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Canadian government funds anti-gay group to work in Uganda

If you don’t watch the Rachel Maddow Show, you really should. She is unparalleled in her journalistic excellence, and her self-deprecating wit is matched only by her insightfulness. If you’ve watched The Newsroom and longed for a hard-hitting newsman like Will McAvoy, the good news is that Rachel Maddow has been doing exactly what Sorkin fantasizes about, and has been doing so for years.

One of the most heart-wrenching episodes of her show I’ve ever seen takes the form of an interview with Uganda’s David Bahati. Having painstakingly detailed the extent to which Uganda’s anti-gay legislative fervor finds its ideological home in the American conservative movement, Maddow interviews Bahati as one of the chief architects and facilitators of a Uganda bill that would make homosexuality a capital crime. The palpable subtext of the interview is that Maddow is herself gay, and somehow manages to keep her rage in check long enough to expertly interview a clearly-outmatched Bahati.

Canada has decided to insert itself into the anti-gay quagmire that is Uganda’s political infrastructure by sending in exactly who you would want as ambassadors of Canadian values:

The minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency which has been giving funding to an evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a “perversion” and a “sin,” said Sunday no further payments will be made until officials review the organization. “I have asked officials to review this organization before further payments are made,” tweeted Julian Fantino, International Cooperation Minister.

Nevertheless, the federal government has been providing $544,813 in funding for Crossroads Christian Communications — an Ontario-based evangelical group that produces television programming — to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014. Until Tuesday, the organization’s website carried a list of “sexual sins” deemed to be “perversion”: “Turning from the true and/or proper purpose of sexual intercourse; misusing or abusing it, such as in pedophilia, homosexuality and lesbianism, sadism, masochism, transvestism, and bestiality.” Lower down the page, the group asks sinners to “repent.”

(snip)

A study by the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crisis and Aid concluded that, between 2005 and 2010, the funding for religious non-government organizations increased 42 per cent. Secular groups saw an increase of five per cent.

Now it is certainly possible that secular groups are just terrible compared to religious ones, but we of course have nothing but the government’s word (and its long history of supporting gay rights) to rely on, pending an investigation of the Candian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) process. Of course, there is no reason to suspect that CIDA is anything other than a distant arms-length agency that is entirely free from governmental interference. Even if that weren’t the case, a government as principled and disciplined as Harper’s would never involve themselves in the awarding of government money, especially for faith-based reasons. No, we should read absolutely nothing into this virulently anti-gay group getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding while secular groups get disproportionately less.

It’s another interesting wrinkle that the current position of the government is that they specifically repudiate the views espoused by Crossroads. Of course, they don’t repudiate those views enough to cancel the funding – a practice that Harper has been only too willing to do when it is scientific groups that oppose his agenda and positions (or really any group that opposes him). It is a very suspiciously selective example of ‘hands-off government’ that has decided to respond to this particular issue. Again, I’m sure we shouldn’t read anything into that.

Now personally, I think that projects should be funded on merit, and if a religious organization truly has the best chance of enacting a functioning program, then I am willing to quiet my anti-theist rage a bit – provided there is strict oversight to ensure that these ‘development’ projects aren’t simply being used to proselytize to people who are held economically captive. Then again, Mr. Harper’s definition of freedom of religion specifically and overtly precludes the possibility of freedom from religion, so the chance that his government cares a whelk’s fart in a windstorm for such oversight is a remote one.

But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take that idea of ‘merit’ and turn it sideways. Can a virulently anti-gay group truly meritoriously represent Canada’s interests and values in Uganda? In at least this particular case, doesn’t their history of anti-gay activism disqualify them from international participation? At what point does the fact that they advocate the same dehumanization and condemnation of gay people that fuels the anti-gay bigotry that the government has publicly condemned enter into the calculus of merit? Does the fact that this group will undoubtedly use this project to build networks in order to funnel more anti-gay hatred into a country that surely has more than enough matter at all to those who scrutinized this grant?

Of course, the other option is that nobody scrutinized this grant beyond what must have been an incredibly superficial level – the group advertises its anti-gay credentials on its website (or did, before the scrutiny caused its sudden removal – way to wear your Christian conviction proudly, assholes). If that is indeed the case (which I do not personally believe it to be), then we have gross incompetence rather than theocratic conspiracy to thank for this gross perversion of Canadian values and responsible government. If I was asked to speculate (oh hey look, this is my blog!) I would imagine that someone within CIDA has a relationship with these Crossroads fucks, and thinks their beliefs are just dandy for Africa, and are now miffed that they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Whatever the explanation, Canadian secular groups would do well to act and build consensus among Canadians that religion has no place within our federal governmental apparatus. The selective blindness evinced by this government when it comes to scrutinizing its “faith-based” partners not only erodes the values of secular democracy that make this country work, but in this case it exposes not only Canadians but Ugandans to the ugly side of the non-consenting insertion of theocracy into what would otherwise be a noble mission.

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