Toronto
3 min

They’re evil, really

Take this gun, point it at your foot

TURNING UP THE HEAT. Laurie Arron and Cicely McWilliam hope their new No Homos card will get voters riled up. Credit: Paul Baik

The question was barely out of Laurie Arron’s mouth when the crowd began to shout, “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”



His words were lost in the din. Arron, the political coordinator for Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM), was trying to ask Conservative leader Stephen Harper about his position on using the notwithstanding clause to override court rulings in favour of same-sex marriage.



But the large crowd of Conservative supporters at the rally in Guelph last week turned furiously on Arron. People tried to hit him with signs, and while trying to ward them off, fellow CEM volunteer Bob Smyth took a punch in the face from an elderly man. Police escorted Arron and Smyth from the building. It was a Nerf punch, says Arron – it didn’t hurt.



With its main mission of seeing a same-sex marriage bill passed in Parliament – which means trying to get candidates who would vote against it defeated in the federal election – CEM is turning up the heat. What they face are politicians who dance around the issue, voter apathy and now, crowds that attack.



“Our strategy continues to be voter awareness,” says Cicely McWilliam, staff member at the CEM. “Do you really want to vote for someone who doesn’t support you?”



Since its formation last fall, CEM has been compiling inform-ation on candidates, fundraising and setting up more than 30 volunteer chapters across the country. With its Vote Equality ’04 campaign, it is taking a new confrontational step, which has seen Arron dog Harper at Conservative rallies around Southern Ontario, trying to make Harper show his true colours on a topic he is avoiding.



Meanwhile, McWilliam has been pumping out the press releases. After the Guelph incident, she issued one headlined, “Don’t Hit Us – And Don’t Take Away Our Charter Rights,” calling on Harper to apologize for the altercation.



“What we’re trying to do is make him be honest,” says McWilliam.



“Yesterday we decided we needed to act,” says Arron about his Guelph scuffle. “To maintain pressure for him [Harper] to answer the question. Mr Harper said the new Conservatives speak for compassion. The obvious question is, compassion for whom?”



That means reminding voters how far right the new Conservative Party is. If Harper won’t play, other party members seem willing to do the job. Last weekend, Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant said in an interview that she’d like to remove sexual orientation from the list of groups protected from hate propaganda. The bill that added sexual orientation to this list was just passed in free votes in the House Of Commons and the Senate.



“The danger in having sexual orientation just listed, that en-compasses, for example, paedophiles. I believe that the caucus as a whole would like to see it repealed,” Gallant told CTV news.



That left the Conservative Party doing damage control – and McWilliam issuing more press releases.



“First they say they would override our Charter protection against discrimination so they can take away our right to civil marriage,” states CEM cochair Alex Munter in the release. “Then Mr Harper makes jokes after a gay man is punched before his eyes at a Conservative rally. Now they want to change the law to deny us protection against hate crimes. What’s next?”



CEM’s work seems be paying off. The national media picked up the question of whether Harper would use the notwithstanding clause to override a Supreme Court Of Canada ruling ordering same-sex marriage. Now CEM hopes its new No Homos cards will also be effective in rallying voter attention.



“Complacency is not an option on Jun 28,” says McWilliam.



The No Homos cards were handed out at the Inside Out film festival last month and will be handed out at Pride celebrations until the Mon, Jun 28 election day. Though the slogan is explained on the back of the card, McWilliam says the blunt text on the front is meant to provoke people and challenge voter fatigue.



“They’re meant to remind people this is a crucial election for gay rights, especially because Stephen Harper is polling so high,” she says. “We can’t forget that the former Reform party has never supported gay rights legislation. In fact their record is abysmal.”



The reaction to the cards has been good so far – after people have turned the card over. McWilliam says it’s important that the cards be distributed by “visibly gay” people or people wearing CEM buttons in order to avoid misunderstandings.



* Outlaws And Inlaws, a fundraiser for Canadians For Equal Marriage and Egale Canada will be held on Tue, Jun 22 at the Church At Berkeley (315 Queen St W). Tickets are $95. For more information on the gala or on CEM check Equal-marriage.ca or Egale.ca/gala.