August 15, 2013 9:30 pm

Toronto activists discuss whether Canada should boycott Sochi Olympics

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WATCH: Canadians launch awareness campaign in support of gay athletes competing in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Peter Kim reports. 

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TORONTO – Members of Toronto’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community met recently at the 519 Community Centre met to discuss whether Canada should boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics over Russia’s anti-gay laws.

The group comprised of activists, members of Pride Toronto and a gay Russian refugee who fled his country due to intolerance.

“Throughout the community there’s a strong desire to want to know how to help our friends, family and community members in Russia,” Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto said in an interview Thursday. “With Russia preparing to host the Olympics, which means a commitment to human rights, there’s an opportunity here to bring the spotlight on what’s happening, particularly in this country, and try to make a change.”

While he would not say whether he supports a boycott of the Russian Olympics, Beaulieu said people should support the LGBT community.

“The most important thing to do is to support the community activists on the ground in Russia,” he said. “There’s not a consensus across the board on whether there should be a boycott of the Olympics or a boycott of certain Russian products.”

Calls for protests and boycotts have been growing in recent months after the Russian Duma (parliament) passed laws prohibiting “gay propaganda.

Since then, numerous groups including some in Britain and Europe have called for a boycott. And a petition supported by former Star Trek actor George Takei calling for the Olympics to be moved to Vancouver has been signed by thousands of people.

Some Canadians have joined the effort, including an Olympian.

“If we as a nation were to say we’re not going because we support gay rights and we think that this law is deplorable, I would support that,” Canadian Olympian Jon Montgomery said in an interview on Global’s The Morning Show.

But the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is so far not endorsing a national boycott. In a statement to Global News, Executive Director of Communications Dmitri Soudas, said the organization opposes “discrimination of any kind” but has taken steps to ensuring the safety of any LGBT-identifying Canadian athletes.

“The IOC [International Olympic Committee] has stated it continues to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media and it has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

Despite such assurances, Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko said the laws will be enforced.  According to The Associated Press, Mutko said gay athletes will not be banned from participating in the Olympics but if they go “out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course [they] will be held accountable.”  

The law specifies punishment for foreign citizens to include a fine of up to $3,000, up to 15 days in prison, deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.

And while it may be less than safe for gay athletes to journey to Russia for the games, Montgomery, a gold-medal winner at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said gay athletes winning medals may be a more effective form of protest than boycotting the games completely.

– With files from Peter Kim

© 2013 Shaw Media

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