Tuesday • 2015.04.14
City of Toronto Pays Funds to Country where Women Forbidden to Own Property, Gay Men Sentenced to Prison and Whipping
This article originally appeared in Daily Xtra.
The City of Toronto is paying hundreds of dollars in public funds each year, to a foreign country where the civil rights of women are severely curtailed—And where gay men face imprisonment and whipping. These payments from the City’s budgets are part of a misguided attempt by City of Toronto officials to boost the social media marketing potential of various municipal departments.
It’s growing very common to see websites appear with addresses that end in .to. Just like .com and .net, the suffix .to is a Top-Level-Domain (“T.L.D.”) on the Internet, under which individual domain names may be registered. Some Toronto-based organizations choose to register with this T.L.D., because “T.O.” is a popular nickname for the city.
What many people fail to realize, however, is that the “dot T.O.” doesn’t belong to the city of Toronto: It belongs to the Kingdom of Tonga, a small island nation in the south Pacific, with a population of about a hundred thousand people… and a government very unfriendly to women and gay men.
Women are constitutionally forbidden to own property in the Kingdom of Tonga, where the criminal code also states that “Sexual intercourse by a man with his wife shall not be deemed rape.” In 2009, a national study found that 79% of women and girls in the Kingdom of Tonga had experienced physical or sexual abuse; That same year, Tonga’s government rejected ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, because it would’ve required the country to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage, and give women the right to own land. “The Legislative Assembly believed that to ratify CEDAW would cut across our cultural and social heritage that makes up the Tongan way of life,” said the Tongan Prime Minister’s office in a press release at the time.
Gay men in Tonga face adversity as well. Sections 136 through 142 of the Kingdom of Tonga’s criminal code (which is available online at crownlaw.gov.to) explain that anyone “convicted of the crime of sodomy with another person” may be “imprisoned for (up to) ten years,” and that the court may also “order the person so convicted to be whipped.”
Domain names registered under .to are managed by the Tonga Network Information Center (tonic.to), whose website identifies them as “the national DNS registration authority for the country of Tonga:” That means anyone in Toronto who registers a .to domain name is actually funneling money directly to a foreign regime which actively oppresses women and persecutes gays.
Daily Xtra was able to confirm working .to addresses for municipal websites including the Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Public Health department, the Toronto Police Pensioners Association, and the Toronto Food Policy Council. Other events and organizations affiliated with the City which use a .to domain include the TD Toronto Jazz Festival (JazzFest), an annual event sponsored by TD Bank and other partners which include the City of Toronto.
Each separate .to name registration earns Tonga about $50 per individual year from the budgets of the City of Toronto, but they do offer a volume discount for purchasing multiple years together.
Each individual sentence of whipping is carried out in one or two separate sessions, which must be spaced at least 14 days apart in order to allow time for the man (or boy’s) injuries to heal.
For men over 16, in each session “(up to twenty-six strokes of) whipping shall be inflicted on the breech with a cat of a pattern approved by the Cabinet.” Younger boys aged 15 or below receive a lighter sentence, “the whipping (of up to twenty strokes) shall be inflicted on the breech with a light rod or cane composed of tamarind or other twigs.”
The Government of Canada’s travel advisory for the Kingdom of Tonga reads simply: “Homosexual activity is illegal.” The UK’s foreign travel advice goes into more detail, saying “Homosexuality is technically illegal in many Pacific countries and the law is occasionally enforced. Open displays of affection between same-sex partners may cause offence.”
The Tongan government operates with blatant disregard for the principles of equality and human rights that Canada holds dear. So why do the City of Toronto and Toronto-based organizations market themselves under Tonga’s .to, as though it represents the values of the people of Toronto?
Perhaps they didn’t know, suggests Mathieu Chantelois, new Executive Director for Pride Toronto. He readily admits this revelation caught him by surprise. “We were previously unaware,” he explains, “of the connection between the .to URL with the Tongan government.” He confirmed Pride Toronto has never used .to domain names, and now that the connection is known, he vows “Pride Toronto will continue not to use it in the future.”
To other Toronto-based organizations who may be unwittingly supporting a hate regime, Chantelois offers solemn advice. “We encourage everybody not to support the Tongan government, whose view on the importance of equality, freedom and protections for all peoples—Regardless of gender, race or sexuality—Does not match our own.”
Daily Xtra requested comment from Mayor John Tory’s office and the Tongan government, but no reply has been received.