7 min

In brief

Vancouver and national news

FOR THE COMMUNITY. Janine Fuller will receive an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University on Jun 2, for her work fighting Canada Customs' censorship. Credit: Robin Perelle


As Xtra West goes to press, the COPE-dominated Vancouver School Board is poised to honour an election promise to the queer community. The promise centres around a series of motions the board passed two years ago to make Vancouver schools more gay-friendly. Among other things, the motions supported the formation of gay-straight alliances and talked about enhancing safety for queer students, re-training teachers and administrators and adding positive queer content to the curriculum. Last year, the school board moved a step further by striking a queer advisory committee to translate the motions into concrete initiatives. That committee’s proposed policy and action plan has already passed one key stage. Next stop: the school board meeting, Mon, Feb 16. Already some critics are bemoaning the potential price tag of $112,000 for the whole program-even though committee members say the costs are just estimates. Stay tuned for more details next issue.



“It’s a huge honour and it’s certainly one that I share with the community,” says Janine Fuller, of the honourary doctorate Simon Fraser University (SFU) is planning to give her this June. Every year, SFU solicits nominations from its students, faculty and alumni, then chooses a handful of deserving people. This year, the Little Sister’s bookstore manager tops the list. Fuller is a leading figure in the battle against censorship in Canada, says SFU spokesperson Kathryn Aberle. That’s why the university has decided to give her an honourary doctor of law. Fuller is taking the news in her usual, soft-spoken stride. “My name is attached” to the degree, she says, but really it belongs to the whole community. “It’s a real acknowledgement of what we’ve gone through.” Still, she says, she wasn’t expecting a doctorate. A bachelor’s degree, maybe, she laughs, but a doctorate? “I didn’t mean to skip the queue.” Fuller will receive her degree and address the graduates on Jun 2.



The Quesnel teacher and guidance counsellor famous for his anti-gay rights letters to the editor has had his teaching suspension upheld by the BC Supreme Court. The court agreed with the BC College of Teachers’ earlier ruling that Chris Kempling’s writings were “discriminatory and contrary to the core values of the educational system.” Kempling had told his students that sexual orientation can be cured. The court said members of the gay community can be “vulnerable, generally kept invisible and less likely to come forward with complaints than members of the general population.”

And, added Justice Heather Holmes, “Realistically, most homosexual students would be most reticent to challenge a teacher and counselor who is held in high regard while placing themselves at risk in disclosing their sexual orientation to the public.” Further, she added, Kempling’s anti-gay public writings undermined the ability of gay students to attain individual self-fulfillment.

The college ruled Kempling failed to uphold values that are fundamental to the education system and Canadian society, values that include sexual equality and respect for persons of differing sexual orientation. Kempling said last spring he hoped to leave BC at the end of this school year. He says he will appeal the court’s decision, as well.

-Jeremy Hainsworth



MP Svend Robinson’s hate propaganda bill is back in the Senate and ready to pick up where it left off before the Parliamentary break last December. Bill C-250 seeks to add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited types of hate propaganda in Canada. Right now, according to the Criminal Code, it’s illegal to publicly incite hatred or genocide against people on the basis of their race, religion, colour or ethnic origin. If Robinson’s bill passes, it will add sexual orientation to that list, making it illegal to, say, distribute booklets urging people to kill all faggots. The House of Commons passed the bill by a margin of 30 votes last September. Now it’s just waiting for Senate approval to become law.



As Vancouverites scramble to purchase tickets to the new Cirque du Soleil show coming to town this May, the circus is mired in a juggling act of a different kind. Last summer, the Montreal-based circus made headlines when it fired an HIV-positive gymnast simply because he is positive. Matthew Cusick was about to make his debut in the circus’ Las Vegas show, Mystere, when he got the axe in July. The Lambda Legal Defense Fund quickly sued the circus on Cusick’s behalf. But the show’s executives defended their actions, saying they were just trying to protect their patrons and performers. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission didn’t buy it. This looks like a case of illegal discrimination, it told the circus last month. Then it dragged both parties into mediation, where Cirque executives promptly reversed their position and offered to re-hire Cusick. “It’s been demonstrated to us that the risks are minimal, so we feel confident that safety can be ensured,” Cirque spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard told the Los Angeles Times, Jan 30.

“It was a learning procedure,” she continued, “and we’re going to keep learning. We can’t be experts in everything. This is one case, and I can guarantee it’s the last case on the subject.”



San Francisco health officials are putting almost half a million dollars into fighting crystal methamphetamine addiction among gay men in their city. Officials say they’re concerned about the increasing use of the drug in gay clubs and parties-and its potential to fuel risky sex acts. Most of the $425,000 will be spent on programs aimed at younger gay and bisexual men.



