HONEY HARBOUR (Ontario) • The Canadian government, working with a Toronto-based non-profit organisation, has quietly allowed gay men and women from the Chechnya Republic in Russia to seek safety in Canada over the past three months.
The programme, first made public by the non-profit group Rainbow Railroad on Facebook last Friday, was prompted by an anti-gay purge in Chechnya that started this year, when law enforcement and security officials arrested gay and bisexual men and beat and tortured them.
Mr Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, said his organisation had joined with the Canadian government to create a programme to expedite the safe passage to Canada of 22 gay men and lesbians. They have been deemed government-assisted refugees. The first among them arrived from a safe house in Russia in June. Nine others are expected to arrive soon and more are expected later.
"The vast majority of the people we've helped are men," Mr Powell said. "It's harder for women to escape Chechnya."
He said Canada's response to the Chechen crisis showed its government was serious about its commitment to gay rights internationally. "We hope that, in demonstrating Canada can do something, other countries take the lead as well," he said.
The programme is another example of Canada increasingly positioning itself as global champion of human rights and a welcoming place for refugees.
In May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau openly denounced the "reprehensible reports of violations of the human rights of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya", saying: "We call for the protection of all people in Chechnya whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution."
The Chechnya government has repeatedly denied that the pogrom happened. In July, Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov said in an HBO interview that gay people did not exist in his country.
While the purge stopped in April, gay men and women remain at risk in the traditional, conservative Muslim republic, said Ms Tanya Lokshina, the Russia programme director for Human Rights Watch.