Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Canadian Supreme Court upholds anti-hate speech laws in case against Bill Whatcott

I'm quite pleased with this morning's ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada against Bill Whatcott's dissemination of hateful, anti-gay flyers in Saskatchewan in 2001 and 2002. Whatcott had been found guilty of breaking the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code's hate speech provisions and fined thousands of dollars in penalties. However, an appeal court overrruled that finding in 2010. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission then appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which heard the case in October 2011. I wrote about this case then.

Today's ruling is a great read. I hope the media editorialists who defended Whatcott's ability to publish and distribute these hateful flyers (one of which used the words "Kill the Homosexuals") take the time to read it and get educated about the harmful effects of hate speech.

The Supreme Court ruled today the Human Rights Code's ban on speech that exposes an identifiable group to hatred as valid. In so doing, it likely reinforced similar anti-hate speech provisions elsewhere in Canada's laws. The Court also ruled that other vague wording in Saskatchewan’s hate law, which bans speech that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of,” was constitutionally invalid.

The Supreme Court concluded that two of Whatcott's flyers constituted prohibited hate speech and he must now pay $7,500 of his original $17,500 in fines. In the judgment, Justice Rothstein writes: "Passages of these flyers combine many of the hallmarks of hatred identified in the case law...The expression portrays the targeted group as a menace that threatens the safety and well-being of others, makes reference to respected sources in an effort to lend credibility to the negative generalizations, and uses vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred.”

The SCOC also awarded the Saskatchewan Commission "costs throughout, including costs of the application for leave to appeal in this Court."

In the past, I've argued that only speech that objectively "incites violence" against an identifiable and protected group should constitute illegal hate speech. The Supreme Court seems to argue that simply exposing such groups to "hatred" as they define clearly in the ruling is sufficient for finding the speech illegal. This is broader than my own definition. But I see the great wisdom in it. I support today's ruling. It will greatly instruct the ongoing debate about what actions governments may take to prevent the harmful and very real effects of hate speech in our free and democratic society.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Media should re-think term "openly gay", perhaps use the term "out" to describe Kathleen Wynne...

When Kathleen Wynne won the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in late January, it was historic. Not only would Ontario have its first female premier, Canada would also have its first "openly gay" premier.

They didn't refer to her as Canada's first "gay" premier because, in fact, she wasn't. We know that former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield was most likely gay, but not out of the closet. For all we know, there were probably other premiers and even prime ministers in Canada who were gay. We just have no idea as they didn't publicly confirm such things in the past.

Mid-February, the media are using 'Ontario's first woman premier' or 'Ontario's first openly gay premier' less to describe Wynne and simply are calling her 'Premier Kathleen Wynne.' I hope that continues.

A queer colleague and friend commented to me this week that she's getting irritated by the media's constant refrain 'Ontario's first openly gay premier' to describe Wynne. Why can't they simply use the term 'Ontario's first out premier,' she pondered. I agreed with her.

She sent me this article which dealt with the same subject a few years ago. Author Stephen Elliott warned about the persistent use of the term 'openly gay' in quite an insightful way:

“We should take care with this phrase, which is useful in certain limited contexts but unnecessary and potentially offensive in others.

"For starters, of course, we note someone’s sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and the pertinence is clear to the reader. In those cases, we should describe someone as “openly” gay only to distinguish him or her from others who may be gay but are not open about their orientation. For example, it makes sense to say “so-and-so was the state’s first openly gay legislator,” because there may well have been other gay legislators who did not reveal that fact.

"But in most other contexts where sexual orientation is relevant, we can simply state that someone is gay without the “openly.” Using the modifier when it’s not necessary suggests that there is still something surprising about not concealing one’s orientation.”

Do we call Joe Oliver Canada's first openly Jewish minister of natural resources? Do we call Alison Redford Alberta's first "openly female" premier? Then why must we still refer to Wynne as 'Canada's first openly gay premier'? I would suggest that the media soon drop this description and simply, if they must, call her 'Canada's first out premier.'

If readers don't know what "out" means, they can always do a little research to find out.

Special message to state broadcaster Sun Media & Brian Lilley: Evangelicals and Catholics are not the same...

Canada's state broadcaster Sun Media has been going to bat for the Conservative Party this week against their political enemies. Conservative Party spokesman Brian Lilley has been obsessively attacking NDP Leader Tom Mulcair this week for questioning the government's funding of Crossroads Christian Communications.