Vancouver city council voted unanimously last month to convey its “strong concern” to Premier Gordon Campbell about his government’s recent changes to the Residential Tenancy Act. The changes have been in the news ever since the government announced its intention to pave the way towards higher rents last year. Three months ago, Campbell and company agreed to drop their most controversial proposal, the retroactivity clause, which would have allowed landlords to postpone rent increases for up to three years and then hit their tenants with an extra large hike at the end of the period. That’s good but it’s not good enough, says councillor Tim Stevenson, who introduced the motion. “Despite their re-working of it, we are not at all pleased with the legislation.” Stevenson is particularly concerned about the changes allowing landlords to automatically increase their tenants’ rent by two percent plus the rate of inflation. This year, that comes to 4.6 percent, Stevenson points out-what will it be next year? These increases, combined with the tenants’ loss of arbitration opportunities, will be “very detrimental” to renters, he warns, and particularly to those in the already high-priced West End and Yaletown neighbourhoods.



Former Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer, who got his 15 minutes of fame last December with his contentious declarations on homosexuality, won’t be welcome in the newly merged Conservative Party of Canada it seems. According to CTV, Conservative Party MPs voted to bar Spencer Feb 4. That means Spencer will have to run as an independent candidate in his Saskatchewan riding if he wants to return to Parliament. Spencer got kicked out of the Canadian Alliance caucus after he publicly said it was a mistake to legalize gay sex and talked about an alleged homosexual conspiracy to seduce the young boys of America.

In related news, Elsie Wayne, the outspoken Conservative MP from Saint John, NB, has decided not to run for re-election. Wayne, 71, moved from the mayor’s chair to Parliament Hill in 1993, and has since gained some notoriety as a vocal opponent of gay rights. Last spring, she said gays and lesbians should “shut up” about marriage: “Why do they have to be out here in the public always wanting to call it marriage? Why are they in parades? Why are men dressed up as women on floats?” she asked the House of Commons. “They do not see us getting up on floats to say we are husband and wife. We do not do that. Why do they have to go around trying to get a whole lot of publicity? If they are going to live together, they can go live together and shut up about it. There is no need for this nonsense whatsoever and we should not have to tolerate it in Canada.” More recently, Wayne blasted the CBC for broadcasting a gay marriage on TV. “The CBC has a responsibility to inform and to entertain, and not propagandize lifestyles,” she reportedly told its president.



Terry Curtis, the man who pleaded guilty to attacking Fredericton MP Andy Scott in his constituency office last November, isn’t going to jail. Instead, a New Brunswick judge gave him a nine-month conditional sentence to be served in his community. That means Curtis gets to stay in his own home as long as he follows certain conditions set out by the judge. Some of those conditions include staying away from Scott’s office and seeking treatment for his bipolar condition and slight psychotic tendencies. Curtis pleaded guilty last December to assaulting Scott and uttering threats against him. His wife said he objected to the MP’s public support for same-sex marriage. Scott suffered cuts and bruises in the incident.



Eldon Hay, the president of Canada’s national PFALG organization (for parents, families and friends of gays and lesbians) is now a member of the Order of Canada. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson announced her picks for this year’s additions to the order on Jan 27. Hay is one of 102 people being honoured this year. “With intelligence, integrity and compassion, this human rights activist has championed a more tolerant, inclusive society,” Hay’s Order of Canada biography begins. “A pillar of his community, he has made a lasting impression on the lives of his students, parishioners and the community at large.” Hay, who is also a United Church minister and professor of religion at Mount Allison University, lives in Sackville, New Brunswick.



As Xtra West goes to press, San Francisco city officials are openly defying California state law and issuing marriage certificates to hundreds of gay and lesbian couples pouring into city hall for back-to-back weddings. The weddings violate a ballot measure California voters passed three years ago maintaining the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. While it remains unclear what legal value the San Fran marriages will have, new Mayor Gavin Newsom insists they will be honoured. Right now, California has a domestic partner law which grants many spousal benefits, ranging from health care coverage to parental status, to same-sex couples without giving them access to marriage.

In related news, the Massachusetts supreme court ruled Feb 4 that only full same-sex marriage rights pass the constitutional test. The court’s latest ruling came in response to a question from the state senate on whether civil unions could do instead. The answer: an unequivocal no. That would be discriminatory, the justices said, reinforcing their pro-marriage ruling of last November. While some observers say there may be gay marriages in Massachusetts’ near future, others are nervously eyeing President George W Bush’s campaign-trail promise to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage across the US.