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Sean Willett/the Gauntlet

Freedom with limitations

Flanagan’s comments raise important issues

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Tom Flanagan is dead wrong. But he is right about one thing: counseling and therapy should be the first approach to dealing with child abusers and possessors of child pornography. This should be the case for any criminal offence, but the fact is that the Canadian justice system is unable to provide these services for abusers of the law.


On Feb. 27 at the University of Lethbridge, Flanagan remarked, “I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.” Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and political strategist, was speaking at the U of L about aboriginal issues.


In a National Post column after the incident, he justified his comments by saying that he doesn’t endorse viewing child pornography, but wonders if jailing violators is the best way to rehabilitate them.


Jailing violators of any crime is not the best way to rehabilitate them. There should be therapy and a regime of counseling, but the federal government doesn’t have a system in place to support this. Under the Conservative government, there has only been a further institutionalization of offenders and a complete disregard for the mental health and rehabilitation of those offenders. There are inherent problems with our justice system and with jail in general. However, child abuse is one of the gravest offences and should be dealt with accordingly. 


According to the National Post, “the cost of the federal prison system has risen 85 per cent since the Harper government took over in 2006.” Obviously, putting offenders of any crime in prison is the first priority of the Harper government, which is another issue altogether.


Though he raises important questions about the Canadian judicial system, Flanagan’s comments last week were incendiary and absolutely false. Flanagan noted in his National Post column that child pornography viewers “are not sexual abusers of children” and this comment should not be taken lightly. 


A popular variety of child pornography is viewing sexual abuse of children through a live webcam. This clearly demonstrates child pornography’s system of supply and demand.


Flanagan is taking libertarianism too far when he said looking at child pornography is “a question of personal liberty” and should not be punished. Abusers of children are the lowest of low on the criminal totem pole, and suggesting otherwise is incredibly harmful. The reduction of Flanagan’s remarks to mere libertarianism is a grossly outdated sentiment. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the freedom of speech, but with limitations. Expression must be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Flanagan’s remarks are clearly unjustified given the circumstance and context. 


Immediately after his remark went public, every group publicly affiliated with him severed ties, including the Wildrose Party. Leader Danielle Smith denounced his comments, even in lieu of her libertarian history, particularly when she failed to apologize for Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger’s homophobic remarks during the Alberta provincial election in 2012. Clearly, child pornography is another ballgame altogether. 


U of C students should be especially worried about Flanagan’s remarks because of his affiliation with the institution. U of C president Elizabeth Cannon released a statement on Feb. 28 stating, “All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children.” Thankfully, Flanagan has been on research and scholarship leave from the U of C since January and will retire in June. 


There exists a hierarchy of child pornography abuse in Canada: at the top, child abusers and those who distribute child pornography; then those who view child pornography and create a consumer demand; and finally those, like Tom Flanagan, who misconstrue the denouncement of child pornography.


All are perpetuating the system, and all should be appropriately reprimanded. However, despite being condemned by political parties and the media uproar, Flanagan received almost no retribution for proliferating an incredibly harmful message about child pornography.


We are upset because regardless of his horrible, insensitive and damaging comments, Flanagan will get a nice pension to live a full and picture-perfect life. 


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