Tom Flanagan's defenders speak up -

Tom Flanagan’s defenders speak up

Tease the day: The embattled professor can count Conrad Black among his supporters


Larry MacDougal/CP

Slowly, but surely, Tom Flanagan’s supporters are emerging. It’s taken a few days. Just over a week ago, Flanagan made remarks at the University of Lethbridge related to child pornography. He questioned whether people should be locked up “because of their taste in pictures.” He apologized for the remarks, and repeated the apology in the National Post, but it was too late. He suffered a public avalanche of condemnation, and was unceremoniously dumped as a CBC commentator and dismissed as an adviser to Alberta’s Wildrose Party.

A week ago, the Post‘s Jonathan Kay was among the first to publicly speak up for Flanagan. He wrote that Flanagan’s years of public service “earned him the right to be given the benefit of the doubt about the meaning of his remarks,” and that since “we insist on a presumed-innocent standard in criminal trials, a similar presumption of innocence should exist before we kill someone’s career and reputation.” Whatever Flanagan meant by his clumsy remarks, Kay wrote, there’s at least a debate to be had about them.

RELATED: Tom Flanagan speaks with Maclean’s writer Anne Kingston about child porn, the backlash and the worst week of his life

University of Toronto law prof Brenda Cossman, the director of that school’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, wrote in Xtra!, a gay and lesbian newspaper, that the backlash against Flanagan “sent chills up and down” her spine. Sure, his remarks were foolish, Cossman wrote, but there’s certainly a discussion to be had about the limits of child porn laws. “The problem is that the debate is shut down before anyone can raise reasonable questions about the reach of the law,” she wrote.

This morning, Flanagan received the endorsement of none other than Conrad Black, also in the Post‘s comment pages. Black says the professor’s critics don’t see the difference between watching child porn and sexually assaulting children—a distinction, he says, that’s time honoured by the legal system. Child porn might be “a terrible problem made more odious and unnerving by its revolting and perverted nature,” Black writes, but the solution isn’t to vilify people like Tom Flanagan.

So, it appears, there is a debate afoot, such as it is. Whether or not any of Flanagan’s critics are willing to listen is a different matter.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with Alberta’s austerity budget. The National Post fronts the Alberta government’s miscalculation of oil and gas revenues. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with the spike in lobbying since Mayor Rob Ford was elected in Toronto (not online). The Ottawa Citizen leads with the cancellation of a public preview of several competing designs for a new War of 1812 monument on Parliament Hill. iPolitics fronts Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose’s likely vote against a motion condemning sex-selective abortion. leads with North Korea’s cancellation of a non-aggression pact with South Korea. National Newswatch showcases a Toronto Star profile of controversial Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Polar bears. Canada helped win a vote at an international conference on endangered species that, if it had passed, would have banned the cross-border trade of polar bears. 2. Quebec’s English. The PQ government is scrapping a program introduced by the Liberals in 2011 that offered intensive English training to Francophone students in Grade 6.
3. CBSA firing. A border services agent was dismissed for sustaining an inappropriate friendship with a member of a high-profile criminal organization, say Canada’s public servant watchdog. 4. NWT resources. A former premier of the Northwest Territories says the region’s greater powers over resource development could jeopardize environmental protection.

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Tom Flanagan’s defenders speak up

  1. Had Flanagan made intelligent nuanced points about child pornography and been attacked I’d have more sympathy for what happened. Since he went straight to crazy town with it, ya gotta realize these things can happen.

    • Frankly, I don’t believe you. I think that all that matters is that you can attack a conservative. If someone from the other side of the political aisle had made these comments, under those circumstances, you would have forgiven and maybe even explained it away.

      That is just who you are.

      • What you believe is stupid and of less concern to me than it takes to finish typing this sente

        • Well, no I’m not important. But I thought I should tell you anyway, given you are a spiteful and hateful individual in your day to day comments.

          • Spite perhaps. Otherwise i don’t hate, but I refuse to suffer foolishness.

