Ottawa
7 min

Through the ups and downs

Capital Xtra: a decade of sex, crime, censorship, AIDS, law and Pride

COVER SHOT. David Rimmer, the owner of the After Stonewall bookstore, was photographed by Shawn Scallen, who also took the shot of Rimmer that graced the cover of the first Capital Xtra. Credit: Shawn Scallen

When I began researching and writing about the 10-year history of Capital Xtra, I started with the premise that even the people who have been active a lifetime in the battle for gay liberation seem a little surprised at how far we’ve come as a movement. The last decade has seen the culmination of dreams that once seemed unattainable, on many different fronts.



I was feeling optimistic, and thinking about all the significant advances we’ve enjoyed, particularly in the last year. It is true that there are some biggies.



Still, there’s a lot of work left to be done. The last several months have only highlighted the homophobia and heterosexism permeating our culture. It still looks like an uphill battle.



But it’s worth taking a look at some of the incredible successes that have been won, against the odds.



We’ve got a lot to be proud of. Be inspired by our successes, and dare to imagine the impossible. Ten years from now, you won’t believe how far we’ve come.



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CENSORSHIP



That guy on the cover is David Rimmer, in case you haven’t had the pleasure of talking lit with him at After Stonewall Books. He was CapX’s cover guy for that first issue, and like a lot of queer bookstore owners in 1993, he was less than pleased with Canada Customs because they had just seized a shipment of books destined for his shelves.



Little Sister’s in Vancouver has been embroiled in legal battles lasting longer than the life of this paper over the seizing of stock by customs who insisted they were enforcing laws against obscenity, and not targeting queer businesses.



In 1995, during Freedom to Read Week, L’Androgyne (now defunct) bookstore in Montreal had 55 books prohibited by Customs. Most of the books had been available in Canada for years, and some had been previously detained and released as admissible. Customs claimed the books contained “child sex,” a claim the bookstore adamantly denied. “We seriously doubt they have been read by Customs officials,” said the store owners. Most were part of a line of gay male erotica called Badboy and do not contain illustrations. When the store finally did receive the books, they were damaged.



The good news is that three years ago the Supreme Court found that Customs had deliberately targeted lesbian and gay bookstores in the Little Sister’s case.



But a legal victory never seems to be the end of the battle. Both Little Sister’s and Toronto’s Glad Day continue to have problems clearing materials through Canada Customs. Rimmer says “that over the past couple of years the Prohibited Importations Directorate, the division of Canada Customs that censors the importation of gay and lesbian literature, has been ordering books from After Stonewall for their archives.” How strange is that?



The waters have been further muddied by Canada’s zero tolerance response to the proliferation of child pornography through the Internet, combined with the atrophying obscenity legislation. Capital Xtra, Xtra and Xtra West have followed many stories about how this legislation continues to be used to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and have themselves at times been branded “obscene.”



In 1995, a regional library board in Abbotsford, BC banned all free publications with paid advertising from its branches because of the objections of local politicians to ads in Xtra West. Later, the board reinstated the free publications, including Christian Info News, but now keeps Xtra West out of children’s sight.



Capital Xtra has reported some local censorship battles in the last 10 years, notably the kerfuffle at Hartman’s in 1995 when manager Robert St Amour had the paper and its rack disposed of when customers objected to the cover picture of local art group Johnny 2000. Owner Larry Hartman returned from vacation and reached a compromise with Capital Xtra within the week.



The paper has weathered some constructive criticism from within the community as well, sometimes in its own pages. Columnist Tracey Clark, wrote Rude Girl in Issue 39 (Nov, 1996) of Capital Xtra and weighed the benefits and concessions of a publication like Capital Xtra on the third anniversary of the paper.



“Capital Xtra’s reliance on advertising and mostly male print and talking classifieds instead of newsstand sales, subscriptions or public funding is still regularly debated in the community.



“Capital Xtra also regularly receives heat for treating our community organizations and our leaders as newsworthy and newsmakers.”



The tradition of reporting frankly, and not holding back on constructive criticism, was firmly established by 2001 when Rex Wockner wrote that the Xtra papers “try to keep gay organizations accountable to the old-fashioned values of gay lib that the publications embrace – values which seem anachronistic in most of the North American gay press which, for the most part, has accepted gay assimilation as the primary goal of the movement.”



More importantly, he continues, “PTP always has and continues to defend, if not promote, that which some people consider to be radical sex.”



Alan Sharpe, whom you may remember as one of the protesting members of the Baptist Fellowship Church who have been such a fixture of Pride parades over the years, took particular exception to this focus on many occasions and once published a tract accusing Capital Xtra of promoting all permutations of queer sexuality from kink to vanilla.



That’s the right thing to do according to our mandated goal, “Gay and lesbian people daring together to set love free.” With the proviso to “bear in mind all those who challenge gender or bend the borders of desire.”



