The NDP’s half-baked Russian visa ban is about local electoral pandering

The NDP launched a petition last weekend demanding the government support a visa ban against Russian legislators who voted unanimously in favour of laws to crackdown on expression of so-called “gay propaganda,” but it’s clear that the petition isn’t really about Russia’s beleaguered gay community so much as it’s about attempting to trap the Liberal party and pander to the gay voters of the upcoming Toronto Centre by-election.

The Liberals haven’t taken up the NDP’s cause – most likely because it’s a ridiculously half-baked proposal – and the NDP are using that to paint the Liberals as being of a kind with the Russians (or worse, the Conservatives!).


NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar collecting signatures at the corner of Church and Alexander in Toronto Centre.

The NDP would also have you believe that this is a slap in the face to 100 NGO’s that have also called for a visa ban… well, by all means, if the Lucky Iron Fish Project is calling for a visa ban, then it must be done!

Obviously, what’s going on in Russia is horrible and intolerable. But this is not the way foreign policy goals are achieved.

What would be the effect of a visa ban on Russian legislators? Probably mostly nil. Ultimately, we’re talking about banning the deputy from Tartastan from going to Ottawa Bluesfest (Ok, that’s not wholly true. Russia’s deputies are appointed using proportional representation, and thus there is no deputy from Tartastan. Sorry for being glib). But there is practically no harm done to the Russian lawmakers by imposing a visa ban on a country they weren’t planning to visit anyway. If anything, news that Canada is trying to shame Russia into accepting an intolerable (to them) position will only embolden them.

The other major practical consideration is that, actually, sometimes we *want* Russian legislators to come to Canada. For example, when we host meetings of the G8 or G20 (I know, I know. I just made the anarchist wing of the NDP squeal), or other major international conferences (we host the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal, and we sometimes host APEC, for example). If we truly did want to bar Putin or Russia’s finance minister from attending such a meeting (not that the organisation would ever allow it), how would we square that with the fact that at the G20, equivalent leaders from Saudi Arabia and China would be welcomed? On a more closely related note, if we were to host an International AIDS Conference again, would we really want to bar the Russian health minister from attending?

Why target only Russian legislators, when there are states that are much, much worse out there on human rights in general (Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, to name just a few)? Why target them now, when this is far from the most egregious thing Russia has done even in the post-communist era (Chechnya, Georgia, the wholesale fleecing of the Russian economy, silencing and murdering journalists and foreign leaders…)?

Ultimately, a visa ban will not make things better for Russian gays. Foreign policy goals are rarely achieved by not talking to the other side. This is exactly the same attitude that Harper gets criticized for when he has Canada leave UN meetings because North Korea is there, or when he refuses to attend Commonwealth meetings hosted by Sri Lanka (Oh wait, the NDP wanted that meeting boycotted too).

If we really want to change Russian lawmakers’ minds about gay people, we shouldn’t ban them from coming to one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world – we should be inviting them here in droves so they can see what a real, thriving gay community is like, how gays contribute positively to our national culture and character. Shutting them out accomplishes nothing.

But hey, accomplishing nothing while patting yourself on the back for your moral superiority appears to be all that the gay community really wants on this issue – witness the flamboyant displays of people dumping out freshly-purchased bottles of vodka that may-or-may-not be Russian in front of the Russian consulate after business hours so no one even sees it.

Which is why all of this is happening. Nevermind that what they’re proposing is actually terrible foreign policy; this is really just about local electoral politics. The NDP wants to win an upcoming by-election in Toronto Centre and they’ll do anything to get the votes of the easily-distracted gay community. It’s distressing that a party that wants to govern would have such a childish grasp of foreign affairs, but they’ve been learning from the masters for the last seven years.


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