      • You do realise that the folk who really attacked Flanagan were the PMO, The Wild Rose and the government broadcaster. If his creations were appalled enough to bite the hand that made them surely that speaks volumes. If they were doing it purely as window dressing, that speaks even louder as to their values.

      • So what are your views on what Flanagan said?

  2. Ron Paul is in town .. I’m sure he could be persuaded to throw his
    supportive hat in the ring along with rest of the chuckie brigade.
    A matter of principle, dontcha know ..

  3. I’m going to point out that Flanagan has not been officially punished for his ponderings. He’s been ostracized and dropped by various connections, as is their right when someone in their fold embarasses them with such ponderous stupidity. This is not a criminal proceeding, so the presumption of innocence doesn’t apply. If Flanagan feels that certain parties have unfairly libelled/slandered him because of his own remarks, he is free to sue those parties.

    Schadenfraude. Flanagan was destroyed using the same methods he utilized for Harper earlier this decade. He is no victim, except perhaps a victim of his own arrogance. Good riddance.

    • Well I’d argue that the lambasting he received has severely limited his income and damaged his reputation. If you’ve seen the video, it’s clear that he was lured into those comments.

      Now you’d be right to argue he was an idiot in his approach and lacked basic common sense, but still, I’m not sure why it would be okay to destroy him for essentially being uncouth.

      I’ll admit to a little schadenfaude over this myself of course. To me Flanagan is a political troll of the worst kind.

      That said, though I may not like what he says, I will defend his right to say it to no end, especially since the heart of his point, though poorly expressed, is more or less correct, ie, we need to consider whether our current laws are truly just in the way they are conceived and executed.

      • Believe it or not, I think Flanagan has the right to say whatever he wants. I also think that if he says something like this, he should expect to get a few lumps, and I don’t blame the people dishing those lumps for doing so. It’s not like he’s a whistleblower being harrassed for divulging important information to the public or a scientist being prevented from publishing politically sensitive research. He’s a troll being slapped for being a troll.

        • Fair enough, I respect your opinion, but I actually think this is more similar to what’s happening online these days in regards to people like Anne Hathaway and others, ie other people with axes to grind just taking the opportunity to pile on, or worse being hateful just because they can be.

          It’s becoming a global epidemic of anti-social values in some ways.

          It’s also self-righteous and pathetic and completely glosses over the topic of discussion, since I note that few people are actually discussing the topic itself, or the point he’s repeatedly made, in any meaningful sense.

          • Tom Flanagan’s wisdom on child pornography has been in the public domain for 4 years, at least, by his own account. If he hasn’t figured out how to express his ideas without offending a huge swath of the public then the fault does not lie with the public, it lies with the opinion.

            It’s an offensive opinion, he’s an offensive person, and it’s just a bit of hard luck for him that everyone realized it at the same time. Frankly, I think he should have been publicly shunned when he offered the equally offensive idea that Julien Assange should be assassinated on the CBC and then called himself “manly” for holding such an opinion. Tom Flanagan has some very creepy opinions, therefore it is perfectly rational to call him creepy and refuse to associate with him.

          • Again though, attempting to silence such people through indirect means does us no favours as a society.

            We all have a right to our opinions, but we do not have a right to silence offensive statments that do no harm, and may in fact do indirect good by stimulating discussion.

            Tyranny of the majority is of greater concern to me than uncouth statments by known trolls, especially in cases like this.

          • But Phil, not one person has tried in anyway to stop him from expressing his opinions. Those who have formally disassociated from the guy have been exercising their own freedoms and no-one has even suggested that he has no right to express his opinion. He hasn’t lost his right to speak, he’s lost his venue on the CBC and he’s been fired from some political jobs precisely because he’s become a political liability.

            If you recall the last Wild Rose campaign, Flanagan himself blamed their loss on the fact that they were too slow to expel candidates who made inflammatory statements. I guess they took his advise to heart.

