Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Queering Jason Kenney, Literary Style

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Yesterday I wrote with some pride about the freedoms we enjoy in Canada and about the responsibilities of democratic citizenship. Then something was brought to my attention that diminished that pride and appealed desperately to that sense of responsibility. It was made public that our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney did knowingly, willfully, and specifically order his staff to remove all mention of equal rights for gay and lesbian Canadians from a new edition of the Canadian citizenship guide.

This is the book given to immigrants to Canada who wish to study for their Canadian citizenship application. Specifically, Kenney removed a paragraph that stated, ""Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969... and more recently, civil marriage rights to same-sex couples was legalized nationwide in 2005." And, perhaps more distressing, he removed a direct reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that states, "Canadians are protected against discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age."

Because I want all my fellow Canadian citizens (yes, Mr. Kenney, even those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) to enjoy the same the rights, freedoms, privileges and protections under Canadian law that I enjoy, this greatly troubles me. Equality for some is not equality. And since Mr. Kenney already has a proven track record of fighting against equal rights for gay Canadians, we hardly have cause to believe these omissions were an innocent oversight. There are even reports that Kenney assured an equal rights organization that such omissions would not be made, and his own senior staffers urged him to reverse his decisions, but in the end, Kenney's apparent personal dislike for gay people and their rights superseded all the legal, ethical, moral and civil reasons for keeping the paragraphs in. For these reasons, it is my personal belief that Mr. Kenney is unfit to impartially represent all Canadians equally as Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and he should resign his post immediately.

Of course, I don't expect a man on a mission like Jason Kenney to give up that easily. He and his socially conservative pals have a vision to make Canada a less inclusive, more intolerant place, and Kenney has dug in his heels to make his partisan's paradise a reality. And if we can't get Kenney to change jobs, perhaps we can get him to change his mind. What if he simply needs to be enlightened? Maybe all he needs is to read the right books.

Certainly, gay and lesbian Canadians have made a considerable contribution to our national identity through our literature. I propose we assemble a reading list for Mr. Kenney, one comprising the very best of Canada's queer literature, great books by queer authors and books on queer themes. It could be like Yann Martel's private book club for Stephen Harper, but with a queer twist.

To begin with, I suggest that Jason Kenney read The Wars by Timothy Findley, and No Language is Neutral by Dionne Brand. And maybe he could join the many thousands of Canadians who have already read Anne-Marie Macdonald's bestselling Fall on Your Knees.

Of course, he'll also have to read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai, and Taken by Daphne Marlatt, and The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack.

We can't forget Jane Rule's groundbreaking novel Desert of the Heart, but why not send him Zoe Whitall's fresh and fiercely-felt Holding Still for as Long as Possible as well?

What do all these books have in common, you might ask? Well, almost nothing except their literary excellence. But such is the rich and complex variety of our talented citizenry. This is why we see rainbow flags waved on Pride Day! To celebrate our diversity!

Now, I'm calling on Canadian publishers from sea to shining sea to send Jason Kenney a "review copy" of all the books you've published by queer Canadian authors. You can find his address by clicking here. And if they won't do it, let's take up the project ourselves! What book would you send to Jason Kenney?

Send him books by Ivan E. Coyote and Camilla Gibb, and books by Wayson Choy, Michael V. Smith, and Sina Queyras. Give him Billeh Nickerson, John Barton, Jen Currin, and Betsy Warland to read. Recommend something by Marnie Woodrow, Darren Greer, and Sky Gilbert! Of course there must something by Sky Gilbert!

And don't forget R.M. Vaughan, Emma Donoghue and Mariko Tamaki! Treat him to a book by Dani Couture, and another by Tomson Highway, and another by Elizabeth Ruth!

Readers, I know this is an incomplete list, so please use the comments field below to recommend your favourite books by queer Canadian authors! Let's show Jason Kenney that our Canada includes equality for ALL Canadians, and let's do it with PRIDE!

11 comments

Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox, Hovering World by Peter Dubé, The Skin Beneath by Nairne Holtz, Bang Crunch by Neil Smith, anything by Nicole Brossard or Michel Tremblay, Main Brides by Gail Scott, anything by Erin Mouré, The Sound of All Flesh by Barry Webster.

Love Is Not Native to My Blood, Azure, and especially Conjuring Jesus by Brian Day.

Ray Hsu's Anthropy and Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon,
Rachel Zolf's Human Resources.

Monkeypuzzle and Forage by Rita Wong.

Everything by David Watmough

We at Arsenal Pulp Press are DEFINITELY going to send Kenney a gift pack of queer books, including "The Dictionary of Homophobia." Perhaps we'll include him in a second edition...

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall

You already named a fave: Haunted Hillbilly by the hugely talented Derek McCormack. And anything by Sky Gilbert.

ManBug, by George K. Ilsley

"Heaven is Small" by Emily Schultz!

"Poor Super Man" by Brad Fraser!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page