Canada
3 min

Egale requests censorship

Organization needs to get a grip on queer history

You’d better sit down for this one.

The latest from Egale Canada: a letter to the president and CEO of Canada Post. Asking them to censor the mails.

Yes, to censor.

The group that claims it’s Canada’s national legal organization acting on behalf of gays and lesbians (and bisexuals, trans, and two-spirited) is now requesting that the Canadian government censor.

Ignoring 30-plus years of Canadian gay activism against government intrusion into our sex lives, Egale has asked for a meeting with Canada Post to discuss the use of the mail by record companies and bookstores to distribute dancehall music. Egale is trying to snuff out the opportunities for Jamaican artists like Elephant Man, Buju Banton and Sizzla to distribute their work. Their lyrics often speak of killing gays and, according to Egale, promote hatred based on a person’s sexual orientation.

Canada’s national group is spending a lot of its energy these days working to help Jamaican gays and lesbians. They claim a direct link between song lyrics and the high rate of violence against the sunny island’s queers.

Personally, I’m pretty skeptical of the suggestion that people kill gays because of a song. And I’m pretty skeptical about Egale’s making this a priority — isn’t that for international gay and lesbian organizations with a specific mission to do this kind of work, like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)?

Seems like Egale has been spinning its wheels since the attainment of same-sex marriage rights. They’re all over the map since moving headquarters from Ottawa to Toronto and hiring Helen Kennedy as executive director. In the Ontario election, they stepped on the toes of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), a group that, frankly, has a history of far more competence at the provincial level than Egale. (It also bears noting that while Egale was dealing with marriage equality, and afraid of taking on sexual freedom and equality issues, CLGRO brilliantly stepped into the breach to oppose first Paul Martin’s Bill C-2 and then Stephen Harper’s Bill C-22.)

Egale has also taken on issues of school safety and curriculum. At first blush, that’s great stuff. On closer examination, it seems that progress on the school front is more likely to be accomplished through activism at the local and provincial level.

So, they’re flailing. Revenues have plummeted since marriage equality was won. Interest in the organization has waned. Its reputation has been seriously battered by internecine warfare and board politics.

And then Elephant Man’s visit to Canada last fall breathed new purpose into Egale: they could fight to censor lyrics and on behalf of Jamaica’s gays and lesbians. And they’ve run a classic fear-based campaign ever since. Beware the music bogey-man. Be very afraid. Drive him out of Canada. Try to stop his record sales. Threaten the Jamaican government with a tourism boycott. Threaten HMV Canada, Archambault Musique and Amazon.ca for daring to sell dancehall music. And now, ask Canada Post to censor.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept that lyrics cause violence in Jamaica. It’s fair, then, to use economic sanctions and censuring (not censoring) of artists and record companies that promote the violence. Target their wallets.

But don’t call for censorship by the Jamaican government. And how could anyone who knows our own history call for censorship by the Canadian government?

In trying to help beleagured Jamaican gays, Egale is doing something hateful to Canadian gays.

For decades, Canadian gays and lesbians were harassed for distributing our information and our gay magazines and newspapers by mail (and let’s not forget the other censoring arm of the government, Canada Customs, and their targeting of our community).

Perhaps best known are the charges against Pink Triangle Press, publishers of The Body Politic (and also of this publication) in 1978 under Section 164 of the Criminal Code — “use of the mails for purpose of transmitting anything that is indecent, immoral or scurrilous.” Police objected to a journalistic piece exploring intergenerational sex and used Section 164 for charges because The Body Politic mailed the magazine to its subscribers (PTP won at court).

More recently, Canada Post refused to deliver the election pamphlet of BC’s Sex Party in the 2006 federal election. The legitimate, registered political party wants to amend anti-sex laws, such as those used against gays and lesbians, leather aficionados and SM practitioners. The court ruled Jan 15 that Canada Post did not have legal authority to refuse to delivery the pamphlets.

Egale’s dragging Canada Post into their music campaign is so wrong-headed it’s hard to know where to start. I’d suggest all those gays and lesbians who object to government censorship and to regulation of our rights to sexual freedom, think twice about giving this organization another penny until they get a grip on queer history.