Ottawa
4 min

Peccavimus: Nero fiddles

Haunting strains of violin music drift through the air while, by and large, we barely take note that Nero is at it again. Some of that, dare I say “smugness,” no doubt emanates from our privileged position as a group that’s won. The queer mouse roared, and the parliamentary lions — after some pro forma leaping about and gnashing of teeth — submitted and gave us our rights.

Reading Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, which forecasts massive changes in society caused by the end of economically recoverable oil, leaves me wondering whether government ever sees more than a week or two, or election campaign or two, ahead. How much money, spent on both sides, before the governments of the day agreed to follow the Charter? No idea, but the music keeps us from other questions.

Among the worst fiddlers on the current scene, Ontario’s premier Dalton McGuinty scrapes out jaunty tunes of equality, fairness and safety. A closer look at Dalton’s ideas makes George Bush’s hiring of a bad horse judge to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency seem almost prudent.

Equality for all

In 2004 the Ontario government spent money for Marion Boyd’s in-depth examination of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Ontario. Boyd returned a report pointing out that ADR helps people who cannot afford to, or do not wish to, battle through the court system. It also stated that for people with a problem, being able to choose the person who is conducting arbitration, and the rules that person refers to, is essential. The shrill classes distilled this concept and headlined “Ontario to permit Sharia law.”

Among many things missing from this analysis is that people have always turned to (spiritual) leaders to help mediate or arbitrate disagreements. Not just Interpreters Of The Book, but all the theoretically older/wiser/ advisor folk including our therapists and elders such as Patrick Califia, Joe Kort or “Dear Abby.” Whether or not the provincial Arbitration Act permits us to do this — as it does now — or is changed to forbid such choice – as McGuinty has claimed he will do – will make no difference in people’s practise.

But the fiddler cares little for fact; appearance is everything, and a public outcry driven partly by anti-Muslim prejudice is enough reason for him to change his tune. Why change provincial legislation to ensure that arbitrated marriage or separation contracts meet minimal standards of fairness — a quick jig, promising legislation “as soon as possible” to ban “religious” arbitration, and the fiddler can stop dodging rotten tomatoes. All this and he saves the money Boyd suggested be used to educate people at risk (mostly women) about having their rights trampled by religious or cultural pressures. What’s not to fiddle about?

Dogs, guns, and perspective

As Margaret Wente recently pointed out in a wonderfully acerbic Globe column, the total death toll from shootings in Ontario in 2005 to date is over 30. The number of deaths caused by “pit bull” bites is zero. Yet, in a demonstration of what it means for government to bring legislation “as soon as possible,” McGuinty’s government enacted amendments to the Dog Owner’s Liability Act in less than five months.

If all this did was increase the legal punishments for irresponsible dog owners, it would be a fairly minor matter. Unfortunately, the legislation focusses on the dogs – allowing police or bylaw officers to seize dogs “on suspicion” that they might be “pit bulls” (a breed without a definition more exact than the typical Customs agent’s distinction between legal erotica and illegal pornography — I know it when I see it). Once seized, these dogs will be destroyed if their owners are found to have broken regulations in the Act. Technically, a bylaw officer could seize a dog, and, if the owner couldn’t prove that the dog is not a pit bull, the dog could be killed solely because its leash was centimetres over the legal maximum of 1.8 metres.

Years ago, my next-door neighbour used his Doberman to terrorize every child on the street. It was no secret that he taught the dog to attack using his own autistic son as a target, and any time he and the dog were out in public, we kids would scatter. To the best of my knowledge, nothing was done about either dog or owner – he was too influential, the principal or vice-principal at one of the local schools.

Once governments start banning specific breeds, irresponsible — or actively malicious — owners pick other types of dogs to warp. Today the pit-type dogs. Rotties, dobies, goldens and shepherds will soon follow. And any law that allows discretion to the enforcer — customs, bylaw or police — encourages discrimination. It should come as no surprise if the legislation is applied to street people’s dogs more harshly than to the dogs of Rockliffe Park. For we queers who do not inhabit the appearance of mainstream, measure your dog leash carefully or be prepared to deal with overzealous enforcers.

Comparing the spate of recent gun deaths — and McGuinty’s seeming inability to deliver needed court financing to keep alleged shooters off the streets — with McGuinty’s zealous persecution of pit bulls is an easy sign of a government’s lack of perspective.

There are other signs. Every queer’s favourite ex-cop, Julian Fantino, is the head of Ontario’s version of FEMA, Emergency Management Ontario. Arguably, he may have relevant experience. Yet if the earthquake fault that runs from Pickering along the lakefront to Erie happens to give out during his tenure, I wonder how his history of racial profiling and gaybashing will influence Ontario’s evacuation plan.

What to do? It’s harder living in a multi-issue world — do we just change the provincial tourism motto to “Ontario — we’re above sea level!” and let the rest of the world hang? We can affect what tunes the fiddler plays, but it requires paying attention not only to the news, but also to the long-term implications behind it. It also requires ensuring that when the fiddler asks for requests, he hears more than just the short-term shrill answer.