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HEALTH



It’s a grim irony that when Andrew Griffin chronicled the first five years of Capital Xtra in 1998 he was optimistic enough to ask if by our 10th anniversary we could report that “a cure has been found and not a single person has to suffer with HIV/AIDS anymore.”



Although progress has been made in the search for a cure, funding for research remains hard to come by, and financial and health support for people living with HIV/AIDS has faced continual erosion, not to mention the political storm of health care reform.



Some of the worst news Capital Xtra has reported recently has been about the resurgence in new cases of AIDS.



Clearly preventative education continues to be as big an issue as it has been throughout Capital Xtra’s coverage of AIDS activism and organizations, much of it critical.



The AIDS Committee of Ottawa has a long history in these pages, from the appointment of interim executive director Dan Lowewen in 1994 through allegations in 1995 that the organisation had fallen short on preventative education, to the resignation of the board in 1998, and finally to the appointment last month of interim executive director Robert Grantier, and ACO’s statement of renewed commitment to preventative education.



Capital Xtra has balanced that constructive criticism by getting out in the community and co-sponsoring AIDS fundraising events like Stage for Aids, Aids Walk, Taste for Life and the Red Ribbon Campaign.



Health services continue to be a big issue for queer people looking for respectful, safe and non-homophobic care. One of the big stories emerging now is the birth of Ottawa’s GLBTQ Community Centre.



PTS has had the project in the works for three years, and proudly launched the virtual precursor to the brick and mortar centre at Ottawa Pride this past summer (www.ottawaglbtqcentre.com).



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LAW ENFORCEMENT



There’s been no shortage of hate crimes for Capital Xtra to report on, from verbal assaults and harassment to murder.



The murder of Chris Raynsford in 2002 shocked the community, and Capital Xtra asked Ottawa Police some difficult questions about their handling of that case, and about a series of robberies that targeted gay men who use telephone dating services like Cruiseline.



“If the Police Liaison Committee is going to be more effective, then it’s time it became more proactive,” said Cynthia Cousens, the chair of the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee, in CX 113.



Cousens’ comments followed her admission in CX 112 that the “committee has been a beached whale for the past eight months.” Cousens was responding to questions about why no advisory was issued to gay men about an assailant who was connecting with his victims through Cruiseline. The assaults had been taking place for more than a year.



Lawrence Pigeon, 37, was arrested on multiple criminal charges in connection with the assaults in December 2002, two days after police issued a press release urging “caution when using telephone dating services. Users of dating services for gay men should be particularly vigilant.”



Pigeon was well known to the police, having been released on day parole in February of 2002 after serving 15 months of a two-year prison sentence for beating and robbing a man he met through his activities as a male prostitute. One of the conditions of his parole was residing at a treatment facility in Ottawa, but eight days after being released, he disappeared.



Sebastien Roy was charged with Raynsford’s murder last January. The Ottawa Police publicly acknowledged the assistance of the GLBT community in solving the crimes.



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LEGISLATION



If there’s one area where Canadian gays and lesbians can be said to have enjoyed undeniable victories, it is in the realm of legislation.



Through many court battles, and reams of rhetoric, the rights of gay and lesbian people have been consistently if not completely supported right up to the Supreme Court.



CapX has covered all the battles, from the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the freedom to marry, and has profiled the organizations and people behind these unprecedented changes.



We’ve also covered the flip side of success, the people behind the court cases, and provided some much-needed context on the impact of these changes.



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COMMUNITY PRIDE



In the last 10 years, Ottawa’s gay and lesbian community has grown, matured and taken giant steps in the process of becoming a visible component of Ottawa city life.



Businesses and citizens are beginning to think of the downtown Bank Street corridor as the home of the gay district.



Community service organizations from Pink Triangle Services to the Ottawa Knights have grown and expanded the services they provide. Capital Xtra has been proactive in our coverage of the developing Ottawa community.



In our news and arts pages we’ve covered meetings, entertainment and events from a comprehensive list of organizations, and Out in the City continues to highlight the best of what Ottawa has to offer its gay and lesbian residents.



Xtensions continues to provide a free and easy way for organizations to get their message out, and we have been sponsors of countless events and fundraisers, notably Ottawa Pride.



And Pride itself has grown, from a small parade down Elgin Street and a picnic at regional headquarters to the full week of events and a street party in the newborn gay district. Capital Xtra has covered the fun, and the growing pains of the festival.



Pride has also become as much a celebration as it is a protest. Perhaps, as the festival continues to find its feet, 10 years from now we’ll be able to report that the Pride Committee has become the United Way for our communities, fostering a spirit of celebration and community services while funneling some of the proceeds of our good times back into the community for more serious work.



As we continue to report on the development of Ottawa’s gay and lesbian community, the floor is open to speculation about where we are going, and the best way for us to get there.



Capital Xtra continues to rely on local writers and activists to give a voice to all corners of the community.