From The Vault: Tom Flanagan, white supremacists, the Reform Party and NAMBLA

Remember when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and CBC commentator Tom Flanagan was vilified after a YouTube clip of his comments about child pornography went viral (well, by Canadian standards). 

A victim of the reactionary “gotcha” culture that Twitter emboldens, the next day Flanagan was dropped as an advisor to his protege Danielle Smith’s Wild Rose Party and was soon axed from his gig at the Mother Corp.

As someone who watched his fair share of the Daily Show in university, the thing that struck me in that YouTube clip was Flanagan’s mention of NAMBLA – The North American Man Boy Love Association. Dozens of articles had gone over his brief comments on child pornography, but none had delved into this reference.

So I decided to phone him up at his U of C office. To my surprise he picked up and answered my queries about the reference.

Here is the “webfile” that I wrote at the time (March 7, 2013), but just couldn’t square putting up online. It sounded too ridiculous, too “tabby” for a mainstream paper to run. Well, that’s the beauty of this here blog, without further ado (or a proper headline for self-spiked article): 

Former high-level conservative political strategist Tom Flanagan says he ended up on the North American Man Boy Love Association mailing list around the same time he was rooting out neo-Nazis from the Reform Party in the mid-90s.

Flanagan has drawn widespread criticism for his comments on child pornography made last week, but until now has not explained his admission in that same speech that he was on the mailing list of the pedophile advocacy group “for a couple of years.”

“It starts with working for the Reform Party and being asked to clean out the racists that may have infiltrated the party – there were not many but there were a few,” he said over the phone from his University of Calgary office. “I subscribed to (defunct neo-Nazi group) Heritage Front’s magazine because I was charged by the Reform Party with tracking them.

“But then they went out of business  and then… after a period of time, I started getting all this other stuff – none of which I ever asked for.

Flanagan said it was “mostly neo-Nazi but it included this man-boy love thing.”

“This was back in the mid-90s, who knew what the rules were then?” he said. “I didn’t subscribe.

“They put me on the list. I threw the stuff away. It eventually stopped.”

San Francisco-based NAMBLA, which advocates for the abolishment of age of consent laws criminalizing adult sexual involvement with minors, published a satirical piece making light of Flanagan’s situation this week. But the organization did not clarify if and how Flanagan was ever signed up for their newsletters.

Last week Flanagan said at the forum in Lethbridge, Alta., that he questioned whether people viewing child pornography should be jailed for their “taste in pictures.”

Flanagan made similar remarks three years earlier to the University of Manitoba’s student newspaper.

He said this week in National Post guest newspaper column that the question that prompted his remarks last week came out of left field and had nothing to do with the forum where he was speaking.

Flanagan was a one-time strategist for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and for Alberta’s Wildrose party, and was a political pundit on CBC TV – all have since denounced him.

He is still listed as a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute conservative think tank.

Neither Flanagan nor Fraser Institute would comment on his position there.

“I will say I’m getting tremendous support from individuals, and I have made hundreds of new friends, from gay and lesbian activists  to social conservatives and born-again Christians and everything in between,”Flanagan said. “But it’s all individuals, so I have no comments on organizations.”

With files from The Canadian Press

POST SCRIPT: Just checked and it looks like The Fraser Institute weathered the media firestorm (of one reporter) and kept Flanagan on as a senior fellow. Good on it for sticking to its guns.

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B.C.’s sled dog uproar erased other issues worth barking about

This is an editorial I wrote for today’s issue of The Voice about the recent Sled Dog Task Force and the speed of which the provincial government reacted to the public furor created by the massacre of 100 dogs.

Photo: Christine Zenino

Yesterday’s Sled Dog Task Force’s report brought swift legislative action from the premier aimed at tackling B.C.’s “terrible black eye” of animal cruelty.
The resulting animal cruelty laws, now Canada’s toughest, were met with applause from animal lovers across the province. But what does the genesis and speed of the task force and its legislative success say about B.C.’s political discourse?

“British Columbians have said clearly that cruel or inhumane treatment of sled dogs or any other animal is simply not acceptable,” Premier Christy Clark said in a press release yesterday.

Are there not a host of more pressing problems British Columbians find simply unacceptable?

Direct action was taken over the slaughter of about 100 dogs, yet the public inquiry into allegations of police malpractice and incompetence during the investigation into the missing women has been beset by delay after delay.