This evangelical group has been receiving hundreds of thousands of Canadian tax dollars for aid projects in Uganda, a country currently considering killing its homosexuals. The Canadian group has reportedly been providing water to Ugandan citizens. This kind of work is admirable, even in a place as backwards as Uganda.

But Crossroads is an evangelical group that believes some abhorrent things about people who are born LGBT, including myself. Reportedly this group used to advertise on its website that "homosexuality and transvestism" are perversions along the lines of pedophilia and bestiality. This is hateful and completely wrong.

The federal government froze funding for the group for one day after this week's media controversy, but then re-affirmed it as the group's position on homosexuality didn't factor into its work in Uganda. I tend to agree.

But I disagree with Brian Lilley in this column that because Tom Mulcair is a Catholic and his church's catechism condemns homosexuality that Mulcair is a hypocrite for calling the group's opinions "un-Canadian".

Being Catholic (or any other form of moderate Christianity) is not the same thing as being Evangelical. Especially in Canada. Full stop.

Evangelicals take every word that was written by bigoted men centuries ago in both the Old and New Testaments as the unquestionable word of God, Herself. Doing so means that Evangelicals are forced to believe some very strange things, as we know. I won't get into all of them. But of course, these include supporting violence against women, murder, slavery and many other forms of crimes against humanity.

Evangelicals cling to every single word in their Bibles out of fear of eternal damnation. And they condemn the rest of us to hell for not joining them.

Other moderate Christians like most Canadian Catholics take a different approach. They don't believe every word in the Bible. They also don't believe every utterance from church leadership including in the Catholic catechism. Catholics like most religious people form their own conclusions and think for themselves. They can reference the church's beliefs or statements, but they are not beholden to them. They are not forced to believe every single word written by old bigots centuries ago simply because someone in power in their church told them to do so.

The vast majority of Canadian Catholics have beliefs that contradict the beliefs of outgoing Pope Benedict. The core of their beliefs are to be found in their interpretations of the Gospels and the loving, inclusive, socialist messages of Christ.

This feeble attempt by Lilley and others to equate Evangelicals with other reasonable, thoughtful Christians simply won't wash.

Mulcair can call himself a Catholic, go to church as often as he wants and still call the hateful comments of Evangelicals "un-Canadian". Because they are.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ontario News Watch Op Ed: Backroom Negotiations By Party Elites Chose Wynne As Liberal Leader. But Is That Really The Best Way To Choose A Premier For All Of Ontario?

I was very proud to be asked by ONW Editor Susanna Kelley to write today's op ed piece on the recent Ontario Liberal leadership election process. Please check it out here today or read below:

Op Ed: Backroom Negotiations By Party Elites Chose Wynne As Liberal Leader.

But Is That Really The Best Way To Choose A Premier For All Of Ontario?

The recent Ontario Liberal leadership convention won by Kathleen Wynne, who is being sworn in today with her new cabinet, was a classic example of the delegated leadership selection process in which the elites of a political party determined the outcome.

The backroom negotiations between the candidates and their senior advisers played a pivotal role in deciding who would be governing Ontario.

Sandra Pupatello is on record saying she had expected rival Eric Hoskins to endorse her after the first ballot (based on a conversation she had with Hoskins and his wife at their home earlier that week).

But something happened to change Hoskins' mind on the Saturday and he endorsed Wynne instead, giving her crucial momentum.

While Harinder Takhar's endorsement of Pupatello gave her a bit of a boost, once rival candidates Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy endorsed Wynne, the final result was sealed. Their delegates largely followed them en masse to put Wynne over the top.

The drama made for great television and got a lot of public attention on a cold Saturday in January.

But is this the best way to choose a Premier?

The elites would say yes.

I'm sure the leadership candidates who fell off the ballot early would also say yes.

After all, such candidates spent weeks traipsing across the province meeting party members, spending money and raising their profiles.

After all that, they probably thought, should they not emerge victorious, they should at least have the right to help determine the eventual winner.

If doing so helped ensure a nice promotion in the winner's cabinet, all the better.

But does a political party belong to its members, or to those who happen to put their names forth for the leadership?

Contrast the 2013 Ontario Liberal race with the 2012 federal NDP leadership race, which used a much more open and democratic process.

