5 min

Hedy Fry has competition

MP faces ex-city councillor Lynne Kennedy

Credit: Robin Perelle

Hedy Fry has competition to carry the Liberal banner in the upcoming federal election.

The three-term MP, who made a name as a “giant killer” when she defeated PC Prime Minister Kim Campbell in Vancouver Centre riding in 1993, has to organize against other Liberals for the first time since entering federal politics.

Former Vancouver city councillor Lynne Kennedy is selling memberships in an effort to dethrone Fry. Also throwing in his hat is newcomer Taleeb Noormohamed, 27.

Fry’s taking nothing for granted with an election rumoured for spring. She’s been flogging memberships at The PumpJack and The Oasis, finding success by invoking Kennedy’s name. Kennedy was the chair of the city’s liquor licensing committee under the rightwing Non-Partisan Association. She earned the wrath of the gay community when approval was repeatedly delayed for the Fountainhead’s licence and when the PumpJack was assigned a low capacity.

While Kennedy could not be contacted for inclusion in this news report, Noormohamed and Fry both see a number of significant queer issues of major importance for the next government.

Among them are: same-sex marriage, the bawdyhouse section of the Criminal Code, public sex and the artistic merit defence.

Both Noormohamed and Fry believe there should be equality between straights and queers when it comes to marriage.

For Fry, the issue is inextricably tied to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She calls it the last leg in creating equality under the law for the last oppressed minority in Canada.

“Marriage is not merely and purely a religious institution. The state cannot deny a minority group in Canada the right to have access to a legal and social institution without discriminating,” Fry says. But, she adds, what the churches do with regard to religious institutions and marriage is their business.

“They have that freedom under the Charter.

“If the Supreme Court decides this is as Charter issue, [Prime Minister Paul Martin] has said he is not prepared to use the notwithstanding clause,” Fry says.

For Noormohamed, the marriage question is a human rights issue.

“It’s not about being gay or being straight,” he says. “People should be able to enter into whatever they so choose. If same-sex couples want to be married, it should be their prerogative to be married. If heterosexuals want to be in a civil union but have no religious marriage . . . that should be up to them, too.

“The state should be fully supportive of any union between people,” Noormohamed adds. “If we believe very strongly in the equality of all people, then we shouldn’t have to have the discussion.”

Noormohamed and Fry diverge on their thinking about the bawdyhouse section of the Criminal Code. Seen by many in the queer community as an antiquated piece of legislation, it is the law used to justify the December 2002 raid on a Calgary bathhouse.

Fry looks at the issue in terms of prostitution, escort agencies and massage parlours covered under bawdy laws.

“If bathhouse people would like to come in and talk about those issues, I think they should be. If they’re being raided, then they’re being perceived as something that is illegal so we need to hear from them,” she says.

For Noormohamed, there is no equivocation: “The legislation doesn’t make sense anymore and needs to be changed.

“Once you’re in [a bathhouse], it should be a safe environment if you choose to go there. The irony is people shouldn’t be afraid of the police coming after them.”

The Calgary case continues through the courts, as do those of the three remaining accused in the death of Aaron Webster. The 2001 killing reminded many in the community that the homosexual panic defence is still on the books and that killers could still avoid long sentences by arguing that they were shocked into murder by a gay man’s sexual come-on.

Noormohamed understands the issue but did not comment on whether he believes it to be valid.

Fry continues to dodge the issue of repealing the law, repeating a legal argument that has been discredited by knowledgeable lawyers in previous news reports in Xtra West. Fry insists that the issue comes down to a burden of proof in a court.

“There has to be some way of proving you were afraid for your safety,” she says equating it with battered wife syndrome. Gay lawyers have repeatedly said that Fry is mistaken in her use of that comparison.

When it comes to the issue of public sex in gay spaces such as Stanley Park, Noormohamed is more liberal than Fry.

The incumbent questions how a public area can be reserved for one group when it belongs to the entirety of the general public.

“If we said, ‘let us portion off a section of the park for same-sex couples to have sex,’ then we would have to apply the law equally and [apportion] a segment of the park for heterosexual couples to have sex,” Fry says. “If you want to have nudity and sex, whether it’s same or heterosexual, in a public place, do you deny public access? Then it’s no longer a public place.”

Noormohamed, however, says in an area such as Lee’s Trail, people need to feel safe.

“It’s not so much about ‘Do we close spaces off?'” he says. “Do we have the ability to make it a safe space so people aren’t getting beat up, so people aren’t getting killed. To me, that’s more of an issue than whether or not a young family of four feels safe walking through Lee’s Trail at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Fry, however, says the use of public spaces needs to be balanced on their use by all people, not just one group.

For Fry, it’s an issue with no black and white answers, as is the situation of the artistic merit defence.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in the Robin Sharpe case established a wide space to protect artists from legal prosecution for their works. Though the court’s move was something gay activists have demanded for decades, Fry is not supportive.

Fry says balancing the public interest with freedom of expression is a tightrope walk for Canadians. She compares it to the hate speech debate.

“Where does freedom of expression end and hate begin?” she asks. “In strengthening one side, you unbalance the thing. You have to look at the public good. How is the art being used? I don’t see any black and white answers.”

For Noormohamed, the debate is between what constitutes art and what constitutes abuse.

“Artistic merit is an individual thing,” he says. “If we’re going to start saying to people ‘We have the right to determine what you can or cannot deem to be art,’ then we should be looking at every piece of art that is out there.

“If we are doing a good enough job as a society at protecting those that are victims, then we should have created the type of intellectual environment where we are able to differentiate between what is art and what is abusive.”

The community’s best-known purveyor of transgressive literature is Little Sister’s. For two decades, the store has been fighting Canada Customs’ seizures of books. Boxes regularly show up to this day with Customs tape after searches.

Fry says she has been totally supportive of the store in its fight. She says Customs staff need to be correctly trained in the law, which must be applied equally and objectively.

“It’s something that I am going to bring up with Paul Martin and see what we can do. He’ll move the agenda forward,” Fry says. “It’s not about giving anybody any special privileges; it’s about applying the law equally.”

Noormohamed says an agency of the state has no place in deciding what choices people make while it decides what the public interest is.

He sees a Member of Parliament’s role as one who builds relationships between ministers and departments to advance constituents’ causes, in this case finding ways to have the law applied objectively.

Vancouver Centre has bounced between Tories and Liberals since it was created in 1914.

While the Liberals have dominated electoral wins, the riding has been represented by several high-profile women including Tory Pat Carney and former Tory Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

As was shown in the Calgary Centre riding in the 2000 federal election, the so-called pink vote can have a heavy impact at the ballot box.

In order to thwart the Reform Party incumbent Eric Lowther, Cowtown’s queer community rallied to support the victorious Joe Clark. He was grand marshall in the city’s pride parade the following year.