Shortly after public outcry erupted from news reports of the dogs’ massacre, the task force was set up with an order to complete their inquiry and report back within 45 days.
Contrast this with the years it took police, and society as a whole, to recognize dozens of women from Canada’s poorest postal code were being abducted and murdered by a serial killer. As early as the summer of 1998 the press were reporting a huge uptick in women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside. The police force reacted sluggishly and didn’t merge the investigation with the RCMP until April of 2001. By that time, numerous media reports had detailed the outcries for action from friends and families of the victims.

Politics dictate the government must listen to the concerns of its constituents, the priority of these concerns is another matter altogether.

In dog-friendly Metro Vancouver many people were rightly horrified with the mass “culling” of the sled dogs. More than 200 dog owners showed up at a February rally against the massacre in the affluent suburb of West Vancouver.

From 2007 to 2009, over 68 impoverished infants died in B.C. Twenty-one of these deaths were investigated further and just below three-quarters of the infants were aboriginal.

It took a full decade of leading Canada in child poverty rates for the provincial government to begin reforming the children and family ministry and sketching out the basics of child poverty plan.

Much like in the media, it seems easier in politics to respond to a sensational problem which affects proportionately less people than tackle a more nuanced issue that impacts us all.


>Too (East) Asian?


                                                                   photo: insidehighered.com

 In Maclean’s 2010 university rankings issue writers Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler pushed the boundaries of responsible journalism. 

In the article ‘Too Asian’? Findlay and Köhler explore the demographics of Canadian universities, yet do so with biased racial overtones cloaked in their presentation of a supposedly widely-held viewpoint. 

One of the core tenets of quality journalism is responsibility. Journalists have a responsibility to engage their readers in thoughtful debate and provide necessary context to controversial ideas or events. If the media provides a free marketplace of both good and bad ideas eventually the good ideas will prevail and become common wisdom.

However, fringe or discriminatory ideas need not be given equal weight if they are clearly inaccurate. This is why media outlets like the CBC now refuse to include climate change skeptics as counterweights to scientists in global warming articles. 
Maclean’s had no obligation to focus so heavily on this belief that Canadian universities are suffering from increasing ‘Asian’ enrolment. A specific population of foreign citizens becoming a large presence at many of the nation’s top universities might warrant a news feature. Yet, the insidious thing about this article is that both Canadian (Canadians from an East Asian background) students and foreign ‘Asian’ students are lumped together, blurring the line between the two and bringing into question such Canadians place in the national fabric. 
“‘Too Asian’ is not about racism, say students like Alexandra : many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make,” stated the article. After attributing this view to white students, the term ‘Asian’ is used to refer to both Canadian citizens and international ‘Asian’ students.
The article tries to create conflict between two vast and poorly delineated groups of students in an attempt to construct news value. Do the reservations some white Canadians have about working hard to get into a prestigious university warrant a news feature detailing the humanity of their struggle? It may, if students come from disadvantaged backgrounds or are overcoming adversity in some way. But to juxtapose the plight of lazy students against hardworking students from different ethnic backgrounds hardly strives for one of journalism’s crucial goals of informing the citizenry. 
The annual university issue is arguably Maclean’s most popular each year, and the editors must have known the ramifications of putting this article in this issue. There are more than two thousand comments in response to the article online and numerous blogs, print and broadcast media have discussed whether or not it crossed the line. Maclean’s was clearly more focused on stirring up controversy – and publicity – than bringing anything constructive to the national conversation on multiculturalism.
The article is premised on the belief that the racist opinions of a select group of students can be extrapolated to represent a larger group of Canadians. Twice the article quotes a professor saying that ‘Asians’ are being treated like Jews were in the early 20th Century. This scary parallel does not prompt the authors to examine this discrimination, but through direct quotes from other sources they give voice to it.
The reporters are uncritical in their use of the term ‘Asian.’ Journalism is supposed to push the public discourse forward through objective and accurate reporting. By using the term Asian prominently, the journalists neglect their duty to provide context and accuracy. 
The Asian continent contains more than half of the earth’s population. An ‘Asian’ could come from countries as diverse as Japan, Kazakhstan or Bangladesh. If one of the purposes of the article was to spark debate, then a more constructive one could be initiated by first casting a critical eye on such a problematic word.
The article cites a study commissioned by the Ontario provincial government and released in October. This study is more thoughtful than the Maclean’s article in using the ‘Asian’ tag and instead refers to students “who immigrated from East Asia.” Even a small distinction like this improves public discourse by deconstructing a monolithic term like ‘Asian.’ If journalists around the world stopped reducing diverse places into singular labels like ‘Africa,’ people might be better informed and able to grasp the complexities of the world outside their borders.
Latent prejudice is peppered throughout the article, where the authors alternately praise the Canadian post-secondary education system and then raise open-ended questions about its current state as “too Asian.” The article stated, “Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties… rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.” The readers are left to decide whether a concentration of ‘Asian’ students is desirable. 
By following “Likely that is a good thing,” with “And yet,” casts a negative light on the second sentence. Journalists should not tell readers how to think about a topic, they are only there to provide what to think about. Again the article repeats this “dilemma” facing Canadian institutions: act as meritocracies yet receive too many ‘Asian’ students.


