Ottawa’s decision to send government officials to Qatar for the World Cup is “very disappointing” as human rights issues continue to plague the soccer tournament, an LGBTQ2 advocacy group says.
International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan and MP Stephen Ellis are in the Arab country until Wednesday for an event that will feature Canada’s men’s national team for the first time in 36 years.
There has been debate over whether Ottawa delegates should attend the World Cup, given the country’s reported human rights abuses and Canada’s decision to diplomatically boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics over China’s human rights record.
FIFA World Cup 2022 — Canadian Sajjan will attend the tournament in Qatar
FIFA World Cup 2022: Canadian Sajjan will attend the tournament in Qatar
The move is “short-sighted,” but there is an opportunity for the government to take a strong stand in Qatar, said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, a Canadian advocacy group for LGBTQ2 people and issues.
“It’s very disappointing and I think it’s short-sighted. I would certainly like to see our Canadian government speak out much more strongly about the human rights violations that are happening in that country, especially now that the world is watching Qatar,” she told Global News.
“What better opportunity and time to let the world know that we are not in line with their human rights violations, especially in relation to LGBTI people.”
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On Sunday, Ottawa announced it would send Sajjan and Ellis to Qatar for three days to represent the Canadian government. The news comes after Heritage Canada told Global News last month that Ottawa had “no plans” to send a dignitary, and after Liberal MPs did not provide direct answers to the question in the House of Commons last week.
Sajjan and Ellis will cheer on the men’s team and also take part in a “trilateral sports diplomacy event” with US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Ottawa said. Sajjan will also meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss humanitarian aid and international development.
The World Cup in Qatar has been the subject of controversy since it was named host by FIFA 12 years ago. Qatar has faced skepticism over how it convinced FIFA to vote for the country. Twenty-one of the 24 men on FIFA’s executive committee who voted to host the 2010 World Cup have been variously convicted in criminal or ethics cases, charged, acquitted at trial or implicated in wrongdoing.
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Human rights groups have been making allegations of abuse of migrant workers building infrastructure for the World Cup for years. Qatar’s ruling emir called the criticism an “unprecedented campaign” aimed at the first Arab nation to host the tournament. Qatar has repeatedly hit back, insisting it has improved protections for migrant workers and claiming the criticisms are out of date.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups are calling on participating countries to support calls for FIFA and Qatar to establish a US$440 million drug fund to compensate workers and improve worker protection.
Alasdair Bell, FIFA’s deputy general secretary, said the organization was open to talks about remedies and reparations. But in an interview with AFP published on November 2, Qatar’s labor minister rejected those calls, saying the government had already distributed millions in unpaid wages. Canada’s sports minister, Pascale St-Onge, told Global News in a statement last month that Ottawa was joining calls for “transparency and strong measures” to protect migrant workers.
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“This World Cup is built on the backs of people who have suffered major and extreme injuries, and we would like and expect Canada to bring forward these serious human rights issues that are being discussed and raised globally with the government of Qatar,” he said. . Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.
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Ahead of the World Cup, athletes have also raised concerns about the safety of LGBTQ2 fans in Qatar, given that homosexual relationships are illegal in the conservative Muslim country. Qatar promised that LGBTQ2 lovers would not face arrest, but Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBTQ2 Qataris as recently as September, Human Rights Watch reported on October 24. Qatar rejected the accusations.
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Ottawa has warned Canadian fans in Qatar to “dress conservatively” and “behave with discretion” given the laws there. In a tweet dated October 28St-Onge said the safety of Canadians attending the World Cup must be ensured.
In a statement sent to Global News on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for Sajjan said “the promotion of human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy” and “we will continue to engage Qatar bilaterally on key Canadian priorities, including human rights.”
Kennedy hopes the delegation will find time to hear from marginalized communities about their experiences in Qatar.
“They need to know and consult with community members who are directly affected by violence, harassment and laws that criminalize their real identities,” she said.
“If they don’t have the language, if they don’t have the history, if they don’t have the knowledge of the everyday experiences of members of the LGBTI community, they can’t articulate or advocate on behalf of anyone.”
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Nivyabandi also hopes dignitaries will talk to Canada Soccer. Amnesty International Canada has criticized the sport’s national governing body for its “deafening silence” on the problems in Qatar. Late last month, Canada Soccer released a statement saying it “supports the continued pursuit of further progress on labor rights and inclusivity” around the World Cup in Qatar.
“Canada is the next World Cup host along with the United States and Mexico, (and they’re) in a position to push really hard for human rights after the World Cup,” she said.
“Canada has built a reputation as a country that prioritizes human rights, so one would expect the Canadian team, of all teams, to be among the first to stand in solidarity and support migrant workers.”
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Several World Cup teams scrapped plans for their captains to wear armbands in what was seen as a rebuke to Qatar’s human rights abuses after FIFA warned of on-field penalties on Monday.
FIFA warned the players just hours before kick-off that they would receive immediate yellow cards, which could lead to fines. Displays are a violation of FIFA rules.
However, England and Iran players showed some form of protest on Monday, with England players kneeling before kick-off. Iran’s players did not sing the national anthem, in an apparent show of solidarity with anti-government protesters in their country amid discontent over their reluctance to speak out.
It is not clear if the Canadian players are planning any form of protest. Canada Soccer referred Global News to its October statement for a query on Monday.
A government official, speaking on the background, told Global News last month that it was up to the players and Canada Soccer to decide whether to take similar measures.
– with files from Reuters and The Associated Press