All federal NDP members got a chance to vote to determine the final outcome, unlike the Ontario Liberal process, which only allowed elected delegates and about 400 party elites to attend the convention and make the final decision.

However, the NDP process was not without its drawbacks. Most votes in the NDP race were cast by members across the country using a preferential ballot in advance of the final convention in Toronto.

Thus, when NDP leadership candidates gave their big speeches to the convention, they had almost no impact on the final results.

Many argue that candidate Nathan Cullen had the strongest convention performance while eventual winner Tom Mulcair had a lousy presentation in which he rushed through his speech.

Indeed, Pundit Guide determined that amongst the votes that were cast live at the convention that weekend, Cullen led on every ballot on which his name appeared. But the votes already cast for Mulcair and Brian Topp outflanked him.

Most of the NDP leadership candidates declined to endorse any rivals after falling off the ballot probably because they knew such moves would have no impact. The power of elites to determine the outcome in the NDP race was completely undermined.

The federal Liberals have also opened up their leadership race this year, with members and even supporters making the final choice.

But instead of repeating the NDP's mistakes, the federal party has wisely decided to showcase the candidates' final speeches on April 6th, with all voting taking place after that date with final results announced on April 14th. The exciting drama of a convention will be lost, but the result will include all Liberals across the country, not an elite of elected delegates and party bigwigs.

While I supported Pupatello, I am now quite happy to fully support Wynne's leadership. Her performance leading up to and since the convention has been stellar and she has won me over. I'll be fighting to ensure she gets re-elected with a majority.

But as a democrat, I'll also be fighting to make sure Ontario Liberals open up their leadership process to allow all party members to have a say in the final result.

For me, delegated leadership conventions make politics more about the insiders and less about the people.

The public hopes and expects political parties to run themselves in open, transparent and fair ways.

It's unfortunate the Ontario Liberals failed to modernize their leadership process in recent years.

I suspect that was largely due to Dalton McGuinty's preference for the system which allowed him to move from fourth place to first with the help of fellow candidates.

The big question now will be if Kathleen Wynne, who was once shunned by party elites and generally is known for her love of fair process, but also benefited from the current system to win power, agrees to keep the status quo for next time, or chooses instead to bring her party into the 21st century.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Party elites, not grassroots members, chose Wynne for Ontario Liberal Leader...

The recent Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto was enjoyable to attend. It gave me the opportunity to re-connect with dozens of Liberals I've known over the years. It also provided great drama as it produced a new leader and premier for Ontario, Kathleen Wynne.

This story today by Ontario Newswatch's Susanna Kelley fleshes out some of the shenanigans carried out by party elites in and around the various candidates to determine the outcome. It appears from the article that last-place finisher Eric Hoskins may have been promised the Health ministry in exchange for his support for Wynne after the second ballot. That move shocked rival candidate Sandra Pupatello and her supporters who had expected Hoskins to come to her, based on a meeting she had with Hoskins and his wife earlier that week.

As a Pupatello supporter, I volunteered my Saturday morning at the convention to don a Pupatello t-shirt, hat and sign to help support her during her convention speech along with dozens of others. Pupatello aides gave us instructions that morning to take an extra Pupatello sign to hand to Hoskins supporters when they entered the convention floor after us. We were told also to take a Hoskins sign back in a show of solidarity between the candidates. It was clear that they all believed Hoskins was coming over to Pupatello.

That's why this story by Kelley rings true to me. Hoskins' move to Wynne signalled that Wynne's campaign was seizing momentum, particularly after the closeness of the two leading candidates on the first ballot (599 for Pupatello and 597 for Wynne.)

Other elites like Hazel McCallion and Greg Sorbara also played major roles in helping to determine the outcome. The article alludes to McCallion's wish for $1.5 billion in provincial money for Mississauga's new LRT. Her sudden support for Wynne at the convention just days after pledging neutrality is interesting. It seems her support for Wynne had a lot to do with Charles Sousa's decision to also support Wynne at the convention, a move which shocked supporters of Sandra Pupatello who had thought Sousa's centre-right/business-friendly mentality would make Pupatello a more natural fit.

