3 min

Egale explores different philosophy

Marchildon looks to community-building

BROADER PERSPECTIVE. Gilles Marchildon will lead Egale Canada with fresh ideas and priorities. Credit: Trevor Clayton

Gilles Marchildon says there is more to his new job as executive director of Egale Canada than changing Canada’s laws.

Marchildon wants to find a place for the organization in community-building and social change, as well as its traditional focus on equality in legislation.

“While there are still important legal issues and battles,” says Marchildon, “I think we will see a shift toward other areas.”

Marchildon’s vision of a broader perspective for Egale includes looking at quality of life issues and the GLBT contribution to the community at large.

“So many avant-garde artists and social innovators come from our community,” points out Marchildon, “and I think we should look at those contributions.”

Marchildon also feels that spirituality is an area worth exploring, although he is quick to point out that he does not necessarily mean religion.

“Out of that (exploration), I’m hoping we can identify a contribution that is ours to make.”

But he knows that Egale Canada’s mission as an advocacy group for GLBT legal equality may never be completed.

“Our legal situation is much better than it was 10 years ago,” says Marchildon, “I think Egale’s role may become more of a watchdog. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.'”

But Marchildon also plans to continue ongoing action on several legal fronts. His priorities include not only same-sex marriage, but also hate crimes legislation, which he pointed to as one of his top policy priorities.

“The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is moving forward with discussions on Bill C-250.”

Marchildon is less impressed with the committee’s panel on same-sex marriage.

He says, “The only thing that would satisfy us is a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and I don’t think that will happen.”

The Criminal Code is another possible focus for Egale’s awareness-raising activities in the future, particularly the “common bawdy-house” provisions in Part VII of the Code, which have been used to target bathhouses, bars and private parties in the past.

The section criminalizes, among other things, owning, running or using the services of a place for the “practice of acts of indecency.”

“It’s ridiculous that two consenting adults in a private space would be charged for normal activity. Sexual expression is a perfectly normal activity,” says Marchildon.

“I don’t see what role the state has to play when the only harm done is to people’s sensibilities.”

His philosophy also extends to Criminal Code provisions on nudity and indecent acts. The Code’s provisions state that the acts are illegal in a “public place,” but Marchildon questions the definition of “public.”

“Deep in a park at 3AM is not a public space in the same way as a street corner.

“Is the problem that it is offending sensibilities, or is it a question of public harm from things like used condoms?”

If the latter, Marchildon suggests clean-up crews for cruising areas and public sex spaces might be more effective and cheaper than using plainclothes and uniformed officers.

Marchildon is aware that his not being a lawyer sets him apart from his predecessor in his approach to some issues.

“I’m not looking to fill John Fisher’s shoes,” he points out.

(Fisher, the former executive director of Egale Canada, will be fêted at the Egale Gala on April 3.)

He adds that the creation of a director of advocacy position, currently staffed by Fisher on an interim basis, leads to less emphasis for him on the nitty-gritty of the law, which seems to play to his strengths.

“I do not necessarily do justice to the legal complexities, but I can explain it better to the average person.”

Marchildon’s background in communications and events planning, as a founder of the Winnipeg-based People + Ideas, should also prove to be a strength when it comes to organizing the “Rainbow Visions” conference, to be held in Montreal in mid-May.

“It’s a Woodstock of ideas,” he says, “to help us create a blueprint for the next five years.”