Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lies from the Top

Perhaps it's a bit sad, but given the scope of their responsibilities and the scale of the bureaucracy needed to run a country as big and diverse as Canada, I don't really expect a whole lot from our Federally elected officials, and most of them don't disappoint in this regard.  They balance their duties to the electorate with their desire to get re-elected and rise in power, and if they overextend themselves or overstay their welcome, hopefully another election will sweep them out.

It is fully expected that politicians are going to massage, manage, and manipulate the truth in a manner favourable to their position, and so most of us take information coming from places like Parliament Hill with a grain of salt; sometimes table salt, sometimes road salt, and sometimes those big blue blocks used for deer and cattle. 

I can take salted truth just fine, despite being keenly aware of excessive sodium in my diet, but I draw the line at deliberate, pernicious misinformation and lies coming from the mouths of MPs.  Two recent examples leap to mind:

International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda initially denied altering a document that initially supported but afterwards denied funding to international aid group Kairos.  Instead of rejecting CIDA's recommendation, or ignoring it, or just using ministerial fiat to pretty much do what she wanted to, she ordered the word 'not' inserted into the document, twisting the words and intents of others to suit her own political needs.  When the insertion was detected, Oda initially denied knowing who was responsible, before coming clean a few days later and admitting it was done at her direction.

She is not likely to face any discipline over this, and is, in fact, being applauded by other caucus members for doing a great job with her portfolio, despite having deliberately misled, or in other words, lied, to the House and the public, not once but twice.  That kind of bullshit is going to take a lot more than salt to choke down.

The second one is not quite as topical or as clear cut, but still reprehensible.

Bill C-389 is a private member's bill designed to include gender identity and gender expression to the list of identifiable groups protected by the Human Rights Act, and protecting them from hate crimes.  If this bill is passed, it means that a landlord who evicts a female tenant after discovering she began life chromosonally as a male would be in violation of that individual's rights, the same way he would be for evicting her because she's black, or Chinese, or Muslim, or gay.  A person who beats up someone because they find the idea of them being a post-operative trans-sexual personally repugnant would not just be charged with assault, but also potentially with a hate crime.

There are those who think hate crime legislation is redundant, ineffective or frighteningly close to 1984's concept of 'thoughtcrime', and that is understandable; after all, it can be difficult to prove intent in a lot of these cases.  That said, I still believe that there should be a difference in crime between someone who punches a guy in the face because he spat on his shoes and someone one who does it just because the victim is black.  Anyone who wants to argue the bill's merits in that regard should be encouraged, even if I think they are out to lunch.

The ship has pretty much sailed on hate crime legislation though, and despite occasional difficulties in applying it, most Canadians seem to think it worthwhile, and it appears it is here to stay.  This means that those opposed to Bill C-389 have to seek other means to defeat it, and disinformation is once again the weapon of choice.

Among (small c) conservative pundits (and some big-C Conservative ones as well), Bill C-389 is being presented as 'The Bathroom Bill', and the Marthas and Henrys of the country are having their indignation button pushed via the notion that sexual predators will be able to cross-dress and legally lurk in bathrooms of the opposite gender.  This letter, forwarded by Saskatoon MP Maurice Vellacott to his colleagues in Parliament asks the reader to
"Imagine a young girl - your daughter or granddaughter - goes into a washroom and finds a man there. How is the young girl to determine whether or not the man in the bathroom is a "peeping tom," a rapist or a pedophile? It is unconscionable for any legislator to purposefully place her in such a compromising position. Furthermore, if the young girl reacts negatively to the man's presence and he turns out to be a transsexual, she could potentially be charged with a "hate crime". "

I also like the author's helpful definition of trans-genderism as the "belief" that "one can be a man on the outside, but a woman on the inside, or vice versa," implying that there is some dispute over its legitimacy.  In fact, trans-genderism is a recognized psychological condition appearing on the DSM-IV since 1994.

This kind of boogeyman argument is both disappointing and infuriating.  First of all, there is nothing preventing predators from cross-dressing now and lurking in these bathrooms.  Secondly, there is nothing preventing male predators from going into male bathrooms even as we speak and preying on children there!  Thirdly, the implication that trans-gendered people are potentially more dangerous to children than other groups is not only wrong, it's offensive; check the statistics and worry more about straight people who are not strangers to their victims.

Before a person can be considered for gender re-assignment surgery, they have to spend a year or more living as the gender they wish to become, identifying and dressing in a way potentially very different from how they grew up.  Killing this bill tells these individuals, 'well, I guess you can use our bathrooms, but you'd better not let us catch you.'  If we all kept the cubicle doors closed, would this even be an issue?

Why is this such a burr under my saddle?  I don't know any tran-gendered people personally, so it's not like I have a dog in this fight.  I know a lot of people find the topic a little, you know, discomfiting.  Icky even, and you know what?  Fine.  Feel awkward.  Be icky.  Own it.  Admit it.  But don't treat people differently because of it. 

When some jackhole lets that icky feeling turn to anger and beats up a stranger because of it, don't pretend that that it's not a hate crime.  Don't let people tell lies linking the trans-gendered to pedophilia without some kind of evidence to back it up.  If you hear people talking this kind of harmful nonsense, call them out on it, right then and there.  Don't allow hurtful lies to be spread in your presence if you are able to help it.

I want to live in a Canada that is free, tolerant and inclusive, a country that works harder to protect those who need protecting.  Tran-gendered teens are worse off than gay or lesbian teens, even more at risk of bullying, assaults and suicide.  How is protecting a disempowered group like this not a Canadian value?

It's kind of funny; I only know about Bill C-389 because James, my church's minister, brought it up at last night's council meeting.  Like me, he thinks Christians should called to challenge comfortable assumptions, and to fight against injustice and untruth wherever we find it.  Maurice Vellacott is a former pastor who obviously feels called to a different sort of action, which I find disappointing, but hardly surprising.  That's a whole different kind of 'lie from the top' that I'll not get into now; suffice to say, I can't picture a lot of other denominations lobbying their representatives to support this bill.

Speaking of surprising, it's kind of amazing that Bill C-389 passed its first reading (143-135, with 6 Conservatives supporting it!), but it is generally expected to die in the Conservative-heavy Senate, if it even gets addressed before the next election is called.  (By the way, has anyone heard the PM talk about Senate reform lately, or do you think he wants to get a little more Tory Blue in that chamber first?)  Still, that stalwart body of sober second thought has a tradition of following the wishes of the House, and there are a handful of statesmen in there who still love debating principles and values and ideals.  And, hey, it's not as though they have to worry about getting re-elected, right?

If you care about things like justice, and equality, and fairness, you could do worse than to let your MP and the Senate know that you would like them to support Bill C-389.  Me, I like all those things, but the main reason I will do it is because liars, especially elected liars, just piss me off something fierce.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this, and calling attention to the scare campaign against C-389. My colleague, Jen Evans, wrote an opinion piece on this legislation in the G&M, if anyone is interested. (sorry for the long url):

    Judging from the comments, clearly the "bathroom" bill memo has reached the internet trolls.