Brent Wheeler was a little hesitant when he moved from Charlottetown, PEI to the smaller island town of Summerside. He hadn’t been out that long, and was worried about being gay in a place where people already stared at him just for being new.
One of the first pieces of mail he received was a flyer that stated: “The same-sex marriage Bill C-38 will change your life! This bill is NOT about minority rights. It is the thin edge of a wedge that will destroy our Canadian way of life – and damage our families!”
“I felt like I was attacked in my own home when I got it,” says Wheeler, who wrote to his MP encouraging him to support the bill.
The flyer, which has been mailed or delivered door-to-door in close to 20 ridings across the country, is just one of the tactics being used by those opposing same-sex marriage. Other groups are using petitions, rallies, postcards and even automated phone messaging to encourage residents to contact their MPs to make sure Bill C-38 doesn’t pass.
The bill passed second reading last week and is now in committee. The committee, dominated by Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Québécois MPs who support same-sex marriage, is trying to get the hearings done in a rush – perhaps as little as two weeks – so the bill can get back to Parliament for third reading before an election is called. Otherwise, the bill dies.
The opposition ploys haven’t been all that successful as far as some of the targeted MPs are concerned.
Ajax-Pickering Liberal MP Mark Holland was upset when he first learned of the flyers. He sent out a press release stating, “Who is behind this group and what are they hiding?”
The flyer that Wheeler received is attributed to a group calling themselves Concerned Canadian Parents, and lists only a postal box outlet that has been traced to a 7-11 store on Weston Rd in Toronto.
“We have not been able to identify who is behind it,” says Richard McGuire, Holland’s executive assistant. “We have strong suspicions and circumstantial evidence that points to it being Evangelicals in the States.”
Alex Munter, spokesperson for Canadians For Equal Marriage, says that while his group would love to do mail-outs advocating same-sex marriage, the money isn’t there. He estimates that opponents have spent more than $1 million in the last few months.
“It’s a function of resources. If we had millions of bucks we’d be doing the same things,” says Munter. “We have to be more targeted, and we’ve been winningthe media war in terms of earned media. We can’t compete with the carpet-bombing.”
Russ Powers, Liberal MP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, says that he assumes his riding was targeted because of its large rural and fundamentalist base, as well as in response to his original statement that he would wait to see the legislation before deciding how to vote. Powers has since released a statement supporting the bill and voted in favour during the second reading.
Powers says that as far as he’s seen, the direct mail campaign has the opposite of its intended effect; the majority of those in his riding who responded to him are in favour or just want the matter dealt with expediently. He’s received 11,000 contacts in total on the issue; about 5,600 of those were from people living in his riding.
“If their intention was to persuade me to vote in the way they wanted me to, it backfired in a major way,” says Powers. “The purveyance of that material brought a lot of people into the debate that normally wouldn’t have gotten involved in this discussion.”
As for Holland, his office has received between 2,000 and 2,500 cards from various campaigns opposing same-sex marriage and about 500 supporting it.
“Some people have called [the Concerned Canadian Parents flyer] hate literature,” says McGuire. “Under the law I don’t think it is…. But it is certainly calculated to convey extreme intolerance without actually violating the law.”
Another tactic has been automated phone messaging. Wheeler got one of those, too.
“The caller ID read 1-111-111-1111,” says Wheeler. “It was a very long automatic message from a group called Defend Marriage and it left a phone number and a website for further information.”
Wheeler says that at the end of their message there was an option to input who he had voted for in the last election, and who he would vote for today. According to Maria DaSilva, a spokesperson from the Canadian Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the survey is what saves the campaign from being illegal. Solicitations are prohibited; surveys are not.
Though Defend Marriage broke another rule calling Wheeler – no surveys after 5pm on Saturday – they may have gotten around that, too, by placing the calls from the US, where the CRTC has no jurisdiction.