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By tying trade to LGBT rights, Canada may be an unlikely architect of a new global order

The context of Brexit and the unforeseen shift in the Anglo-American alliance caused by the election of U.S. President Donald Trump are equal parts threat and opportunity for Canadian foreign policy.

After Prime Minister Theresa May’s imminent Article 50 notification, Britain will undoubtedly move toward reviving its Commonwealth trade ties, reminiscent of the pre-GATT era of imperial preferences. Yet the Commonwealth as an organization is burdened by a fundamental paradox in values. While 75 countries still criminalize homosexual acts, the vast majority of them in the Commonwealth, Canada, the U.K. and Australia have taken steps toward dismantling anti-gay laws.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has extended his predecessor’s foreign policy platform quite effectively. However, a plus ça change strategy at the Commonwealth would amount to a missed opportunity, ensuring Canada fails to punch above its weight on the global stage. As Britain rapidly shifts its foreign policy priorities, Canada must act to ensure LGBT protections are at the very centre of any new Commonwealth trading regime.

In the January, 2017, report Reconnecting with the Commonwealth – which has a foreword by former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott – British MP James Cleverly and Tim Hewish, the Royal Commonwealth Society’s director of policy and research, propose such a regime. The idea appears to be gaining traction among some British policy-makers. While the authors note “free trade is not based on utility but on justice” (quoting Edmund Burke), their report is mum on human rights.

The Commonwealth is neither a club of shared values nor ideas of justice.

“Being gay in Uganda is illegal, and the most dangerous thing you can imagine,” remarked Acram Lukyamuzi Musisi, the 28-year-old Ugandan who is at the forefront of the local LGBT rights movement. He is the founder of Pride Munyonyo LGBT Resource Center in Kampala.