Vancouver
3 min

Tied up in knots

With unacknowledged BDSM prejudice

I’m a bit discombobulated, and I just might need a spanking.

What to make of the Human Rights Tribunal’s dismissal of a BDSM lifestyler’s complaint that the police denied him a chauffeur’s permit because of his sexual orientation?

It’s a credibility thing, the panel ruled.

Where Peter Hayes’s evidence conflicts with Const Kevin Barker’s, “we prefer Const Barker’s evidence,” they decided.

They found Hayes’s recollection of the permit interview unconvincing. There were discrepancies between his written account of the interview and his testimony.

Barker was impressive, though. They liked his cool, he was a 29-year police veteran, he could “disregard negative but irrelevant information” and was administering a routine process he was very familiar with when he denied Hayes a limo permit.

Really?

Does familiarity with police routine also mean familiarity with the less-than-conventional world beyond his desk?

Let’s review.

Barker testified that in all his 29 years as a police officer he had never heard of a “master-slave” relationship until he came across it in a police report about a “domestic incident” involving Hayes and a former girlfriend.

Granted, it wasn’t a match made in BDSM heaven, but Barker didn’t get that far.

It was the master-slave references that immediately “jumped out” at him. They speak to the power relationship in a domestic situation, he said. “That’s what leads to violence.”

And the tribunal believed him.

Barker was concerned about power dynamics, the panel parroted, “not because of any association with a BDSM lifestyle.”

So Barker decided that Hayes was violent and posed a “risk of acting violently, coercively or inappropriately towards customers.”

But not because of any association with a BDSM lifestyle.

The fact that Barker wrote Hayes’s rejection letter before he even interviewed him says nothing of preconceived notions, either.

And Barker’s gratuitous report on an August 2005 incident that took place three months after he denied Hayes a permit? No prejudice there either, right?

The August 2005 incident: police stopped Hayes in downtown Vancouver “carrying pepper spray, a riding crop and holding a leash attached to a collar around a young woman’s neck.”

The tribunal’s take?

Well… yes… it’s a “questionable, after-the-fact” move by Barker to justify his decision to deny Hayes a permit. But it had nothing to do with Hayes’s sexual orientation or activities.

“Rather,” the tribunal ruled, “it continues Const Barker’s theme that Mr Hayes posed a risk of violence and coercion directed at vulnerable people.”

A risk of violence and coercion directed at vulnerable people? Did anyone ask the bottom if she participated willingly?

Did the collared woman express relief that the cops arrived to save the day? Did she say she was being tethered and led around against her will? Kidnapped even?

The ruling is silent on that score. It is either unimportant or overlooked, or both.

Clearly, the tribunal trio was infinitely more comfortable with the tried — and for them, true — image of uniformed authority that Barker represented, than the fringe-y, black-clad Hayes, aka Purple Crow.

They may have paid appreciative lip service to Dr Charles Moser’s testimony about the principles of BDSM, but clearly they weren’t really listening.

If, as Hayes’s lawyer Lindsay Waddell predicts, the tribunal is someday willing to revisit the question of whether BDSM qualifies as a sexual orientation worthy of Human Rights Code protection, then it’s got some learning (or unlearning) to do.

That means thinking outside the vanilla box and venturing into the dungeon so they come out asking informed questions and making educated judgments about what they are observing.

Moser’s expert testimony is a compelling theoretical place to start.

“BDSM is a series of sexual interests that involve at least an appearance of power of one person over the other,” he testified. “It’s sexual, it’s consensual, it may involve the appearance of pain, and it’s a series of behaviours that when you look at it, you say, ‘Why would they do that?’

“It was the beginning of why I got interested in doing this,” he told the tribunal.

The tribunal could use a fistful of his curiosity.