serve as a demonstration for like-minded countries about what could be done.”
Washington, take note.