Tom Flanagan—conservative activist and pundit, newspaper columnist and university professor—has questioned the validity of jailing viewers of child pornography and been roundly rebuked by all and sundry, and rightly so.
Dr. Flanagan seems to have based his opinion on the mistaken belief that viewing child pornography does not directly victimize children. A repugnant opinion, of course, and not one with which I would ever want to associate myself or ever try to defend in any way. Viewing child porn ranks right up there with any of the other areas of this despicable criminal activity.
This is not the first time Dr. Flanagan has courted controversy. Readers may remember that in 2010, he commented—while appearing on the CBC television program Power & Politics with Evan Solomon—that he thought “[Julian] Assange should be assassinated.” Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks which was much in the news at that time. Dr. Flanagan apologized for the remarks soon after making them, acknowledging that his words were “glib and thoughtless.”
But except for the few diehard anti-conservatives like Vancouver attorney Gail Davidson, who filed a police complaint against Flanagan, the matter was over and done with in a matter of days and the professor suffered—at least as far as I know—no permanent damage to his reputation. Most thoughtful persons seemed to understand his ill conceived words were said with a laugh and meant tongue-in-cheek. I saw his exchange with the show’s host, Evan Solomon, and not for a second did I believe Dr. Flanagan was suggesting his words be taken seriously or literally or that he wished anyone’s life be put at risk.
In this latest incident, however, negative reactions to Dr. Flanagan’s comments were swift and he seems to have lost his jobs at the University of Calgary, the CBC and with Alberta’s Wildrose Party. In other words, his career and reputation are pretty much in tatters.
I’ve had a lot of time for Tom Flanagan and looked forward to hearing his views on a wide variety of subjects. I agree with Gerry Caplan—well known for his support of the NDP and one of Flanagan’s co-panellists on Power & Politics—who characterized Tom Flanagan as a “mensch”, notwithstanding his condemnation of his co-panellist’s ill conceived words.
Clearly, child pornography is not a victimless crime, and I find it repugnant to suggest that it is. I do wonder, however, just how much punishment should be meted out to someone merely for offering his opinion on the subject.
Using illegal drugs is far from a victimless crime—demand fuels supply the process of which has many, many victims. Yet many are able to express opinions regarding decriminalising or even legalising some recreational drugs, and they do so with little or no negative consequences to their careers or reputations.
While organizations and associates with which Dr. Flanagan was affiliated obviously have the right to handle the PR consequences any way they see fit, I am inclined to wait to hear what the man really meant by his “badly chosen” (Flanagan’s own description) remarks. Until then I’ll not be piling on.
I want to Dr. Flanagan to know that, though I disagree with what he seems to have been saying in this instance, I continue to value his opinions and hope he will continue to offer them.