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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DTES, elections, Human Rights, politics, Vancouver

How Vancouver’s supervised illegal drug injection site is winning the PR battle

Vancouver’s Insite is making headlines again as a new study shows it has slashed fatal overdoses in Canada’s poorest postal code. With the federal government’s appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court this May, the program’s future is once again in jeopardy. Here are my thoughts after visiting the controversial injection site.

Photos courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health

After touring Insite this week it is clear the operators are doing their best to win over the hearts and minds of Canadians skeptical of the harm reduction approach to drug addiction.

First-time visitors immediately notice the cleanliness, professionalism and transparency of the supervised injection site. In the main room, stainless steel shelves form 12 open booths that together service up to 1,000 users a day. The smell of cleaning supplies wafts through the Spartan rooms as site manager Darwin Fisher holds court.

Fisher is passionate about giving the addicts of Canada’s poorest postal code a voice in their own recovery. This method of mitigating the harmful conditions surround their addiction, and then allowing them to get the treatment they need seems to be working.

A recent study released by the provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, pointed to harm reduction services like Insite as helping lower the rate of HIV infections among injection drug users.

In a news release about the report Kendall said, “The recent decline in new HIV cases is encouraging, especially since a significant decrease has been seen amongst vulnerable populations like those who use injectable drugs. This decrease is more proof that Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy and other harm reduction services are working and should be expanded.”

In fact, every empirical study of infection rates among the people in the Downtown Eastside has come out in favour of Insite and its work. When talking to the media, Fisher wields these numbers like a sword in the face of a federal government hell-bent on shutting the service down.

Insite is as transparent as an entity run by three separate bodies can be. It is this transparency and an emphasis on empirical data that has been more effective in swaying public and political opinion than any preaching about the horrible circumstances of these addicts ever could.

Most taxpayers do not want to hear about the sad tales of abuse and trauma that precede a person’s gradual descent into the hell of addiction. What is much more important is the amount of money it costs to get a person off the street and into treatment. The amount of money it costs to process and care for a person with a skin infection from shooting up in the dank, dark and dirty alleyways of the Downtown Eastside.

Concrete numbers about the amount of money it is saving taxpayers are the best way Insite can gain further support, and perhaps one day expand their brand of harm reduction nationwide.

It may be a callous way to reach out for support, but Insite’s advocates know its $3 million annual oprating budget is miniscule compared to the overalls of illegal drug use.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse found, in a 2002 study, abuse of illegal druges like heroin cost Canadians $8.2 billion annually. Along with alcohol and tobacco, illegal drug abuse cost taxpayers $8.8 billion in health care and $5.4 billion in policing this abuse.

Former mayor Larry Campbell helped get the initiative off the ground, and ever since these positive numbers have come in, civic and provincial politicians have taken note. Today, these politicians are loath to criticize Insite’s effectiveness in curbing infection and costly health problems in drug-addicted people.

Federally, things are much different. Initially the Martin government begrudgingly supported the facility, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has fought tooth and nail to stop the money flow.

In order to fully understand the work of Insite, Harper should heed last year’s call of the B.C. Nurses’ Union and visit the facility himself.

Then, and only then, can he pass judgment on its role in Canadian society.