The Rainbow Railroad to Canada for Gay Chechen Men

File photo of Anzor, a gay man who spoke to the Associated Press on condition that he not be further identified out of fear for his safety and that of his family from Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia. Rights activists from Human Rights Watch have said that high-level officials in Russia's Chechnya have visited detention facilities where gay people allegedly were illegally held and tortured.(AP Photo/Nataliya Vasilyeva, File)

As John Ibbitson reports at The Globe and Mail, there’s a new underground railroad to Canada. Through a safe house network, the Canadian government has been spiriting away gay Chechen men who face not only government persecution, but honor killings at the hands of their family. In this conservative Russian republic, the government not only looks away from these heinous crimes, it encourages them.

For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.

The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.

Hamzat, a man in his mid-twenties, is a recent arrival to Canada. (Hamzat is not his real name. The Globe and Mail is protecting his identity because he fears repercussions for friends and family in Chechnya, and because he is concerned that some Chechen-Canadians might wish him ill.) In an interview with The Globe, he was cautious but calm, offering a brief smile from time to time. He described how his ordeals began: One day in March, men wearing green khaki uniforms appeared in his place of work in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. He was handcuffed, placed in the trunk of a car, and taken to a local police headquarters. “I don’t know how to express this. I was in shock,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Hamzat was taken into a room and, still handcuffed, placed on a chair. He was surrounded by men who kicked him with their heavy boots and beat him with the brass nozzles of hoses. In later sessions, he was subjected to electric-shock torture.

The men wanted him to reveal the names of gay men he knew, just as another man under torture had given up his name. “I didn’t give them any information,” he said. “I lied to them.”

Between interrogations, he said, he and other gay men were kept in a cell with drug dealers and users, and confined to a small area because they were considered unclean. The interrogations lasted two or three weeks.

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