Speaking notes for Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Improving gender inclusivity for our clients
Thank you so much.
Bonjour tout le monde. Je suis heureux d’être ici aujourd’hui avec vous.
And thank you for that fabulous introduction. You’re very generous.
I also want to recognize my colleague, Randy Boissonnault, who has been tireless in his advocacy, advice and relentless pursuit of LGBTQ2 rights. I want to thank the reverend for hosting us here today. And I want to also give a special shout out to Chris Morrissey for her tireless efforts on behalf of this community for so many years.
I’m really honoured to be here with you today to kick off Pride season. The history of the LGBTQ2 community is a vibrant, strong and resilient history in our country. You know that all minorities across Canada have fought for their rights and freedoms and that struggle continues. It was not until 37 years ago that we actually had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this country that enshrined equality and other fundamental rights in our constitution.
But the Charter was only the vehicle for change. It took many challenges and many years of advocacy to make fundamental changes happen. It took until 2005 for same-sex marriage to become legal in Canada, some 23 years after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was brought into Canada. But the fight is not over for the LGBTQ2 community. There is much more to do still around the world today. We see people of different sexual orientations and identities being ridiculed, prosecuted and beaten and killed, just for being who they are.
Today, we work with these communities around the world in support of their rights. Today and every day, we fight for them. It is in that spirit that I’m very honoured to join my colleagues and all of you, and I’m very happy to be here in this special place to announce that we, the Government of Canada, are making another important step in building a truly inclusive and progressive society.
As of June 4th, Canadians applying for passports, immigration and travel documents, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards will have the choice of selecting X if they do not identify as female or male. It’s been a long time coming and it was high time for this to happen. Non-binary people have always been part of our communities. Presenting an identification document that does not accurately reflect one’s sex or gender orientation or expression can trigger stigma, discrimination and sometimes violence.
As Canadians, we promote and believe strongly that diversity is a source of strength. That is why we’re taking steps to recognize the diversity of our identities.
And I have other good news to share with you today. If you want to have your passport changed to X in the place of gender, with the proper paperwork, you’ll be able to do so for the next 12 months without any additional application fees. You will be able to be who you are while you travel around the world.
We owe it to everyone who fought tirelessly to advance LGBTQ2 rights over the past many decades to keep moving Canada forward. But we also have a responsibility to look beyond our borders to see what we can do to be a strong champion for LGBTQ2 rights around the world.
You know that due to the generosity of Canadians, Canada has become a global leader in refugee resettlement. As a former refugee, I’m proud of the fact that I join you this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the privately sponsored refugee program.
Two million Canadians have personally sponsored a refugee. Tell me any other country where that is even possible. Our government has more than doubled the overall refugee levels. We have more than quadrupled the number of spaces available for private sponsorship of refugees in order to try to meet the demand for more numbers. I know that I’m one of the few, if not the only Immigration Minister in the world that cannot bring enough refugees to meet the demand of Canadians. So it’s a wonderful country to have that sort of generosity all around us.
The Rainbow Refugee Assistance Initiative is a unique way to help bring and support LGBTQ2 refugees in Canada. In 2008, the government partnered with the Rainbow Refugee Society to renew the pilot program that was in place for an additional two years. It’s clear that this initiative has shown tremendous success in the past several years, demonstrating the will and the capacity of Canadian communities to sponsor many of these vulnerable refugees.
Last year alone, Rainbow Refugee Society helped 67 refugees come to Canada through this pilot and make it their home, which far exceeded all our expectations. And because you have exceeded the expectations, we will support an additional 37 LGBTQ2 refugees that you already have in queue to provide start-up funding and three months of funding to help them resettle in Canada.
It is for that reason that I’m happy today that this initiative has been expanded. We are formally partnering with the Rainbow Refugee Society to provide sustained support for the next five years to resettle up to 50 LGBTQ2 refugees annually through private sponsorship.
Friends, this is quite a jump from the 15 refugees a year that the previous pilot supported, but at a time of growing concerns, at a time of more vulnerability for many, many LGBTQ2 individuals around the world, it is the right thing to do and it is the timely thing to do.
Transforming this pilot into a long-term partnership goes hand in hand with our commitment to provide refuge to LGBTQ2 individuals. We’ll continue to work closely with the UNHCR to resettle LGBTQ2 refugees as part of the government-assisted program. I continue to meet LGBTQ2 refugees everywhere that I go in refugee camps in Africa and Asia.
We’ve invested in settlement providers that offer services to LGBTQ2 newcomers, recognizing the specific barriers and vulnerabilities that they may face on their path to building a new life in Canada. We have stepped up quickly to act decisively in responding to crises like the one in Chechnya and we have implemented a new set of guidelines to ensure that LGBTQ2 asylum seekers are treated with respect, dignity and professionalism at the Immigration Refugee Board.
There is always, of course, more work to be done and we look to everyone in this room and beyond, and the broader LGBTQ2 community, to work with us and to push those of us in government when needed to keep moving forward. We have come a long way in Canada, but of course, we need to do more to protect the most vulnerable, both here at home and abroad, and to allow everyone to be themselves.
So I really want to thank you. I want to thank you for your leadership. I want to thank you for your engagement. I want to thank you for your patience at the pace of government change, and I want to thank you for your enthusiasm and your leadership in transforming lives and making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in the world.
And I can tell you that as far as I am concerned, you give us hope. You give us hope that Canada will continue to be a beacon for the rest of the world, a country that is working very hard at reconciliation, a country that has continued to be committed to providing a home to the most vulnerable, a country that will do whatever we can to continue to build bridges around the world and not build walls.
Thank you very much.
We are loud and we’re proud. Happy Pride season.
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