            I am very strongly in favour of free speech and I have no trouble at all with what happened to Tom Flanagan. Indeed, one of my strongest arguments for free speech comes from Shakespeare; “Speak, that I might see you…”

            Let the fools and the bigots and the creeps speak so that we can easily identify them. Tom spoke, we saw him, and the public passed judgement. That’s all good in my opinion.

          • That`s an idiotic position, probably swayed by partisanship.

            If you and GFMD really believe in free speech but you are happy that Flanagan who you imply is a fool, a creep and a bigot, has been silenced, then what do you think is the chance an academic. a writer, even a politician in the future would speak out loud when they have a worthwhile, but controversial contribution to any subject. Yeah sure express your opinion—but be prepared to lose your livelihood and be branded for the rest of your life .We are becoming a society that chooses to trundle on down the middle—hoping to avoid personal calamity while ignoring difficult subjects.

            What the hell is the use in you braying about your love of free speech, if you can`t step back from your partisanship like Phil King and use your objective logic, or at the very least—say nothing,

          • 1.) I don’t think you are actually GFMD. We often disagree but he generally argues more rationally then you have.

            2). I didn’t imply anything, I stated plainly that I think Flanagan is a creep.

            3) Has Flanagan been silenced? It seems to me that Flanagan has been given a fair bit of space in the media – including in Macleans – to speak his piece without any apparent constraints. Indeed, Macleans has never offered me the venue that they have given to Mr. Flanagan even after he has been – according to you -silenced. I don’t complain that Macleans has silenced me, or you, so how do you figure that Flanagan has been silenced?

            4) If you think Flanagan’s contribution to the debate has been “worthwhile” then you value your while less than I value mine.

            5) Partisanship plays no part. As I wrote earlier on the same topic, freedom of speech does not mean speech without consequence. Flanagan is reaping the consequences of his speech. That’s all good as far as I am concerned.

          • He hasn’t been silenced; look at all the interviews he’s done since his foolishness was broadcast. He’s lost a couple of venues, and probably gained 20.

          • Yes, let them speak, but not so we can then silence them, but so that we can take this starting point and do much better with it than they.

            Sometimes you need people like this to speak truth where no other would dare to. We call them crass and foolish for this, and that’s true to some extent, but is it not also true that in such circumstances of “moral panic” as Andrew pointed out above, that it IS only the crass and foolish who would dare speak out?

            This isn’t really about Flanagan or even the topic of child porn in my opinion. I’m looking at this now as an endemic problem of a philosophical nature, a mistake our society seems doomed to repeat ad nauseum on a whole range of topics.

            For example: Drug cartels kill and maim and lure the weak and destroy lives. Should heroine addicts be held accountable for this through incarceration and other severe punishment, or are there better, more humane and ultimately more helpful ways to deal with this that benefit everyone?

            It’s the same question over and over again, and we acted surprised by its every incarnation as though it hasn’t come up before.

            We must do better than this.

          • On the issue itself, I have some sympathy for the view that simple possession should not be an automatic jail term. Let the courts determine appropriate sentencing, that’s my opinion on all mandatory minimums, BTW.

            But what Flanagan is saying now is not what he said then. What he said is that viewing child porn is a victimless crime. That’s not just a stupid mistake (although it’s certainly stupid) it’s a display of callous disregard for victims of rape and torture. What Flanagan is saying now is certainly defensible in the abstract, but what he said then was callous and cruel and disgusting. Which goes right along with what he said about Julien Assange too. Flanagan hasn’t said anything original or even controversial about sentencing, Flanagan said something in the video clip that reveals his true character, and people are -rightly IMO – disturbed by his character.

            Further than that, what he said then had a genuine sound, what he’s saying now sounds more like a guy who is trying to redeem himself, possibly with the assistance of a PR firm.

            There are lots of controversial topics in the world and there are lots of people talking about them. I don’t think we need to worry about people taking care to express themselves with caution, when caution is what’s actually required.

          • How is he being silenced? Surely he would agree that the market should decide whether his opinions are offensive or not. He just needs to find a venue in the market that will disseminate his opinions. Too bad the market decided the fate of Ezra’s Western Standard . . . I wonder if SNN has tried to engage Flanagan’s services now that he has a bit more free time?

