Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Further Thoughts on the Boissoin Hearing

In the comments section to my first post on Boissoin's Letter of 2002, an anonymous commenter has opened a topic that I want to elaborate upon a bit, as it begins to address a key point or two that are important here:

How would we have reacted had Mr. Boissin's letter read that "women are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "the english are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "the jewish are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "blacks are just as immoral as pedophiles"?

I won't begin to presuppose the outcome of the hearings now in progress in Calgary - when I find out about them, I will comment at that time. What follows are my own thoughts with respect to Mr. Boissoin's letter and how it plays in the boundaries of "free speech" and political discourse.

I think most Canadians would be rightly appalled had Mr. Boissoin's letter been phrased as our commenter suggested, for a variety of reasons. In my view, there is a fine line between legitimate political discourse on a topic and the spewage of hate-filled garbage.

Looking more closely at Boissoin's letter he makes some interesting, and virtually impossible to substantiate claims:

These activists are not morally upright citizens, concerned about the best interests of our society. They are perverse, self-centered and morally deprived individuals who are spreading their psychological disease into every area of our lives.

There are several "blanket claims" that could be read from this tirade:

1) GLBT people are "psychologically diseased".

This is perhaps the most egregious claim. No credible mental health professional would agree with such a claim, and I don't even think NARTH uses such language.

2) GLBT people are perverse.
3) GLBT people are morally deprived
4) GLBT people are self-centered

These three claims are moral value statements. Claiming that all members of a population are morally deficient is simply baseless assertion. All I would have to do is find one or two members of that group who do not fit into that classification and the claim crumbles. (The proof is left as an exercise for the reader...)

However, making uninformed claims is not necessarily a problem. Stupidity is not a crime last I checked. Boissoin makes multiple attempts to draw equivalences and shade the picture to suggest otherwise non-existent relationships. (e.g. Gay men are pedophiles):

It is only a matter of time before some of these morally bankrupt individuals such as those involved with NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Lovers Association, will achieve their goal to have sexual relations with children and assert that it is a matter of free choice and claim that we are intolerant bigots not to accept it.

Stupid as such a claim is, it hardly constitutes an act of hate for Boissoin to have written it down. In fact, to this point I might even go as far as to say that Boissoin's words were an ill-chosen attempt to inform people of what he thought was the truth. (Although NAMBLA has tried to align itself with the GLBT world, as far as I know the GLBT world is as deeply uncomfortable with that group as the rest of the population ... for good reason)

No, in order to make its way into the realm of being hateful, Boissoin would have to have made some kind of call to action that others might act upon. And Lo, a brief perusal of his letter turns up this gem:

Come on people, wake up! It's time to stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn. Where homosexuality flourishes, all manner of wickedness abounds.
If you are reading this and think that this is alarmist, then I simply ask you this: how bad do things have to become before you will get involved? It's time to start taking back what the enemy has taken from you. The safety and future of our children is at stake.

Now, this is unquestionably a call to action, and where I believe Boissoin crossed the line from uninformed, blatant stupidity and entered the realm of spreading hatred. {I reiterate, this is purely my own opinion of Boissoin's writings, and not intended to prejudge a hearing process that is ongoing)

The fact that two weeks after this letter was published a gay youth in Red Deer was badly beaten is either a strong coincidence, or an indication of just how inflammatory Boissoin's writing was.

The Religious Right (including groups like Concerned Christians Canada, and individuals like Craig Chandler who started it) will argue up and down that if this is declared to be 'hate literature' that we are witnessing the suppression of free speech, and freedom of religion.

In comparison, Bishop Henry's letter of a 2005 is positively oozing with religious reference and counsel. (I don't particularly agree that it was appropriately couched in the language of Henry's faith - but that's my opinion) Boissoin's letter doesn't even start to enter into the world of ministry as I understand, or have experienced it. It is filled with demonstrably false assertions, and a call to what one could politely call "pugilistic action" instead.

Boissoin's letter (and the bullying tactics that have been used against Dr. Lund since this complaint was filed) is difficult to see objectively as an expression of a reasoned opinion, a religious ministry, or as an invitation to discourse. It takes an absolute line about a topic, and does not even invite the reader to argue against his claims - hardly what one could call "an opinion piece" - especially not when he ends off with a call to arms.

A free and open society depends upon the ability of all parties to conduct themselves in a civilized manner. Boissoin's arguments decidedly less than civil in my view, and sit outside the bounds of "civil discourse". It's one thing to express an opinion about a subject, it's quite another to all but declare war upon another group in the population.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Boissoin has already crossed that line. Unfortunately in the highly moralistically charged subject of sexuality it is easier to do a slight of hand and blur the line than it would be in one of the other examples I provided.

Gay. Lesbian. Black. Caucasian. Male. Female. There is no justification to insert any of these words into that sentence and claim that you have not exceeded the boundaries of free speech, political discourse or even basic human decency.