>Shirley we’ll miss him…


                                                                  photo: grarg.net

(Ed. Note: This piece ran in the Langara Voice on Monday, I have been slow to post it but take some time and let me know what you think. I have been incredibly slow posting since the summertime, I’m going to upload a bunch of pieces that I have completed during my certificate program. I was assigned these stories to cover for the newspaper.)

Canada lost its king of deadpan last Sunday as actor Leslie Nielsen passed away at the age of 84.

The utilitarian actor worked for decades in over 100 movies and numerous TV shows before he redefined himself as a funny man after the 1980 hit, Airplane! He died due to complications with pneumonia.

“Even when he was in the early part of his career, doing the serious movies and TV, he was always very down-to-earth, had a quick wit and a great sense of humour,” said Doug Nielsen, Nielsen’s nephew who lives in Richmond.

“I would see that humour in him all the time when we got together and had a glass of wine,” Doug said.

Nielsen perfected the straight-faced delivery of ridiculous lines now the bread and butter of comedians like Stephen Colbert and George Carlin. Yet many of Langara’s younger students might remember Nielsen as Mr. Magoo.

Nielsen worked as a villain in TV and movies for decades before jumping at the chance to move to comedy.

“After he read the script of Airplane! he actually said to his agent that he’d do the movie for free. He just loved the whole idea,” said Doug.

B. J. Summers, manager at the Videomatica movie rental store, thinks Nielsen’s image as a bad guy added to the effectiveness of his comedic roles.

“That’s who he was for the longest time,” Summers said. “And that’s why it was so funny that people recognized his face and he delivered his lines like he always did, so deadpan and so real.”

Videomatica has a memorial shelf for Nielsen including many comedies like the Naked Gun series and also his lesser-known dramas.

Nielsen was born in Regina and moved around the prairies with his family. He said in previous interviews he started developing acting skills when he used to lie to his strict Mountie father. Nielsen’s brother Erik was deputy prime minister in the 1980s and also died at age 84.


>Honduras: Justice Rolls to Poor Hondurans


   Users awaiting trial outside the “Bus of Justice”

Thanks to two innovative courts on wheels some Hondurans are getting a concrete taste of justice, even if higher levels of their judiciary subverted it by facilitating and legitimizing last year’s coup. In January, the Mobile Peace Courts working in the bankrupt burbs of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula celebrated their second anniversary resolving the legal conflicts of more than 5,000 citizens without the resources to seek justice.

The “Buses of Justice,” as they are known by many residents, opened Jan. 18, 2008 to try civil and criminal cases dealing with family, labor and domestic violence charges. The courts also offer free mediation services whereby many family disputes – like child support or access to minors- are resolved before going to trial. If mediation does not resolve the issues then involved parties head to the court at the other end of the bus. “Mediation gives people voluntary solutions that empower them to resolve conflicts peacefully,” said San Pedro Sula Mobile Peace Court Judge Edgar Leonardy Duarte.
For many Hondurans access to legal aid requires non-existent free time and an expensive trip into the city. The “Buses of Justice” are a pilot program sponsored by the World Bank aimed at giving marginalized women, indigenous and poor people the tools to demand justice. The majority of claimants are women seeking child custody, lost wages or work benefits as well as safety from domestic violence. The courts’ professionals use an accelerated process in order to satisfy the rapidly expanding caseload and ensure some poor Hondurans enjoy equal access to justice.
Judge Edgar Leonardy Duarte holds court
“The project is successful because everyday it travels the neighborhoods and communities helping people obtain access to justice that is quick, free  and transparent, all without even having to hire a lawyer,” offered Judge Duarte. In April 2008 the World Bank recognized the “Buses of Justice” as its top Latin American project for promoting access to justice. Despite the coup and ensuing political crisis, funding remained intact and the possible expansion of the Mobile Peace Courts project is now under review.

“This project is so good that it should be implemented not only in the Honduran municipalities but in those poor countries that need to build trust in their justice systems,” said Judge Duarte. With the cost of litigation becoming increasingly prohibitive in North America, average citizens there might also want their justice on-the-go.