          • When the reaction of virtually everyone is to infer the man is a disgusting pedophile for even broaching the topic in anything but the accepted meaningless PC manner, while dropping him like a hot potato in all areas of his work and then going on a binge of slamming the man for weeks while not actually discussing the topic in any meaningful way… then what else do we call that but the silencing of opinion?

            Thank god a few brave souls are coming out on this now and actually talking about things.

            Honestly, if one can make me feel sympathy for Flanagan of all people, then things have seriously gone overboard.

          • “When the reaction of virtually everyone is to infer the man is a disgusting pedophile for even broaching the topic in anything but the accepted meaningless PC manner, while dropping him like a hot potato in all areas of his work and then going on a binge of slamming the man for weeks while not actually discussing the topic in any meaningful way… then what else do we call that but the silencing of opinion?”

            Its a bit over the top to say the reactions were to infer he was a pedophile . . . I would challenge you to find an example that bears that out.

            What you can call it is freedom of expression.

            Flanagan I am not so worried about, I am sure he can arrange access to other venues through which he may express himself.

          • I think the point here though MTL, is that he wasn’t trying to come out with this at all.

            It would be one thing if this was intended on his part, but the fact that he was purposefully lured and entrapped by people TRYING to get him nailed, entirely changes the lens through which this should be viewed.

            The guy’s a professor and used to asking shocking questions as a way to get students thinking. Go to any class on moral or societal issues and you will see this technique at play.

            Flanagan’s abolutely right on that score. This could send a serious chill through academia that would not change things for the better to put it mildly.

          • Frankly I think that this will send a chill is a load of bollocks. In any case several high profile individuals have come out to defend him, and I don’t necessarily disagree with their arguments.
            Regardless of the venue where someone is speaking, anyone speaking should engage their mind before moving their lips. Just like Mitt Romney when talking percentages.
            Even if what happened there was an ambush, poor Tom surely has more than a passing familiarity with the practice of political activity, so I don’t think he should be (or that he is) surprised.
            But in any case, whether it was or was not an ambush has nothing to do with the the idea of one’s right to express their opinions, or with the right of other commentators to express their opinions on what he said.
            He made his bed, let him lie in it.

          • To be fair, many threads ago I did talk about the point he brought up, in that I thought it was ridiculous and poorly thought out.

      • If he was a janitor or construction worker or even an elementary school teacher I might think it was wrong to fire him. But if a university and political party and public broadcaster, where well thought out opinions, involving public policy relaity, expressed intelligently and concisely (respectively) come into play, then I think getting rid of him is justified.

        • They were reacting to public backlash and protecting their own rears. This has become the norm these days, likely as a response to the ever increasing influence of public opinion thanks to fora like this and others such as facebook, twitter and the like.

          I mean really GFMD, you’ve recognized this kind of thing before in previous statments you’ve made, so why the different approach here?

          • The difference is because in terms of firing I start looking at if from a “just cause” for dismissal. My initial reaction was the same as yours, in that they were firing him for his unpopular comments, but then I got to thinking if it could be justified regarding what the job actually requires, and after some thought I think it could. So regardless of whatever their motive or mix of motives was, I think it can be justified.

          • Hmm. Fair enough I suppose. Cheers.

          • Just a general comment on the whole chain – and your comments in particular (though it is true to a leser degree of pretty much all the participants):
            Excellent, civilized, intelligent debate! Something seen less and less in the comments on this site these days.


          • Orson? Is that you?

          • Hear, hear; I’m only now combing through this thread and it’s a really interesting and engaging conversation. Food for though, thanks y’all.

  4. Personally I thought Jesse’s article here at Macleans was one of the better on the topic.

    People are so paranoid of being called pedophiles and are otherwise so over-reactive on the topic, that no rational discussion is possible.

    Like so many other topics, ranging from our approach to drugs, to abortion, to free speech in regards to people with unpopular opinions, until we begin to understand that ‘zero tolerance’ attitudes and solutions simply drive deviant/unpopular behaviour underground where it festers even worse, we will continue to fail at our approaches to create meaningful change.

