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Egale blows it on speaking out about dangers of Bill C-2

Bill C-2 ball dropped; one more chance to pick it up in fall

Credit: Paul Baik

Canada’s national gay lobby group dropped a ball they said they had picked up.

Egale Canada failed to comment on Bill C-2, federal legislation that other gay groups say will threaten freedom of speech, artistic expression and the rights of teens to choose their own sexuality. And they did so after telling Canada’s gays and lesbians that they were sending a position paper opposing Bill C-2 to the federal justice committee examining the legislation.

Egale’s board of directors decided Apr 14 to publicly criticize sections of Bill C-2, which address child porn and sexual exploitation. The bill removes the defence of artistic merit and allows anyone over 18 who is in a relationship with a teen between 14 – the age of consent – and 18 to be charged with exploitation.

But Capital Xtra has learned that Egale never submitted the document to parliament’s justice committee.

“That’s right,” says president Laurie Arron. “It was too late.”

After Egale first failed to take a stand on C-2 in December, some suggested the organization was focussing too many resources on fighting for same-sex marriage legislation and dropping the ball on other issues.

The suggestion prompted Egale executive director Gilles Marchildon to write a letter to the editor of Capital Xtra. “Let it be understood that Egale did not make a choice between either pushing for equal marriage legislation or fighting Bill C-2,” wrote Marchildon. “Our advocacy plate is quite full with a range of issues.”

In recent weeks, arts organizations have begun organizing to oppose the bill at the Senate’s committee stage this autumn. The Globe & Mail joined opposition to the bill in a Jul 6 editorial, suggesting the Senate consider sending C-2 back to the House for improvements.

Egale will consider making a presentation this fall, says Arron. “We agree it’s time for sober second thought,” he says. “It’s a matter of figuring out where we’ll focus our resources and just how quickly things are going in the Senate. It’s really something our legal issues committee has to focus on. We have a clear position, so I’d hope it’s something we’ll be addressing.”

Bill C-2 has been strongly criticized by two other leading queer groups: The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario and the Toronto-based Sex Laws Committee. Both submitted extensively-argued position papers to the justice committee. Both feared that the bill would make criminals of gay and lesbian artists and authors dealing with topics of coming out and sexual abuse. And both groups worried that gay teens would have their right to choose their own sexual expression curtailed.

In the last issue of Capital Xtra, NDP MP Joe Comartin, who sits on the justice committee which examined Bill C-2, said he wished the gay community had come before the committee to outline its opposition.

When informed of the position papers opposing the bill, Comartin expressed surprise and said he had not received copies.

That’s not accurate, according to clerks working for the committee.

The CLGRO brief was submitted to all MPs on the committee at 9:49am, and the Sex Laws Committee brief at 1:53pm, says Adele Levergnaux, assistant to the committee.

“The [committee] members get so many” he may have forgotten it, says Levergnaux, when asked why Comartin says he did not receive the paper. “Or maybe he misplaced it.”

Comartin did not return repeated calls from Capital Xtra about Levergnaux’s comments.

Egale’s Arron says the gay community had no realistic chance of derailing C-2. The main value of opposing Bill C-2 lay in educating MPs and the public, he suggests.

Bill C-2 passed third reading in the House Jun 9, followed by first and second reading in the Senate. It is expected to be debated in committee in the fall.