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Bringing down the House that Jack built

NDP has ditched the fight for sex rights: activist

SHOVED ASIDE. NDP leader Jack Layton has put political ambition ahead of the fight for sex rights, says activist Peter Bochove. Credit: ndp.ca

It used to be that Peter Bochove, owner of Toronto bathhouse Spa Excess, felt like he had a lot of history with Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow. But now he’s campaigning against them.

“I believe that Jack Layton gave us Stephen Harper,” says Bochove. “The last Parliament was the House that Jack built, and it was a reckless move designed to advance Mr Layton’s career and make him prime minister.”

Things weren’t always that way. When Bochove sued the city of Toronto to get the permits for Spa Excess, Layton was his city councillor and helped them along the way.

“We really couldn’t have done it without Jack,” says Bochove.

But it was the position that Layton took during the age of consent debate that set Bochove off.

“As far as I’m concerned, Jack Layton threw gay youth under the bus,” he says. “All youth, but especially gay youth, under the bus so that he could be prime minister, because the polls said that it was popular with 80 percent of Canadians or somewhere in that neighbourhood.”

The age of consent provisions came into law May 1, 2008, as part of the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill. Bochove notes that when the age of consent amendments were a standalone bill, Layton also voted in favour of it, even though it didn’t contain the five year close-in-age exemption.

“That would have made sex between two 14 year olds a crime,” says Bochove. “I’m going to be 69 in April, so coming out for me was not exactly simple. It was a criminal offence, it was a ‘mental disease,’ and it was a terrifying experience. The Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP have handed that back.”

The sole NDP MP who voted against the bill and faced censure for it was Bill Siksay, the openly gay member from Burnaby-Douglas, BC.

“We had debate at our federal convention about this issue,” says Siksay. “We had discussion in caucus like we do on every piece of legislation, and we had I think a faithful and frank discussion on it, to use that cliché. But I think that all of my colleagues took that very seriously, and people came to their decision after very careful reflection on it.”

While he ultimately couldn’t go ahead with supporting it, Siksay says that others abstained rather than support it, and that the position taken wasn’t unanimous in the party.

But Bochove sees Layton as the problem rather than the party itself.

“Can you think of any other NDP leader who’s painted their name on the side of an airplane?” asks Bochove. “I can’t. The signs say ‘Jack Layton and Team Toronto,’ not the NDP. The NDP is in little letters in the corner.”

And while he says that ambition is not necessarily a bad thing, Layton crossed a line.

“When you begin to make laws that affect people who can’t affect the outcome of an election, you’re doing something that is so fundamentally wrong,” says Bochove.

While Bochove may blame Layton specifically, the party’s social gospel roots may also be a factor, according to gay historian Tom Warner.

“It’s interesting to know that there have been so many ministers, pastors and priests that have been involved with the NDP, or as Members of Parliament for the NDP,” says Warner. “So while they’ve taken good positions on questions of equality like decriminalizing same-sex acts or amending the human rights code so that there isn’t discrimination, they’ve generally not taken positions in terms of removing all of the criminal prohibitions on sexual activity.”

As for Bochove’s more dramatic responses, such as cutting up his NDP membership and giving money to the Liberal Party instead, Siksay still believes that on the whole, the party has done good.

“We may not have a perfect record,” says Siksay. “But we have a pretty fine record when it comes to raising queer issues, and I don’t think that any other party comes close to that. We haven’t had to fight to get our issues on the agenda, we haven’t had the fight to have a debate at conventions.”

Bochove, however, isn’t convinced that there aren’t other principles that will fall to Layton’s opportunism, and he now urges strategic voting in order to keep both Harper and Layton out.

“If it wasn’t close, I’d be speaking at every appearance that Jack Layton made, but it is and I’m not,” adds Bochove, but he has one more dire warning.

“If we’re saddled with a Harper majority, it will be Jack Layton’s fault.”