    • Phil King makes one of the better comments I`ve seen here in a while.
      I know Flanagan was a fool to get set up like this, thinking he was in an academic, theoretical setting, but I would agree with King that if we continue to avoid subjects that may be toxic to the pc crowd, then there will not be any change.

      I think it was Flanagan who used the phrase ” moral panic “.
      Whether it be abortion or marijuana, or right-to-die, or mental health, or the use of children as sex objects—-nothing will improve if we continue to ostracize those who dare speak about those subjects.

      I do hope Harper, at the very least, made a private call to Flanagan to explain that political reality has forced him to totally disassociate himself from Flanagan.
      I don`t like it—but I understand it.

      • I’m trying to understand this. Flanagan is ON RECORD saying that viewing child porn is a victimless crime. People actually want to defend that statement?!

        • Exactly
          He said it in 2009 and repeated what he said then the other day. If he truly believed that a dialogue was necessary I would have expected him to have researched the topic in the interim. If he had he would have found out immediately that possessing child abuse images is not a victimless crime.

        • I think you are putting words in his mouth. He said that he questioned whether those who view child porn deserve jail time – i.e. on the scale of criminality, it would not rank sufficiently high enough to warrant that type of sentence. He did not, as far as I know, comment on what punishment should befall the makers of such images.
          I’m not saying I agree with him. But please let’s discuss what was actually said.

          • The hell I am. He said that viewing those pictures, and I quote, “does not harm another person.” You are putting forth a circular argument. If it’s harmless to look at the image, then making the image should be harmless too. The viewer creates the demand for such pics. Are we seriously debating this?

          • I haven’t read many articles on this topic and had not previously seen the words you quoted; thanks for providing. With a quick Google search I found the quote.

            I’d have to agree with you that the viewers create the demand, & so are somewhat culpable – but not so much as those making the images.

            He is technically correct in that any physical harm would have already occurred (though there is still room for future psychological harm as long as the pictures are circulating). But creating a market invites those creating the images to continue to feed the demand.

            It’s analogous to the drug user vs dealer relationship; the person buying is considered less culpable that is the supplier. As to what the punishment should be, I’m willing to let the courts decide on the basis of the facts in each case.

          • So Keith…Before jumping to Flanagan’s defense, did you even bother viewing the actual video to hear what he said?

          • I understand the comparison you’re making between drugs and pornography but I think there is an important difference between the two. The criminality that surrounds the drug trade is entirely a function of the prohibition of drugs. The cultivation and sale of illegal drugs would not involve all that murder and mayhem if the product – the drugs – were simply made legal. Child pornography on the other hand, could never be legitimized because it could never be made without victimizing children.

            Drugs are morally ambiguous, child pornography is not.

          • Most drugs, sure. Nothing morally ambiguous about a drug used for date rape, for example. And some things that qualify as child porn are made without the use of children; they are works of imagination. Innocent pictures of kids also get circulated to those who are excited by such things.

            There are always exceptions.

            But I wasn’t saying they are exactly the same; just drawing a parallel for illustrative purposes.

        • Ok so viewing holocaust photos should be outlawed then because these were the greatest crimes of all time.

  5. The article is misleading. Speaking out against what happened doesn’t make one a supporter of Tom Flanagan. I clearly don’t share his political views, but like many view what happened as a professional lynching. It is clear that this was a setup from the word go. He was asked to speak on one subject, walked into an angry crowd (mob) that was determined to talk about another and part way through had a prepared question thrown at him totally out of context that he quickly (and foolishly) answered and moved on. I am not one of Tom’s supporters but am also not a supporter of the mindless running for cover by the U of C, CBC etcetera. This was a total lack of professional spine on both their parts, and that’s not an endorsement of Tom Flanagan’s political views.

    • Except that this wasn’t the first time that Flanagan made such statements. He has REPEATEDLY made such comments in the past. Set up or not, his answer would have been the same.

