Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Too Late to Apologize

So unless you've been hiding under a rock this week, you know that Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper's buddy and ex campaign manager said some pretty stupid things about child pornography at the presentation at the University of Lethbridge on Wednesday. There was an enormous amount of media coverage about this but it all amounted to the same thing. They reported that Flanagan said child porn is okay, he lost pretty much every job he had, he apologized. No one seemed to really look at what he was saying and why the whole thing is so troubling. So here's my top 5 list of things that make you go 'hmmmmm' about this.

1. He never needed to address this at all. He brought it up voluntarily. If you look at the video , you can hear the question that was asked. It was a long-winded question with many components to it, mostly addressing Flanagan's treatment of First Nations people and he views on the Indian Act. The upshot of the questions was 'Mr. Flanagan, you're an asshole, n'est ce pas?" The bit about child porn was one small part of that question and arguably, the least important. Why in the world did he choose to address that first? I can think of only two reasons. One is that perhaps he thought that was the least controversial place to start. Wow! If your batshit crazy views on child porn are the least controversial part of your public record, there's a problem. The other, even more problematic possibility - and the one I think is probably correct - is that this is an issue that's really important to him. He seems to actually believe that it's an important issue of personal liberties that people be able to look at child porn if they want to. Given all the other important issues he's dealing with and the crowd of first nations students he was talking to, his choice to address that first is bizarre and just plain wrong.

2. He openly admitted that he was on the mailing list of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Very few of the comments I heard about this incident mentioned this or just mentioned it in passing. Why are we not concerned about this? Now he said that he 'ended up' on the list through the course of his career. That makes it sound as if it happened as a result of some research he was doing or as a part of his job. That may very well be true, but why would you stay on it for 'several years'. And why in the world would you mention that in a classroom setting like this? Even if there is nothing suspect about this fact at all (which I doubt) he shows and stunning lack of political savvy to mention this to anyone, much less to a group of students at a public event. It's not something people are likely to understand or have sympathy for. Someone on a message board I was reading pointed out that it's important to know what NAMBLA is doing. I would argue that it's not important at all unless you are an investigator who is tracking child molesters. Nobody needs to be on their mailing list for any other reason.

3. His apology was complete bs. I can't get into Flanagan's brain (wouldn't that be interesting?) but it seems to me that what he was trying to say in that class is that he thinks that our government does not have the right to put people in jail because of their personal thoughts and tastes and for just looking at pictures. He said he thinks its 'a real matter of personal liberties the extent to which we put people in jail for doing something that causes no harm to others'. I agree with that statement. I know this is a difficult subject and one that's very hard to remain objective about, but I do agree that we shouldn't charge people for possession of something that does not harm anyone else. The problem is that looking at pictures and videos of real children really being harmed does harm someone. If you are doing this, you are looking at evidence of a crime. Failure to report that evidence to the police is, and should always be, a crime. If you don't, you are aiding the people who committed the crime to continue to do it. Reporting it and how you came to be in possession of it helps police track down the people who produced it and were responsible for an assault against a child. Flanagan's apology shows that he doesn't make a distinction between looking at things in which real children are pictured and things that are just fictional representations like an animated movie or a written description of a fictional event. Looking at those things, in which real children are not involved, could be considered harm to others, but looking at pictures of real children certainly is not. In his apology, Flanagan said only that he condemns the abuse of children and the use of children to make porn. He did not retract his statement that looking at child porn is harmless. I think he still believes that.

4. He's said this before. After this video came out, the morning after the class, the Wildrose Party dropped him like a hot potato. Danielle Smith said that his views are not linked to the Wildrose party in any way. The problem is that Flanagan has done this before. In 2009, he was quoted in a Manitoba newspaper saying almost exactly the same thing. I remember there was quite a bit of press about that too. Yet he was still hired to be the Wildrose Party campaign manager. Hmmmmmmm......... Smith claims she did not know about the 2009 incident. I find that hard to believe. Flanagan is a public figure and this was a big deal. If you googled him (before this current incident) that incident was pretty easy to find. So one has to wonder if they knew about it and made the decision that it didn't really matter. It's just now that this is front and centre again, they can't afford to associate with him anymore.

5. Further to number 4, this is not something that nobody knew about. Yet he still maintained all of the positions that he had and was only fired when people got angry about it. It's pretty clear that he's had these views for a long time and that he's not been all the hesitant to share them. He was buddy buddy with our prime minister for quite some time and was the key person in crafting his leadership campaigns and the conservative election campaign in 2004. I think we have to really wonder about the kind of people Harper surrounds himself with. The scary thing is that this little 'personal viewpoint' of Flanagan's is not necessarily the most objectionable of his views. This man was a close advisor of Harper's for quite some time and had a lot of influence on our governement's policies. If that doesn't tell you something about Harper, I don't know what does.


Angie said...

I agree with many of the points you raised here Brenda, he seems all to enthusiastic about going into a discussion when it seems clear from the video and the reports on the actual focus of the presentation that it was on the Idle No More and Native rights movement. Rambling about being on the NAMBLA mailing list had that classic of all 'tells' - too much information trying to explain things away. It's like the guy trying to scam you for 'gas money' and insisting to show you the odometer.

He could have tried to explain himself by contrasting actual photographs versus 'artistic' or even self-created works (whether they be drawings or writings) but even when given a chance to explain himself fully in the National Post, he still clearly is referring to REAL photographs and argues that voyeurism of such should not be criminal.

"In the pursuit of justice, we shouldn’t forget about mercy for people whose offenses lie at lower levels of harm to others." Um, 'lower levels of harm'? No wonder the NP has comments disabled!

Brenda said...

What's interesting to me is that suddenly, in this National Post piece, he's saying that what he meant was that people who just look at pictures shouldn't go to jail, they should be offered counselling and help to make sure that they do not harm others. Well, that's all fine and good but that's not at all what he said. If he had said 'it's a question, the extent to which we put people in jail...' but he didn't he said 'it's a real question of personal liberties the extent to which we put people in jail.' That's an entirely different thing. And his assertion that he was trapped is BS. It was quite clear what the person who was asking the question was trying to get at and he could have easily chosen not to discuss the issue of child pornography. He could have ignored it and, if pressed simply said that this was not the issue they were there to discuss. If he was trapped it was only because of what he himself said.