Media mania

This just in!

The latest damn details...



"When social significance is attributed only to what is immediate, and to what will be immediate immediately afterwards, always replacing another, identical immediacy, it can be seen that the uses of the media guarantee a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance."

Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1988

It may seem odd to open a page listing recent developments with a warning on the perils of "news." But, as the late French social critic Guy Debord said of what he called "the spectacle" of mass-media consumer culture: "Spectacular domination's first priority was to eradicate historical knowledge."

When everything is "now," there is no past. And maybe no future. Fixation on the "latest facts" is apt (and, Debord believed, is meant) to take our minds off how we got to where we are. And to take our eyes off where we might go. Wallowing in a swamp of immediate and apparently pressing details, the future can become for us that place in the punchline of an old Down East back-roads joke: "You can't get there from here."

Of course, we can get there only from here. But we can't see our way there unless we look past the "noisy insignificance" of much of what passes for "news."

The complex details of court rulings and legal reforms on the regulation of our relationships -- in which marriage mavens love to wallow -- rarely amount to anything more than tinkering with massively flawed mechanisms. Mired in presumptions mostly taken for granted, often in ignorance of actual history, they do not usually portend a future free of historical injustice.

Yet some (a Supreme Court ruling, say) can make noises not insignificant to our fate. In the glacial flow of jurisprudence, some cracks may herald a thaw: lines of judicial reasoning can sometimes split fissures worth probing. Some we may pry wide enough to open spaces of freedom for the future.

So: Wary of the damn details, I do not feel obliged (as some might expect me to be on a site like this) to scrutinize every phrase of every new court decision. Or every section, subsection, and clause of each new piece of federal, provincial, or territorial legislation. That would just get me (and you) lost.

This page is for "keeping up to date with the latest developments" only in more modest ways. I will try to note here what has made "news," but will elaborate only on what might truly be new: ideas that may open doors to a more humane future. I hope to keep my eye on that future -- not on the news-junkie fog of perpetual "now."

Where what's "just in!" warrants further thought (mine anyway, or maybe some helpful lawyer's), I'll let you know what's on offer.


APR 22 - 25 &
MAY 1, 2003

Couples cases see success (if maybe a stumbling block)

On May 1, 2003 British Columbia's highest court overturned a lower court ruling against gay matrimony, declaring that the opposite-sex-only definition of marriage violates the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights.

Ontario's high court heard four days of testimony, April 22-25, on an appeal of a lower court ruling that had also said barring same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. In 2002 a Quebec court had said the same thing. The feds argued this April that marriage simply "just is" a heterosexual institution, not subject to the Charter. That argument apparently didn't sit well with presiding justices, who have yet to rule.

So: as of this moment, three key court decisions have said Yes to gay marriage. BC's Yes may be appealed; Ontario's maybe overturned and, if so, likely appealed again -- both to the Supreme Court of Canada. Further federal appeals are up to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon. He hasn't yet said which way he leans, but he's clearly feels a stiff breeze.

For massive coverage see the website of Just Married crusaders Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell. It's hardly an unbiased source (check out their report on Beyond Conjugality -- ignoring all of its 33 proposals but the last and least radical, conceding that if governments can't do any better they should at least allow gay marriage). But hey, there's no such thing as "objectivity." And the boys, not to mention their lawyers, are really big on details.

Equal Marriage for Same-sex Couples

NOV 27, 2002
to APR 30, 2003

Parliamentarians hear lots of people say nothing much new

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, convened November 27, 2002 to consider the Justice Department's discussion paper "Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions" (see Nov 8, below), seeks public opinion on its various options, at first in Ottawa and then, from April 1, across Canada. Given media fixation on (and hence public perception of) just two options -- Gay Marriage Yes or Gay Marriage No -- what they heard was hardly a surprise. See:

Two-ring  circus
Parliament's public consultations become
a slag-fest of competing fundamentalists


NOV 8, 2002

"Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions"

The federal justice department releases a discussion paper offering limited options for future laws -- mostly asking the same tired "gay marriage" questions, their answers still locked in conjugality. But one option, even if unlikely to be adopted, does open the door to more progressive ponderings: Leaving sacred rites to religion -- and "marriage" out of the law. For a brief overview, linked to more details, see:

Not going beyond
A look at Justice's limited options -- & how we
might make the best of them

DEC 4, 2002

The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act

Canada's most conservative province stays well to the right on gay marriage -- if with a surprising swerve. Its new act "to address the needs of unmarried Albertans in committed, interdependent relationships" clearly defines "spouse" as "a married partner"; an Alberta law passed in 2000 -- in a rare invocation of the Charter of Rights' "notwithstanding" clause -- limits "marriage" to opposite-sex couples.

But this act creates a new status in law: "adult interdependent relationship" -- open to any two people "involved in a committed relationship of at least three years or where there is a child of the relationship" (voluntary registration before three years is allowed). The term applies to anyone in "economically and emotionally interdependent relationships," whether common- law or "committed platonic relationships where two people agree to share emotional and economic responsibilities." The sex of the partners -- even whether or not they have (or are presumed to have) sex -- becomes irrelevant.

Alberta has thus removed "conjugality" from relationship law. The media, true to form, have paid almost no heed to this radical move, most casting legal changes affecting both same- and opposite-sex pairs (in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island, as well as Alberta) as making room for same-sex couples presumably having sex.

The act still ties benefits to relationship status, and ties people together willingly or not after three year's cohabitation. But if Alberta of all places can get beyond conjugality, maybe the rest of Canada -- including the feds -- won't find it such a scary move. (Or need, as cops in Calgary did December 12, to raid a gay bath to prove they've not gone soft on queers.)

