Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spreading hate must have consequences...

The case of Saskatchewan resident Bill Whatcott, who published and distributed in 2001 and 2002 some virulent hatred against LGBT people, is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. In his case, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission found Whatcott guilty of spreading hatred and fined him $17,500 dollars, which he refused to pay. An appeal to a higher court in Saskatchewan overturned his guilty finding. Now the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is expected to rule in the months ahead.

There has been much debate about the topic of prosecuting the expression of hatred in Canada. Those who favour unrestricted freedom of expression often argue the only consequences of their position are some "hurt feelings." Like the "feelings" that led young Jamie Hubley to commit suicide this past weekend, I guess. This writer condemns the use of human rights commissions to prosecute hate speech because too many, "Canadians will sooner self-censor than risk having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend against a human rights prosecution, in which neither truth nor good intention is recognized as a defence." Except of course there wasn't any truth in Whatcott's pamphlets, but that's beside the point, I guess.

Whatcott published materials that included the phrase, "Kill the homosexuals!" repeatedly. He later apparently tried to argue that publishing "Kill the homosexuals!" did not really mean, "Kill the homosexuals!" The fact that he published "Kill the homosexuals!" has been frequently ignored by those arguing his defense in the private media including Ezra Levant and the Toronto Star. Even this gay writer ignores the fact that Whatcott incited violence against homosexuals. Yet some of these supporters of unconditional free speech argue hate speech prosecution should only be used against those who incite violence.

What the fuck!? Since when is "Kill the (insert group name here)!" not an incitement to violence?

Jonathan Kay even assumes himself to be the supreme authority on all Abrahamic faiths in his defense of Whatcott. If we allow hate speech protections in ours laws, then we must make all Abrahamic faiths illegal, he writes. What utter bunk! Surely, forced mass conversion of all Christians/Jews/Muslims to Humanism or gay-friendly Paganism or some other spirituality is an option too, right Jonathan? (My tongue firmly planted in cheek there, giving Kay's arguments the respect they deserve.)

But what of simply attacking all gay men as pedophiles, as Whatcott did? Should that be acceptable? If I published that Ezra Levant was a pedophile, he could rightly sue me for libel and extract millions in damages, which would push me into bankruptcy. But if I published that all Jews are pedophiles, Levant and others like him seem to argue that is just fine and dandy.

This article by David Langtry, the acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is probably the most reasonable entry into the debate I've read in a long time. In it, he addresses the main issue about whether hate speech should be prosecuted by quasi-judicial bodies like human rights commissions, or strictly in the criminal courts. Hatred against homosexuals has only been part of the Criminal Code's anti-hate provisions for a few years, of course, while most anti-hate provisions in human rights acts protecting LGBT people date back to the 1990s.

Langtry summarizes the problem well when he writes: "The Criminal Code [provisions against hate] requires the approval of an attorney general for a charge to be laid. This is an unusually tough test. It discourages prosecutions. Police forces are reluctant to invest resources in investigations they doubt will lead to a charge. Few have resources to invest in hate crime units. If MPs vote to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as Bill C-304 proposes, perhaps Parliament should also make it easier for police to lay a charge based on evidence. Perhaps, too, it would be useful to ensure that police have the resources they need to gather that evidence. If the Canadian Human Rights Act is not the best vehicle to counter hate speech, Parliament should ensure the Criminal Code is up to the job."

Langtry is right. If human rights commissions are to be stripped of their abilities to combat hate speech and other forms of hatred, then it must be made easier for police to do their jobs in this regard. They must be able to press charges without the permission of Attorneys General.

But there's another issue here. Again, if Whatcott published that "Matt Guerin is a pedophile," I could have sued him for libel and won millions as this is not true. However, since Whatcott published that all homosexuals (including Matt Guerin) are pedophiles, an even bigger lie, his supporters argue he should be free as a bird and face no consequences. This is unacceptable in a free and democratic society where individuals such as myself should be able to fight back against all libel.

If bigots like Whatcott are to be allowed to publish that entire members of an identifiable group are pedophiles, or terrorists, or murderers, or what have you, then why can't every member of that identifiable group sue Whatcott or others like him in court for libel? Are members of attacked groups to have no recourse whatsoever against these lies? Such a tolerance for hate speech is dangerous, as history has unfortunately taught us. If you want to be a bigot and publish such nonsense, I and every other gay man should be able to join in a class action libel suit against you for millions. Truth would win the day and Whatcott would be bankrupt financially (on top of his moral bankruptcy.)

