Friday, September 29, 2006

How the NDP screwed their own queer youth

Media reports coming out of the recent federal NDP convention held in Quebec City focussed mainly on issues such as withdrawal from Afghanistan and the national question. The media never picked up some of the most controversial debates at convention, because they were held behind closed doors.

This September I attended my first federal policy convention of the NDP, after being a party activist, election volunteer, campaign staff, and federal candidate over several years. I had high expectations that the party membership would be able to influence party policy on several fronts, especially in areas where the party's leaders appeared to abandon queer communities and young people since the last election.

In particular, I was concerned about the NDP stance on the age of consent. Our Justice critic, Joe Comartin, had shown strong support for Bill C-22, the Harper proposal to increase the age of consent to 16 from 14.

But party maneuvering got in the way of democracy at the convention. A committee of party insiders set all policy resolutions opposed to the age of consent increase near the bottom of the priority list, meaning none of them would be discussed. Joe Comartin's resolution, which implicitly supported Bill C-22, was placed near the top.

But youth and queer party members opposed the blatantly biased prioritization at a closed-door resolution panel prior to debates on the convention floor. The Ontario youth wing, the Quebec Section, and two riding associations wanted to discuss leaving the age of consent at 14. They won a clear majority in a vote to amend the order of resolutions. The move caught the party brass off guard, and MP Denise Savoie ran up to a microphone shortly after the vote to voice her frantic opposition.

The party establishment did not even want the issue discussed in front of the media. This convention was slick and highly managed, and the potential embarrassment of queers and youth openly speaking against the party line was too much to risk.

Particularly painful was watching NDP chief of staff and former queer activist Bob Gallagher running around the room talking to MPs and messaging on his Blackberry to get people stacked into the room to vote against us.

By the time the age of consent resolution came up, he had brought in virtually a quarter of the NDP caucus to speak at the 'con' microphones. The youth wing and the LGBT committee had mobilized lines of speakers at 'pro' mic.

It was quite the sight: young people themselves, many of them queer, lining up to stop a dangerous bill that purported to protect them, while mostly old straight men refuted their claims with 'daddy knows best' attitudes.

One after another, delegates gave reasons why the NDP should oppose Bill C-22. Queer youth talked about the silencing effect it will have on youth sexuality. Young women spoke about how the bill will affect access to reproductive and sexual health services.

One after another, Members of Parliament refused to debate the issue. They are only accountable to voters in their ridings, they repeatedly told us. Their remarks were especially insulting to youth delegates, many of whom had taken five days out of their first week of school, taken time off work, travelled long distances,and paid hundreds of dollars in fees and expenses to attend the convention. We were essentially being told that we did not have a say in party policy, and we had wasted our time attending.

At one point, Joe Comartin approached the chair of the meeting. Then the chair allowed two more speakers, the second of which just happened to be MP Jean Crowder, who was rushed up to the microphone to make a motion to table the resolution. Tabling a resolution essentially places it at the bottom of the priority list, thereby ensuring that it will never be debated on the convention floor.

Crowder's motion went to an immediate vote, which was close enough that a second standing vote was necessary. Whenever such votes are held, the rules stipulate that doors must be 'tiled' to prevent anyone from entering the room to affect the result. Despite this rule, large numbers of people were seen ushered into the room to vote against the resolution, even as they went onto the second vote. Delegates ran up to microphones to call points of order on the blatant subversion of democracy, but the chair overruled.

Although supporters such as Libby Davies and Svend Robinson voted on our side, the motion passed by a slim majority and the resolution was effectively eliminated from debate. Many youth delegates and others who had seen what transpired began booing and crying out 'shame' and about half of the delegates began pouring out of the room.

Comartin later admitted to, and tried to justify the party organizing against us, accusing "the gay, lesbian, transgendered group, and the youth, organized by their leadership" of "taking over" the panel. The vast gay conspiracy again!

After the way queers and youth were silenced at this convention, I have lost much of my faith in the NDP as a party that is willing to put principles and rational policy ahead of shortsighted electioneering.

The NDP and other political parties are more than happy to engage youth as young as 14 if they want to buy a membership, volunteer for a campaign, or be used as props for a public event. But no one seems to think that these same young people should be genuinely consulted about legislation that affects them.

Similarly, the NDP has capitalized on its slightly superior track record on issues such as same-sex marriage in order to present itself as the only party to truly support queer equality. At the same time, party apparatchiks are shamelessly working against the interests of queer party activists.

It's time for the lip service to end, and for all political parties to view queers and youth, and queer youth especially, as more than just tokens.


Jennifer said...

TT, commented about this on my post about the convention. I was actually waiting for a good article on the subject. While I wasn't in this particular meeting myself I've heard almost this exact story from more than one person who was there. While I do believe that in most circumstances, that the NDP is the only party that represents the Gay (LGBTQ...) community, I think that this particular move was absolutely shocking. In case anyone is interested, there's going to be a public meeting on the age of consent legislation in the near future, I'll post when I know.
Normally, the NDP is all about equality, I just can't understand why they would support this terrible Stephen Harper idea. If you are old enough to decide that you want to have intercourse, what difference does it make what hole you use?
Jack and Stephen, really, why do you care what hole 16, 17 and 18 year-olds use to have intercourse?

Jennifer said...

Also, if you are a 19 year old female and you and your 17 year old boyfriend decide that you want to have anal sex, is the 19 year old girl going to get locked up as a sex predator? This law is ridiculous.

Scott said...

Excellent post Jennifer. Interesting to hear about what goes on inside the conventions. Cool stuff.


Jennifer said...

Yeah, democracy up close is even less pretty than it seems from farther away!

Jennifer said...

Obviously, I didn't post this to turn people off the NDP, you couldn't possbly ever find a political party that agreed with every stance you have. The NDP is still the best party for equal rights issues.
Email Jack or Olivia, or Joe Comartin, or anyone else you feel like emailing.

tokyo tintin said...


the proposed change of consent law doesn’t have anything to do with takin’ it up the hoop. that’s another matter entirely. currently the age of consent is 14 and they are proposing to increase it to 16.

both youths and youth educators feel this proposal is bad because it will limit access to information and health services, as well as potentially criminalising otherwise consensual acts.

there exists a ‘close in age’ provision where parties within two years of each other are exempt from age of consent clauses in the law. this is less leeway than most other countries –generally five years, or a sliding scale,– but does avoid potentially sticky situations. i believe this provision will remain unchanged if the age of consent is increased, so that a 14 year-old could consent to have sex with a 16 year-old, but two 14 year-olds could not consent to have sex with each other. very bizarre.

i just do not understand what is the driving force behind this, except of course to kowtow to George W and make Canada more like the US. there is really no motivation to change this law other than people being reactionary, conservative jerkfaces.

now a separate, but also important issue is the age of consent for anal sex. at present, the age of consent for ass-piratery (of either gender) is 18. this criminalises gay youth (and kinky straight youth who like bums), and has been declared unconstitutional by both the ontario and québec supreme courts. however there has been no movement to change this law, most likely because no one wants to debate anal sex in the house of commons. not so popular with the voters you see.

now given my new job as a conservative policy planner, i recommend that we either; a) lower the age of consent to zero so that we save all that money on court costs and jail time prosecuting young people who have sex and use that saved money to pay down the debt and cut social programmes, or b) make all sex illegal; issue fines for everyone caught having sex and use the money from the fines to pay down the debt and cut social programmes. either way we’re winners!