Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tom Flanagan and piling on

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.


  1. He was cast as a Conservative stooge on the CBC, and he played right along at every turn. Good riddance.

  2. Not sure the comparison with drugs is in any way comparable with child abuse images.
    Making drugs illegal has created the problems and resulted in victims. Making them legal would reduce the number of victims; both of the system and of those who benefit from their illegal status.
    Legalising the production and possession of child abuse images would increase the number of victims from there already huge numbers.

    In one case the victims are created by the criminalising of an activity; in the other victims will exist whatever you do but will increase should society in any way lessen the punishment if you are caught doing them.

  3. Flanagan is of course right. 'Fuelling demand' does not violate anyone's rights.

  4. Flanagan opines on child pornography and gets pilloried.
    Bill Graham alledgedly hires 15 year -old male prostitutes and gets appointed interim leader of the Liberal Party.Is it any wonder Liberals voted down moving the agee of consent from 14 to 16

  5. Sorry Anonymous but I disagree "Fuelling demand" causes increased demand for more children to be abused and violates the fundamental right of children to protection against the child pornographers

  6. repost from comment board: Mr. Harris, I am a computer forensic examiner that works for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in the USA. Having been chronically exposed to child exploitation material for years during the performance of my job duties, I can only gather from Mr. Flanagan's statements that either, a) he is severely ignorant of what "child pornography" really is (not generally cutsie naked kids, but instead graphic depictions of the true rape and assault of children as young as infants in diapers)

    or, b) he is making a very poor attempt (as pedophiles often do) of masking his own predilections. In either case, his statements were disgusting, though my gut instinct (which is very finely tuned these days) tells me the professor has dabbled in this type of material way more than he is stating, and has the warped sense of a true pedophile who does not classify the memorialization of sexual abuse as a big deal. His statements, I venture, had nothing to do with politics, but an ill attempt to justify his own "tastes." It's too bad that search warrants can't be based on pure observational experience, because Mr. Flanagan would not only lose his jobs, but his personal freedoms as well. Thank you very much for the article.

  7. While Amy has been turned down for restitution by some courts, which have stated there was not enough proof any one man who viewed her pictures was responsible for the harm she has suffered, ***she has won more than 150 cases, totaling $1.6 million.

    At one point in the proceedings, Judge Emilio Garza stopped Cassell, not to challenge him, but to pick up on his theme. “It seems to me that we’re in this brave new world, where not only was there an actual rape, but I’m going to suggest to you there is a continuing digitized rape,” the judge said. “Possession of the digitized recording of the rape contributes to the system, contributes to the economic benefit of those who produced this thing.”