As you may have heard, somebody read our paper while his kid was working out at the Hunt Club-Riverside community centre. He didn’t like a couple of ads in Capital Xtra and was surprised that a gay paper was available in a “family” space. So, he complained to a staffer at the centre who promptly threw out the pile of our papers, thereby breaking several laws. He then complained to his city councillor, Maria McRae, and forwarded a copy to every councillor, the mayor and me.
Instead of lending a sympathetic shoulder and then explaining to her unhappy constituent that it’s illegal to discriminate against gay and lesbian users of community services or a gay and lesbian paper, McRae strangely submitted the complaint to top staff at city hall. And cc’d other councillors and me.
A couple of days later, a thinking city councillor, Diane Holmes, noted that “provincial legislation and the city’s equity and diversity policy makes it clear that there can be no discrimination based on sexual orientation.” She asked staff to return Capital Xtra to city facilities as soon as possible.
Well and good. Until this tragically juicy e-mail reply from councillor Jan Harder showed just how big a problem there is on city council. Harder cc’d me on this: “I would think while comments made by Councillor Holmes may be true, that doesn’t mean we HAVE (Harder’s emphasis) to provide them everywhere and if I were Councillor McRae I know what I would be doing.” She didn’t specify what exactly she would be doing.
What an extraordinary statement from Harder. Rights are not negotiable. They are not bestowed, or provided, or granted, or loaned. They are not on temporary exhibit around Pride. We are born with our rights. We are entitled to our rights. That Harder would write this makes her singularly unqualified to hold office. Period.
We sent a lawyer’s letter to city hall, explaining federal, provincial and municipal law concerning censorship — bottom line, cities cannot censor for content. We explained human-rights law — bottom line, gay papers have a right to distribution as widespread as other community papers.
We explained that gays and lesbians are also “family” that use community centres throughout the Ottawa region, and have a right to encounter their community newspaper displayed under equal conditions to other papers (not behind the counter, for example).
We explained that our content is no different under law than the content of other papers — the Ottawa Sun and Xpress, for example, advertise telephone and Internet dating services and escorts, just like we do. The large majority of space in Capital Xtra is taken up with news and views, listings and entertainment coverage — just like other papers. And we made it clear that under law we are not obscene, or explicit, or adult content or any of the other offensive labels that dinosaurs stick on gay publications.
And we threatened to sue if our papers are not treated with respect under the law and if the city damages our reputation. And we will.
But we’re disturbed. Not just by McRae’s initial move and Harder’s very telling comments. Also by the fact that city hall says they’re studying their options. Why? Is it because they don’t intend to follow the law, but instead craft something restrictive and try to force it on the queer paper?
That would be my guess. And by the way, the city’s also looking at whether pro-choice abortion information should be allowed in community health centres — seems the “right-to-lifers” aren’t too happy with that, either.
So, we prepare to sue the city if necessary. And we prepare to sue for libel anyone, and any media outlet, that says Capital Xtra is obscene or pornographic. Because we’re not and the law makes that clear. And we won’t have our paper and our readers smeared.
Meanwhile, if what you’ve read here is upsetting, and the prospect of losing your rights often is, why not join us and write a letter to the editor of local papers and to your local city councillor. City councillors can be easily reached by going online to www.ottawa.ca/city_hall, clicking on the link to city councillors, and selecting yours.
Let’s bring this city into the 21st century, even if we have to pull them kicking and screaming.