CANADA

An attack on gay rights

July 27 1987
CANADA

An attack on gay rights

July 27 1987

An attack on gay rights

It was not expected to be a controversial event. Former governor general Edward Schreyer was in Winnipeg last week to receive an award from the Misericordia General Hospital Foundation and publicize a fund-raising event for the hospital. Schreyer— onetime premier of Manitoba and now Canada’s high commissioner to Australia—has steered clear of politics since he left the premier’s office in 1977. But when a reporter asked him to comment on a controversial amendment to Manitoba’s Human Rights Code, which outlaws discrimination against homosexuals, Schreyer quickly stirred a political tempest. Labelling homosexuality an “affliction” and an “abnormal tendency,” Schreyer declared: “If allowed to become too visible in society, [homosexuality] cannot help but have a negative and detrimental effect on the younger generation.”

Schreyer seemed to regret his remarks almost as soon as he had made them. He said that he recognized the need to protect homosexuals from abuse, and had neither read the legislation nor followed the debate. But his comments were immediately attacked by homosexual rights groups, some of his former colleagues in Manitoba’s NDP government and by Gordon Fairweather, the federal human rights commissioner. Fairweather said that he was “surprised and disappointed” by Schreyer’s words.

The former governor general’s remarks added to the controversy over Manitoba’s homosexual-rights law. It was opposed by the province’s Conservative opposition, and two NDP backbenchers had also threatened to vote against the bill. But when House Speaker Myrna Phillips called for the vote shortly before 5 a.m. on July 17, the Human Rights Code was adopted in a narrow 29-23 vote. Manitoba is the fourth province or territory—after Quebec, Ontario and the Yukon—to ban discrimination against homosexuals.

Before Schreyer’s comments, there had been speculation in Manitoba that he might return to active politics— perhaps as an NDP candidate in the next federal election. Last week’s controversy raised new doubts about that possibility. Schreyer himself insisted that he had made no firm decisions about his future. Then he put distance between himself and his critics by leaving on a planned fishing trip.