MONTREAL — An openly gay Jewish Montrealer has won a dispute with his insurance company and been reimbursed for cancelling a trip to Russia out of fear for his security because of the country’s anti-gay law.
David Brody, a longtime Congregation Shaar Hashomayim member and onetime LGBT activist, has been promised in writing the full refund of his claim against La Capitale Insurance and Financial Services Inc., but only after threatening to go to court.
“I am particularly pleased that the insurance company finally recognized my legitimate concerns for my well-being and freedom,” Brody said. “I see its decision to reimburse me as a direct validation of my civil rights as a gay Jewish man facing an exceptionally discriminatory law in a foreign land I wanted to visit.”
In early June, Brody booked a flight with Lufthansa from Montreal to Moscow for October and arranged a land tour in Russia during his planned 10 days there. This was a personal trip, his first to the country, and primarily to visit a nephew working at the Israeli embassy.
On June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” commonly referred to in the western media as “the anti-gay law.”
As soon as he heard about it, Brody decided to cancel his trip, as the law also applies to foreigners, who can be detained, arrested, fined or deported.
“All they had to do is Google my name to find out I wrote the novel Mourning and Celebration. It scared me, because this could absolutely be interpreted as gay literature. I could have been arrested on the spot and thrown in jail,” said Brody, who is over 70.
Published in 2009, the novel imagines the clandestine love affair between two young Orthodox Jewish men in a 19th-century Polish shtetl.
In August, Brody filed a claim with La Capitale for $1,450 – $1,000 for the land arrangements, plus a $450 penalty Lufthansa charged him for cancelling his round trip.
Later that month, the insurance company responded that he was ineligible for reimbursement, because the federal government had not at the time issued a notice advising against Canadians travelling to Russia, as stipulated in the policy, which Brody has held since 2006.
Ottawa had only issued a “caution” about the new law.
Brody, assisted by the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), followed up with a legal demand letter in November, stating, “I cannot accept your denial of my claim, which is tantamount to discrimination against your LGBT clientele and a violation of my right to the integrity and security of the person.”
He also identified himself as Jewish.
“This might have been another grounds to persecute me,” said Brody, who was a founder of the now-disbanded Montreal Jewish gay group Yahkdav.
If he had gone to court, the case would have been the first Canadian civil rights case related to the new Russian law.
In a Dec. 9 letter, signed by Martine Powell, director of health care benefits group insurance, La Capitale relented, stating that “given the circumstances motivating your decision not to travel to [Russia], we are approving your claim on an exceptional basis.”
Brody added that, while Canada had not issued a travel advisory, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in the House of Commons warned Canadians about going to Russia.
Brody said he has no desire to go to Russia anymore. “Polls have shown that over 60 per cent of the population supports this homophobic law. I wouldn’t give them the money.”
Matthew Chung, one of the two McGill University law students working with CRARR who helped Brody, said, “We were prepared from the start to initiate judicial proceedings, arguing that the company’s action constituted an indirect form of discrimination against LGBT travellers to Russia.
“Still, we are entirely satisfied with the outcome of the case. Mr. Brody has received the equal treatment and justice he deserved.”