Now that she's won, I support Kathleen Wynne 100 percent. I hope for the best for her government and I'll be praying she gets re-elected. It's one thing to earn a victory based on hard work and merit. It's quite another when backroom deals are struck to help determine an outcome. The pressure cooker of a convention in which hundreds of delegates are easily swayed by the moves of their candidates remains the easiest way for party elites to determine the leadership outcome. If the result is left up to thousands of members scattered throughout the province who rely solely on their own judgment rather than those of the elites, the final results can be quite different. If those members' votes have already been cast in a preferential balloting system (like the federal NDP undertook last year), the power of the elites to determine the outcome between ballots is completely undermined.

I fully expect the powers-that-be in the Ontario Liberal Party who once again used the archaic convention system to get their way to fight tooth-and-nail to keep that convention system for future leaderships. The big question will be if Wynne, who was once shunned by those party elites and generally is known for her love of fair process, but also benefited from the current system to win power, agrees to keep the status quo for choosing leaders in the Ontario Liberal Party for next time.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Great day as British House of Commons votes in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage.

Britain's Parliament voted today 400 to 175 to legalize equal marriage in the United Kingdom.

The government-proposed bill would enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies, provided that the religious institution consents. The bill bitterly divided David Cameron's ruling Conservative Party, but enjoyed huge support from the opposition, allowing it to pass handily in the House of Commons. The bill now goes to the House of Lords.

Congrats to Great Britain on this great step toward equality! Here's a video of the moment the bill's passage was announced today:


Sunday, February 3, 2013

My short film 'The Golden Pin' plays with 'A Silk Letter' at Carlton Cinema this week...

A few years back, I co-produced and co-wrote the award-winning short film The Golden Pin with my friend, director Cuong Ngo. It won Best Canadian Short at the 2009 Inside Out film festival in Toronto and then went on to screen at over 40 international film festivals, as well as on HBO in the U.S. and OutTV. The story concerned a young Vietnamese-Canadian swimmer who struggles between the expectations of his family and the demands of his heart. We are working on turning it into a feature-length film over the next 1-2 years.

I'm happy to say that The Golden Pin is playing this week in a special screening along with the Korean 50-minute drama 'A Silk Letter' in Toronto. The films screen together every day at 1:45 pm and 6:40 pm at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto at 20 Carlton Street just east of Yonge until Thursday Feb 7th, 2013.

A Silk Letter profiles the character of "Sungwoon (Sung Hojun) who lives in Seoul in a small apartment that he shares with his teenaged, high-school dropout lover (Choi Jinhwan) and their cat, Louie. They may be living in Korea’s largest city, but huddled together on a mattress on the floor, they’re on their own private island. And as the movie opens, escape is very much on Sungwoon’s mind. He’s introduced in the middle of burning his draft card, in a brilliantly composed long shot that isolates him within an urban landscape." You can read the rest of Adam Nayman's glowing review in the Globe & Mail here.

Here's the official Facebook event page for this week's screening with more information.

For those in the Toronto area looking for some artsy, award-winning, Asian-themed queer shorts to check out, please check the screening out this week at the Carlton!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Former New York mayor Ed Koch dies at 88

Closet case! Coward! We've heard all these words today and long before to describe Ed Koch, who served as New York City's mayor during the 1980s.

According to the folks who made the 2012 documentary "How to Survive a Plague", his " the very epicenter of the AIDS crisis...failed," so many even as it ravaged thousands of gay men just like him. Koch was apparently gay but never admitted it publicly. The best we got, when once asked about his own sexuality, was the following: "My answer to questions on this subject is simply, 'Fuck off.' There have to be some private matters left."

He took that official secret to his grave when he passed away earlier today.

I came of age just after the worst of the AIDS crisis. But that terrible decade in 1980s remains in our collective memory. It's true that Koch could've done much, much more to help combat the disease in those early years, provided more help to those struggling to survive and help others fight the disease. It was an epic failure of leadership from somebody who should've known better.

Regardless, I hope he rests in peace. This clip below from the feature film 'Shortbus,' by director John Cameron Mitchell features an elderly male character who is clearly based on Koch. Not seen in this clip, the character introduces himself to the young man as a former "mayor" of New York City and proceeds to try to explain away his terrible record on the issue. It's quite moving and worth a watch (as is the entire movie if you haven't seen it yet.)

For more on Koch's record on gay issues, read this Huffington Post article or this new piece out Feb 4, 2013 by Michelangelo Signorile.