5 min

Three weddings, a protest and Randy White

A behind the scenes look at Let No One Put Asunder

WHERE ART, MARRIAGE AND POLITICS COLLIDE. Let No One Put Asunder, the documentary that took Canada's federal election by storm this June, follows three same-sex couples down the aisle, and looks at the protest that dogged them all. Credit: Xtra West files

Who would have thought that Conservative MP Randy White would have given the campaign for equal marriage such a boost?

The outspoken, openly anti-gay MP for Abbotsford inadvertently did just that when he agreed to appear in Vancouver filmmaker Alexis Mackintosh’s documentary, Let No One Put Asunder, which explores the issue of same-sex marriage.

Had White not appeared in this film, and had his remarks not been made public at exactly the moment that they were, we could very well have ended up with a different-and, for queers and other minorities, potentially terrifying-election result.

In the now oft-quoted interview, White lashes out at court decisions upholding equality rights for same-sex couples, suggesting that the Tories, if elected, would employ the rarely used and highly contentious notwithstanding clause to hack away gay and other minority rights.

“The notwithstanding clause has not been used by any of the governments and it’s time that we started to exert our responsibility as politicians in the country,” says White. “If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is going to be used as the crutch to carry forward all of the issues that social libertarians want, then there’s got to be for us conservatives out there a way to put checks and balances in there. So the notwithstanding clause, which that was meant for when it was originally designed, should be used and I would think that not just the definition of marriage but I think you’ll see more uses for the notwithstanding clause in the future.”

Having coffee on the patio of Death By Chocolate off Burrard and Robson Sts, Mackintosh says she had no idea that her film-which premiered at the recent Out On Screen queer film festival in Vancouver and won the VanCity VISA People’s Choice Award for Best Feature-would have the political impact that it had.

“When we did the Randy White interview, I was very, very excited and very happy. Because he was just giving it to us, and I couldn’t believe that an experienced politician would say the things that he said.”

How the media got a hold of the interview when it did is a saga unto itself. “It took a woman out in Langley, Velma Cole, who is a grandmother dying of liver cancer. She heard Randy White say very similar things at a nomination meeting for the Conservatives. And then she wrote a letter to a local paper [The Langley Times]. The paper published her letter, and then Randy White said he didn’t say those things, and the paper published an apology to Randy White saying, ‘Gee, this person is a Liberal plant, and this is a bad person,’ calling it ‘dirty tricks.’

“She was horrified when she read this in the paper, and they said that there was nothing they could do about it. So she said that she’d take a lie detector test, and they promised they would publish the lie detector test, but she wasn’t to go to any other paper. So she phoned around looking for someone to do a lie detector test, and she phoned barbara findlay. barbara is the legal consultant for our film and she mentioned that we had this tape, and Velma should contact us. And she did.

“And so she did the lie detector test and I taped the session, and she passed with flying colours. And I gave her a copy of the Randy White interview, because I wanted her to feel vindicated, to reassure her that she wasn’t just hearing things, that she wasn’t crazy.

“She waited for the thing to be in the paper, and the Wednesday before the election, she reads the paper and it’s not in there. So she calls the paper and the editor says, ‘We didn’t put it in. Tough.’ He’s a Randy White supporter, by the way. And so she went down to the Liberal office and said, ‘What do I do?’ And they saw the tape and they said, ‘We’ll get it to the Vancouver Sun.’ And one of the people there drove it in, and so it went to the Vancouver Sun and another copy went to the Liberals. And I got a call that Thursday night, and at that point I realized that the press had it. So I said, ‘Look, I’ll give [all the media] DVDs, so there’s a high quality copy and all the networks can run it.’

“So I got that out for everybody and I released the entire interview so Randy White couldn’t say that we took him out of context. And apparently the Liberals sat up all night transcribing the interview off my website. And then we had a press conference where the Prime Minister said that every Canadian had to see my film. So it was kind of fun.”

Frank Bucholtz, editor of The Langley Times, has a somewhat different recollection of how it all unfolded. He says the paper tried to contact Cole via both phone and email after White objected to her letter, to no avail. But the paper didn’t publish an “apology” to White, he claims. “What it published said, ‘We may have been set up by this phony letter.’

“Newspapers do not like to publish phony letters to the editor,” he notes. “And certainly this paper never said that Velma Cole was a bad person or that she was a Liberal plant. I believe the exact wording was, ‘We may have been set up.'”

Bucholtz also says the paper published a follow-up letter from Cole, in which Cole asserted that she was indeed a real person. But he never promised Cole that he would publish the results of the lie detector test, he says, and after consulting with the newsroom he decided not to.

As for being a Randy White supporter, “I don’t support any political parties or candidates. End of the sentence. I’m in the news business. I’m not a politician.”

As for White, despite signing a consent form prior to being interviewed, he threatened legal action after Mackintosh released the footage to the media. He said he didn’t want to be included in the film after all. But he apparently backed down after his lawyer met with Mackintosh’s lawyer. “barbara findlay pointed out to [White’s lawyer] that Mr. White signed the release and the release was solid and he couldn’t withdraw his permission and he couldn’t sue me for defamation,” says Mackintosh.

White’s lawyer, Ronald Kelly, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the documentary at the centre of the storm will be playing in various queer film festivals in the United States in the coming months and is currently being considered by mainstream television networks. It could very well be re-titled Three Weddings and a Protest, as it alternates its focus between the weddings of three same-sex couples and the anti-gay “Prayer Protest” that took place in Vancouver in August 2003.

In the dying days of the federal election campaign, after Liberal strategists got hold of White’s remarks, Prime Minister Paul Martin referred to them incessantly in his speeches. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Let No One Put Asunder is credited for helping change the course of the election-pollsters say the Tories lost anywhere between 20 and 30 seats in the final weekend of the campaign-which proves that, contrary to another cliché, art isn’t always purely for art’s sake.