However, the only recourse individuals such as myself now have against bigots like Whatcott are human rights commissions. Until the Criminal Code provisions against hate speech are improved, we must continue to have these venues to protect ourselves against destructive libel and hatred.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another tragic loss of a beautiful young gay man...

Have a watch of this video shot by yet another talented, beautiful, young gay man whose life was cut short this weekend by suicide. Every gay man understands the pain and isolation that Jamie Hubley expressed on his blog recently (see the image borrowed from Towleroad.com below).

It brings tears to my eyes to know that Jamie's depression was left unabated and the only escape that Jamie could conceive was suicide. In my own moments of despair and isolation as a closeted 15-year-old in the late 1980s, I too contemplated suicide as the only way out. But I never made the attempt. I somehow got through it and made my way into adulthood, came out and embraced a better life. It did get better!

Queer youth remain isolated and extremely vulnerable in our society and in our schools. But I couldn't agree more with one comment on this YouTube page that, ""It gets better" is not enough, we need to "Make it better"".

Fighting homophobic bullying (and all forms of bullying) must be the highest priority of our schools now! We have to start demanding real action! We have to start attacking politicians and so-called Christians who continue to fight against any attempts to minimize homophobic bullying in our schools and create respect in our schools for diversity! Any attempts by any public school boards to stop Gay-Straight Alliances need to be stopped in their bigoted tracks and those guilty removed from their public positions! For the sake of our youth!

Below is the statement released today by Jamie's father, Kanata councillor Allan Hubley. My thoughts go out to Jamie's entire family and friends in this moment of tragedy.


This past Friday, our family suffered one of the worst experiences that can happen to a family when we lost our boy — Jamie. To make this even more difficult, his death was the result of suicide.

I would like to thank all the family and friends that have been helping us get through these very difficult days. Very special thanks to everyone that came out in the rain to walk every foot of our community to look for our boy. The outpouring of support has shown us that our angel was loved by many and we were not the only people to witness his beautiful spirit.

Jamie was for most of his life a very happy and confident child. He was a compassionate person always looking to help others and didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Jamie often worked with me on community events and our many efforts to help others were made more effective with his ideas. From a very young age, he wanted to make a better community and a better world.

He was a championship figure skater for years and was just beginning to excel as a singer. He enjoyed acting as well and was involved in many different clubs and groups both in and outside of school. James’s family and friends unconditionally supported and accepted him for who he was and whatever direction he wanted to go in life.

James had been suffering with depression and was receiving care from doctors at CHEO and counsellors. These professionals, along with James’s family and friends, were trying to help him learn to cope with his depression and other issues, one of which was his struggles with his sexuality. He struggled with the idea that people can judge you harshly even when you are trying to help others. Jamie asked a question no child should have to ask — why do people say mean things to me?

Although James had a great many people who loved and supported him, something in his mind kept taking him to a dark place where he could not see the positive side of life, which led him to this drastic and tragic decision on Friday. Jamie is free of his pain now and there is a new angel, but we have paid too high a price.

There are some reports in the media and on social media that James was bullied. This is true. We were aware of several occasions when he felt he was being bullied. In Grade 7 he was treated very cruelly simply because he liked figure skating over hockey.

Recently, when Jamie tried to start a Rainbow Club at his high school to promote acceptance of others, the posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online. We had meetings with officials at the school and were working with them to bring an end to it but Jamie felt it would never stop.

We will not say that the bullying was the only reason for James’s decision to take his own life but it was definitely a factor. As his family and friends, or even if you never met him but want to help, we must do whatever we can to wipe out bullying for any reason in our society and especially in our schools. Young people are very vulnerable and have enough pressures in life to have to deal with aside from the stress of being bullied. My family’s wish is that no more families have to suffer the unbearable pain of losing a child. No child should have to deal with depression or feel hated because of their beliefs — that is not the Canadian way of treating others.

