3 min

Politics, what politics?

It's hard to ignore rightwing think tank's Stephen Harper connection

WHAT BIAS? Institute executive director Dave Quist, who was an unsuccessful Conservative Party candidate in 2004, says his organization is not politically aligned.

When Ottawa’s new Institute Of Marriage And Family Canada (IMFC) held its opening party this winter, guests ate cake inside while a small group of queer protestors gathered outside in the cold.

Ottawa Citizen columnist John Robson, who delivered a speech at the party, wrote about it. “There’s a new kid on the block,” he writes. “He might look kind of dorky, but I think one day he’ll be famous. I refer to the new Institute Of Marriage And The Family.”

Robson labelled the demonstration a “dreary little protest by people favouring ‘equal marriage.'”

Protest organizer Ariel Troster sees the institute as anything but dreary, more infamous than famous.

“They talk in generic terms about things like family and values, and we know that those are code words,” says Troster. “All it takes is two or three clicks on their website and you get into the really frightening stuff that they’re promoting.”

(Or dopey. In one of the institute’s first web articles, writer Jennifer Roback Morse proclaims, “The man’s possessiveness of his sexual turf and of his offspring counterbalances his natural tendency toward promiscuity,” concluding that, “the ‘leave us alone’ ethos that lies behind the demand for the acceptance of all alternative families does not properly apply to the sphere of the family.” It’s true she doesn’t name queers, but you can guess who her promiscuous male-oriented alternative families are.)

IMFC is a project of Focus On The Family Canada which is in turn a project partly funded by its Colorado-based older siblng, Focus On The Family (FOTF). Founded by James Dobson — sometimes called the pope of evangelical America — FOTF anchors itself in its opposition to premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion rights, euthanasia and stem cell research. Its mission is to “cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and institution of the family.”

Dobson and FOTF were a driving force behind George W Bush’s victory in the past election. Through a new subsidiary called Focus On The Family Action, Dobson was able to campaign for Bush. US tax laws, like the ones in Canada, restrict registered charities and religious groups from overt political lobbying.

The new “cultural action organization” enables Dobson to lobby for issues like the Marriage Protection Amendment using donors’ money. He reportedly told his radio show listeners that not voting for Bush was a sin.

“A lot of people say they don’t think this kind of thing will really take hold in Canada and that there isn’t as strong a discriminatory fundamentalist movement,” Troster says. “But I think we have to be very wary.”

IMFC executive director Dave Quist, who ran unsuccessfully as a Conservative in the 2004 election in the BC riding of Nanaimo-Cowichan, says that IMFC isn’t into lobbying or activism, but is dedicated to providing scientific facts and figures to MPs, senators and influential business leaders.

“We are doing our own research through experts in the field and gathering research from experts around the world on a variety of issues,” he says. “We’re not an activist group or a lobby group, but a research group.”

Quist used to work in Stephen Harper’s office, but he insists the IMFC is nonpartisan.

For example, he say, while the IMFC defines family as “being a mom and a dad and kids,” it has also come to accept the fact that although they don’t see it as desirable, single-parent households do exist.

It’s instructive to compare the IMFC to another Ottawa family research institute. The Vanier Institute Of The Family (VIF) has been around since 1965, and has a much more inclusive definition of the word “family.” The VIF defines family as “any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following: physical maintenance and care of group members; addition of new members through procreation or adoption; socialization of children; social control of members; production, consumption, distribution of goods and services, and affective nurturance — love.”

Alan Mirabelli, executive director of the VIF, says the institute’s definition of family is inclusive because that’s what’s needed from a sociological perspective.

“We talk about families as we find them,” he says. “We’re not promoting a particular point of view.”

But IMFC has its own Christian take on things.

“We come to the table adhering to what we call Christian values,” says Quist. “Any group — be they a lobby group, be they a research think tank like ourselves, or an NGO or an activist group — they all come to the table with a particular viewpoint.”