Friday, June 27, 2008

Rafe Mair stands up for gays and lesbians, wins big at SCC

Rafe Mair, the noted vocal wordsmith from the West Coast, has won a huge victory today as the SCC threw out a libel ruling against him. This goes back to 1999 when Mair made a rather indelicate comment about a BC protester who was opposed to teaching about gay lifestyles in the province's public schools. Mair compared Kari Simpson to Hitler and the Klan -- among others -- and called her a "bigot."

Simpson sued Mair and his employer, WIC Radio. A lower court threw out the case based on the "fair comment" doctrine, but the BC Court of Appeal reversed this saying it was not an adequate defence.

Now, the Supremes have unanimously ruled in favour of WIC and Mair -- and have awarded costs not just for the appeal, but right from when the lawsuit started. (I hope Ms Simpson has the money to do so.)

Writing for the court, Justice William Binnie said there was no evidence of malice and it was fair comment. The court also broadened the concept of fair comment, to a belief that a reasonable person might hold based on the information available -- not just the person being sued might hold.

This is definitely the right decision. Mair has pushed a lot of buttons over the years -- and certainly I've disagreed with him on much of what he has said -- but he is entitled to his opinions. For if one reads the comments in full (as in the appendix to the judgment), one finds that lost in the part that everyone focused on was Mair's fear that removing these books would create a situation similar to Tennessee v Scopes -- the Scopes Monkey Trial. Who decides what's indecent? Should a vocal minority decide the curriculum of the majority?

More important, as Mair pointed out, what sparked the whole row was when he stood up for the civil liberties of gays and lesbians and this prompted the complainant -- with whom he had previously had a good working relationship with -- to suggest that he supported child molestation. This is the common canard thrown by the "Christian" right while failing to see the child abuse committed within their own ranks, by heterosexuals no less.

Gays and lesbian students, and teachers, have been part of the education system from time immemorial. I might not necessarily approve of the way Mair stood up for them, but he was standing up for them; and in the end that's what matters. Yes, I don't approve of gay marriage -- as I've said quite a few times before -- but the fact is there are many families with two mothers or two fathers (whether married or living at common law) and they work just fine, and to marginalize the parental units in those households is also to marginalize the children. That's just wrong, in my opinion; just as it's wrong to condemn an opposite sex couple who live at common law and not married, as well as the issue therefrom.

In that regard, Mair was entirely within line to suggest all one had to do was substitute George Wallace, Orval Faubus or Ross Barnett with any vocal lobbyist who suggested closing the doors of a school to gay and lesbian students -- suggesting it was no different than attempting to exclude blacks during the civil rights struggle.

For the record, I know for a fact that at least one -- and perhaps more -- of my elementary school principals was gay, and a handful of teachers from elementary through secondary school were gay or lesbian. This was the Catholic school system too. Were I or my classmates poisoned in any way? Of course not. Were any of us damaged because some of our class were gay or lesbian? Come on.

The frightening fact remains, however, the Christianites who make the rest of us Christians look bad won't be dissuaded by this decision. They'll keep fighting to get their way no matter what. We need to fight back the only way we can -- through the printed and virtual word. The pen, and the keyboard, are truly mightier than the sword.

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1 comment:

Mark Richard Francis said...

The defendants lawyer is the same one representing us over the Crookes cases.

From this ruling, a money quote I like which gets to the heart of the issue:

"It seems to me that defamation proceedings will have reached a troubling level of technicality if the protection afforded by the defence of fair comment to freedom of expression (“the very lifeblood of our freedom”) is made to depend on whether or not the speaker is prepared to swear to an honest belief in something he does not believe he ever said."

We figured this ruling was coming, but what a relief to see it.