Bullying doesn’t always take the form of physical violence. Especially today with cyber-bullying on the Internet, children often feel there is no safe place to go; even when they are at home they can still be victims. Earlier I mentioned his posters being taken down. Many friends have offered to stand by the posters to ensure children that may want to meet and talk about issues that don’t harm others will be given the chance to do so. The school has made a promise to me that they will ensure the posters are protected. We hope from our tragedy others will become more active in stopping this cruelty towards children.

To this end, after my family and I have had some time to come to terms with the loss of our beautiful son James, I will be working hard to use my energy and public position to help bring awareness and resources to those groups working to stop the bullying and find a treatment for depression. Wendy and I have asked that all the people wishing to make a donation in Jamie’s memory can direct them to Youth Services Bureau’s Mental Health Walk in Clinic.

Over the years I have tried to help a lot of people and I was very proud that my beautiful boy was also learning the joy that comes from helping others. I need time to deal with the pain of not being able to save my precious boy and will speak more on his life and these issues later.

— Kanata South Councillor Allan Hubley

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Actor Zachary Quinto comes out...

Like many, I've heard the rumours about the lovely Zachary Quinto being gay for years. I'm thrilled that the actor best known for his roles as Spock in J. J. Abrams’s 2009 rendition of Star Trek and his breakout role in the TV show Heroes has made it official.

Quinto spoke with New York Magazine recently and put his cards on the table:

For one thing, he’s willing to unambiguously talk about his sexual orientation. His eight-month role in Angels was both “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as an actor and the most rewarding” he says. Having to inhabit that terrible lost world, if only in his mind, took a toll. “And at the same time, as a gay man, it made me feel like there’s still so much work to be done, and there’s still so many things that need to be looked at and addressed.”

I have such respect for Quinto for doing this. Every time an actor comes out of the closet like this, it further breaks down the barriers other gay actors face. One can be successful and be open about one's private life at the same time. The admiration Quinto will earn from this move will more than ensure a greater fan base and a long career.

At a time when stories about LGBT youth tragically losing hope and ending their lives continue to dominate, this is a good news story we can all celebrate. Indeed, Quinto himself references the recent tragedy of Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide on his blog today as part of his reasoning for doing this now. Bravo!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hudak Tories distributing homophobic literature to win votes...

Thanks to Warren Kinsella who posted about this issue today. If you needed further proof that Tim Hudak's Ontario P.C. party has been taken over by the Tea Party, check out this disgustingly hateful and misleading pamphlet on the right. This pamphlet follows Hudak's attempts earlier in this Ontario campaign to appeal to racism with his attacks on underemployed Canadian immigrants, calling them "foreign workers". Now this!

According to Kinsella, the Tories are circulating the pamphlet in Brampton ridings, alleging this policy developed by the local Toronto District School Board (i.e. not the province, not the local Peel school board, etc.) is somehow provincial policy.

The Tory pamphlet alleges the McGuinty Liberals are somehow conspiring to keep parents in the dark about sex education which includes the promotion of cross-dressing. These allegations are false, utterly ridiculous and misleading, as the policy was drafted by the local Toronto school board, not the province. The alleged "keeping parents in the dark" presumably refers to the following section of the local board policy:

Should Schools Send Notes Or Permission Slips Home Before Starting Any Classroom Work About Curricular Issues That May Involve Discussions About Discrimination and Harassment?

No. The TDSB Equity Foundation Statement and Commitments to Equity Policy Implementation states that each school has a responsibly to education that reflects the diversity of its students and their life experiences. Singling out one group or topic area as too controversial, and depending upon parent/guardian/caregiver discretion, shifts this responsibility from the school to the parents/guardian/caregivers and fosters a poisoned environment contrary to the TDSB Human Rights Policy.

Sending a school newsletter home at the beginning of each term is a best practice for keeping parents/guardians/caregivers informed of all upcoming equity topics in the classroom without having to single out one topic over the other.

I encourage you to read the local board policy further as it's a great read, clearly written by Toronto education professionals who take seriously their responsibilities to ensure a safe and secure environment for all students - not just the heterosexual ones - in Toronto's schools.

It's abominable that the Hudak Tories have decided to attack the provincial Liberals for a policy they didn't initiate. Yes, Tim Hudak seems more than happy to mislead the public and appeal to irrational bigotry and homophobia in order to win votes.

Tim Hudak is disgusting and most definitely not a leader for Ontario!