POLITICS CHATTER: Sex talk, pornography, and the Tom Flanagan uproar
People & Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Sex talk, pornography, and the Tom Flanagan uproar

President Lyndon Johnson once said that the best thing that could happen to one of his political enemies was being found in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.

And the old horn-dog was right. That would finish anyone’s political career.

Because bad sex – and sex talk – can be lethal, Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to Stephen Harper, found out Thursday.

Flanagan is supposed to be some sort of political genius. He was a mentor to Preston Manning, Harper, and the Alberta Wild Rose Party. He was a tenured prof at the University of Calgary, with a regular spot on the CBC’s Power and Politics. The opinion pages of The Globe & Mail and several prestigious magazines were open to him.

That all ended Thursday, the day after he told a crowd of students in Lethbridge that he had an ideological problem with people – invariably men – being sent to jail for looking at pictures of sexualized children.

The core of the libertarian argument that Flanagan tried to make, before he was hooted down, is this – that no one is inherently harmed by images of children. Some take it farther and say that no one is inherently harmed by artistic renderings of kids, images that in no way involved children in their creation.

The latter is slightly tricky. The former argument, the creation of images involving real children, is not anything like a victimless crime.

The artistic argument is a red herring. Police regularly bust people for possession of images of real children, some of them babies. Quite often, as in the case of Nova Scotia Roman Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey, who was caught at the Ottawa airport, they’re arrested while returning from third-world countries where child sexual tourism is endemic.

For years, I interviewed a pedophile who, as a teenager, had become a serial killer. He had been locked up at the maximum security psychiatric hospital in Penetanguishene. In the 1990s, while on his first day pass without institution staff, he had raped and killed a young man, bringing his body count to four.

And he really had no idea why he did it. Researchers at his institution wrote paper after paper saying pedophiles are untreatable, and arguing that the only thing that slows them down in old age. Yet Bishop Lahey was 71 when he was caught.

At the end of 1977, Toronto writer Gerald Hannon wrote a piece called Men Loving Boys Loving Men for the gay newspaper Body Politic. Toronto, which was still in the grip of shock from the horrific murder of a 12-year-old shoeshine boy, Emmanuel Jaques, reacted in horror as Toronto Sun journalists like Claire Hoy demanded, day after day in the winter of 1978, that Hannon and the paper be punished. Hannon was charged under obscenity laws, but was acquitted in lower courts, a decision that was upheld all the way to the Supreme Court.

But the core of Hannon’s argument was wrong. Boys cannot be involved in a consenting relationship with a man. Maybe that’s a little fuzzy when the “boy” is 17 and the “man” is 19, but when it comes to real children, any sex with them is, by definition, rape.

So Flanagan got swept up in one of those tsunamis of horrendous publicity and condemnation that can end a career in a day.

Not only was Flanagan inarticulate, stupid, and the author of an argument that was strange in a very creepy way, he was one of the brains behind a government whose public safety minister, Vic Toews, accused opponents of his Internet snoop bill of siding with child pornographers.

Toews knew child pornography is a third-rail. A few, like Hannon, can still have a career among the “progressive” crowd in downtownToronto. But for Tom Flanagan, even hinting that he was tolerant of any kind of child porn was enough to send him to Old Sparky.