Jason Kenney on gay-rights removal: <br/>'I did not do such a thing'

Ottawa — The Canadian Press

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Canada's Immigration Minister is apparently denying any role in the removal of references to gay rights from a citizenship study guide released last fall.

Asked Wednesday why he blocked any information about same-sex marriage and Charter rights protecting sexual orientation, Jason Kenney said: "I did not do such a thing. No, no, you are wrong."

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The minister then disappeared into the Conservative caucus room in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

The Canadian Press reported this week that an early draft of the guide, which new immigrants must study for citizenship tests starting March 15, included references to the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 along with other gay-rights milestones.

But a memo to Mr. Kenney from bureaucrats at Citizenship and Immigration last June show the sections were removed at the request of the minister's office. Another memo to Mr. Kenney in August indicates bureaucrats were rebuffed when they made a last-ditch request to have gay rights re-inserted in the guide.

The guide released last November with fanfare made only a passing reference to gays and lesbians, in a photo caption.

Internal documents related to the guide were obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Asked about Mr. Kenney's apparent denial, spokesman Alykhan Velshi said Wednesday that "the minister's signature isn't on any decision note or anywhere else" in the released documents, suggesting someone else in the minister's office made the gay-rights decision on his behalf.

Mr. Velshi was asked last week to explain Mr. Kenney's decision to remove the gay-rights material. He responded that the guide could not be "encyclopedic" - without any indication the minister might not have been responsible for the removal.

On Wednesday, Mr. Velshi did not respond to further requests for clarification.

The confusion about the guide, which replaces a 1995 version, extended to the gay-rights group, Egale Canada. Executive director Helen Kennedy met Mr. Kenney in early December to ask that gay rights be included in the next edition of the guide.

"The first five minutes of the meeting that we had with Kenney were him explaining to me that this was an oversight," she said in an interview Wednesday from Toronto. "They made a mistake - they were going to fix it."

Ms. Kennedy, who was also asked at the meeting to provide the department with suggested wording, called the minister's office this week after she learned the early draft of the guide had indeed included references to gay rights.

"I basically said 'What's going on? ... Why are you asking me to write something when you already had something?' ... It's very confusing."

The minister's staff did not provide an explanation, she said, but assured her again the problem would be fixed in the next edition. Egale has still not come up with its preferred wording.

Mr. Kenney has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, speaking as an opposition MP against enabling legislation that was eventually passed in 2005.