After initially staying silent, Canadian officials have now joined the UK, the United States, and the European Union in commenting on local authorities in Chechnya reportedly kidnapping, torturing, and killing gay men. The statement specifically mentioning the region only came after this BuzzFeed News story was published, in which advocates called on Canada to condemn the violence.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada emailed BuzzFeed News after this article was published with an updated statement. However, a link to a public-facing version of the statement was not provided after repeated requests.
"We are very concerned by any and all allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya, Russia," the statement says in part. "Canada deplores acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
When asked for comment previously, a spokesperson for the Foreign Minister pointed to Canada's general efforts to defend LGBTQ rights at home and abroad, but did not mention Chechnya. Follow-up emails asking about the country specifically went unanswered.
The first reports of gay men disappearing came from independent Russian publication Novaya Gazeta, which said many men have been taken into custody and at least three were killed.
A St. Petersburg-based organization that's been helping the men escape, the Russia LGBT Network, told BuzzFeed News of the conditions the men faced. According to witnesses, they were beaten with hoses, tortured with electric shocks, and told to provide names of other gay men. Human Rights watch has confirmed that those accounts match their own knowledge of the situation in Chechnya.
Following the reports, the US State Department issued a strong statement condemning the kidnappings.
"We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society. We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief," the statement read in part.
The UK and the EU also condemned the violence.
NDP critic for LGBTQ issues Randall Garrison told BuzzFeed News at the time that he was disappointed by Canada's silence.
"In light of the US and the UK having both made statements condemning the round-up for gay men and asking Russia to investigate, I would expect no less from a government that claims to be a leader on LGBTQ rights, so I'm very disappointed," Garrison said.
The Russia LGBT Network's Svetlana Zakharova previously told BuzzFeed News that international pressure is important in getting a response from Russian authorities.
"We believe that all kinds of international pressure is beneficial now, including diplomatic pressure," Zakharova said. "The main hope is that killings, tortures and kidnappings will stop and will be investigated properly by the responsible authorities."
Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, also said Canada needs to demand an investigation. His organization helps LGBTQ people who have suffered violence and persecution seek asylum and safety.
Powell said the Canadian government should decrease the barriers and wait times for LGBTQ people who want to come to Canada using private sponsorship.
"Canada can and should condemn what’s happening in Chechnya as soon as possible," he said. "It’s unfortunate they haven't yet."
The new statement sent to BuzzFeed News reads, in full:
We are very concerned by any and all allegations of human rights violations in Chechnya, Russia. Canada is a strong, vocal and forceful advocate for the rights of LGBTQ2 persons, both at home and abroad.
The Government of Canada is engaged and working with civil society organizations and LGBTQ2 community groups both at home and around the world to combat discrimination, violence, and unjust laws. For example,Bill C-16 would modify Canadian human rights law to include gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.
Canada considers diversity a source of strength. Canada believes the human rights of all persons to be universal and indivisible, and these include the human rights of LGBTI persons. Canada deplores acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
UPDATE: This post was updated with a new statement from Global Affairs Canada
Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada. PGP fingerprint: A088 89E6 2500 AD3C 8081 BAFB 23BA 21F3 81E0 101C.
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