      • The point is that we should be able to question our laws. When we can not do that we are diminished as a society. We may not agree with Flanagan, and there has been not a lot I have agreed with him on. However, we should not sit and rejoice in his downfall. It’s really the downfall of our democratic ideals.

        The point to my mind is not that he has “REPEATEDLY made such comments” but that even people we disagree with should be able to question our laws, even if questioning them seems at the time to violate our most basic principles of common sense.

    • Geeze, I hope he doesn’t get silenced too much more, he’ll pre-empt Hockey Night in Canada.

  6. If this was a Liberal, would conservatives be so diplomatic?

    It was the Flanagan/Harper/Kenney’s intellectual dishonesty that got us to this point in the first place. They made it so we could not have an adult conversation about this and many other things i.e…taxes, carbon pricing, criminal justice.

    This is Karma and it is well deserved.

  7. snip
    snip: “As part of my work, I subscribed to the Heritage Front
    newsletter to know what these people were doing. It went out of business
    and they must have sold their mailing list; I suddenly started to get
    neo-Nazi mailings and the periodical from [NAMBLA].”

    the Nazis – well known for their liberal attitudes towards sexual
    unorthodoxy – sold their mailing list to NAMBLA, and NAMBLA was willing
    to pay money for a Nazi mailing list, and then paid more money to send
    free copies of their newsletter to everyone on it for a couple of years?
    Excellent cross-marketing. I’m not sure that theory would withstand too
    much academic peer review since there isn’t a shred of evidence or
    common sense to support it.

    is the previous statement from 2009 reported in The Manitoban: “But
    that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with
    child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures?” Like his
    2013 statement, this came out of left field, volunteered by Flanagan and
    apropos of nothing. It was the comment he was invited to expand upon in
    the 2013 video, and instead of brushing it off, he jumped into the
    morass with both feet.

  8. Tom Flanagan made a good living sharing his thoughts and opinions on various topics. Was he trapped? Maybe. Should he have had the savvy to see his way through and in fact minimize the damage? Most certainly.He simply should have known better; he’s been close to the public eye for a long, long time and knows the game. These are the same kind of “gotcha” tactics I’m sure he supported in the early Reform days. Do you remember the many attempts to label Chretien as a supporter of pedophiles Flanagan knows the game, but he fugged up all the same.

    Flanagans main problem is the contentious nature of the crime and the fact the he is no friend of the Left crowd, and also a Conservative pariah due to his fallout with Harper. His support crew and damage control were nil – I don’t feel sorry for him. Those who live by the sword……

  9. The Conservatives must be scrambling to do damage control…

  10. There is room for debate about child pornography laws, especially when it’s going to improve how we deal with criminals who exploit children but what he said did not help the debate. It showed a flawed understanding and a basic lack of awareness of where the discussion should be. Of course looking at a picture shouldn’t be a crime, but if it’s a picture someone has deliberately sought out and someone is profiting off of it because they either haven’t bothered to try and stop them or because they are actively exploiting children, yeah crimes. Many of them. The reason we have laws like this is also so prosecutors have options for dealing with people who exploit children. It’s the same way it’s crime to rob a bank and it’s against to law to wear a mask when you’re robbing a bank. Someone looks at the case and will hopefully say “hey this person has a single picture and it looks like it’s a mistake they have it or frankly it’s only arguably pornographic. let’s find a non-jail solution.” versus someone who as a society we would prefer to keep in jail as long as legally possible so each and every single crime we can come up with to charge them should go on the list.

    The gross irony here is that conservatives are constantly pushing for tougher laws and longer sentences and mandatory sentences. Trying to take away the basic protections we all have against unjust and lengthy incarceration. But now they suddenly have a crime no non-pedophile thinks is victimless and this is where they want to have lower sentences? If I had ever heard any conservative in this country speak about finding better solutions for people who commit other crimes, about how non-jail solutions would help at risk adults and better serve society I might consider these defenders worth my time. As it is I can’t help but wonder a search warrant would find on their computers.