For details, with a link to the full text of Bill 30-2:

Legislative Assembly of Alberta: Adult Interdependent Relationships Act

DEC 19, 2002

The Supreme Court says: "It's not equal to marriage"

In an 8 to 1 decision on the case of Susan Walsh v Wayne Bona, a Nova Scotia couple with two children living together for 10 years before splitting up, Canada's highest court rules, as reported in the National Post, "that common-law partners do not have a guaranteed right to a 50-50 split of assets when their relationships end."

One justice wrote: "Choice must be paramount. The decision to marry or not is intensely personal." Another: "Unmarried couples do not make [the] same commitment and rights and duties akin to marriage should not as a result follow" from common-law couplings.

The court's 1999 ruling in M v H -- that same-sex couples have the same support rights as heterosexuals living in common-law -- had presumed that common-law status and marriage offer (nearly) equal rights and obligations. Now the court says they do not. Some warn of "devastating effects on hundreds of thousands of women and children" left without support on the breakdown of relationships outside marriage.

Confusion reigns for people who'd thought themselves "as good as married" -- compounded by wild variations in common-law rights among the provinces and territories. Gay marriage mavens love it: See? Only marriage can guarantee full equality! Could the justices' clear emphasis on personal choice offer an opening to challenge involuntary common-law status -- so avidly ignored by those mavens' own mantra of "choice"?

Things could get very interesting....

Full text of the decision:
Supreme Court of Canada: Nova Scotia (Attorney-General) v Walsh




Social justice
The Tedious Issue's non-issue

Despite marriage advocates' eagerness to win absolute sameness of treatment for same-sex couples -- making them dependent on each other as spouses in law, potentially subject to the vagaries of "spouse in the house" rules limiting access to welfare, drug benefits, student loans and other forms of public assistance -- they have been nearly silent on the effects of "equality" on cohabiting queers less well-off than themselves.

In a rare exchange among Egale members in 1999, on the impact of that gay marriage lobby's "victories" on low-income pairs, many admitted potential injustice, some even suggesting "gay marriage" may be the wrong way to go. Their ponderings had no apparent effect on Egale's sacred strategy: Absolute Equality! At any cost.

Despite the gay media's avid penchant for courtroom reporting, none has given any coverage to legal challenges aimed at reform of the welfare system -- damaging not only to (mavens' otherwise much-touted) "dignity," but to the material lives of "marginalized and desperate people." Gay or not. For that 1999 Egale exchange, see:

Paying  the price
Some paying more than others


JUNE 2002

Ontario courts disarm welfare spies

In the case of Falkiner v Ontario, a suit brought in 1995 by five single mothers when their benefits were reduced on discovery that they had men in their lives, the Ontario Divisional Court says that the province's "spouse in the house" welfare rules violates the Charter.

Until 1995, opposite-sex adults had been deemed a common-law couple after living together three years. Elected that year, the Tories declared cohabitants coupled, assumed to share a common income, as soon as they started living together -- unless, as the Ontario Social Safety NetWork put it: "they could prove to a welfare functionary that their relationship was not spousal." At the same time "the term 'spouse' was redrawn so broadly that it was almost impossible to prove that a co-resident was not a 'spouse.'"

The court ruled this "guilty until proven innocent" presumption of dependence -- mostly of women on men -- violated the equality rights of sole-support parents, and their right to autonomy and "security of the person." The government fought the ruling; the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld it, ordering the province, as The Globe reported July 27, "to temporarily stop prosecuting people who collect welfare benefits for single parents while having an undeclared [if supposed] common-law spouse."

In August the province sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada -- which has yet to say whether it will hear the case.

DEC 19, 2002

The Supreme Court says: Not yet.

Ruling on "a landmark attempt to have social benefits secured as a constitutional guarantee" -- a class action suit led by Louise Gosselin of Quebec, arguing that her benefits of just $170 a month violated the Charter's Section 7 right to "security of the person" -- the Supreme Court of Canada says there is no right to state welfare support.

But the court offered grounds for hope: in its 5 to 4 split decision, four of the nine justices agreed that the Quebec welfare plan in question did violate equality rights. Two ruled it in breach of Section 7 as well. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, saying that the facts of this particular case "cannot support the weight of a positive state obligation of citizen support," suggested some later case might -- asserting, as the National Post reported, that "it would be a mistake to view the Charter as 'frozen' and incapable of novel interpretation."

The Toronto Star editorialized on December 20: "The Supreme Court majority did not quite say no to the idea that the Constitution has a hidden 'social charter.' Instead it said: not at this time." The Globe reported that "poverty activists took great heart" from the Chief Justice's "assertion that a right to social assistance may be recognized in future if the right case comes along." As one said: "It is a victory for us that they haven't slammed the door."

DEC 19, 2002

Inquest zaps welfare's zero tolerance rule

A Sudbury coroners jury, investigating the death of 40-year-old Kimberly Rogers, strongly urges the Ontario government to end its "zero-tolerance" lifetime ban on social benefits for anyone convicted, even once, of welfare fraud. The ban began in 1995, when, as Jim Coyle wrote in the Star December 21: "Among almost its first acts, the Conservative government of former premier Mike Harris had cut social assistance rates by 21.6 percent."

Rogers, eight months pregnant, had been found during a record heat wave in August 2001, dead of an apparent suicide in her apartment -- confined there under "virtual house arrest" on a six-month sentence for welfare fraud, banned from benefits for the rest of her life. Her fraud: cashing welfare cheques while going to college on a student loan.

As The Globe reported: "The jury clearly signalled that the penalty for welfare fraud bears no proportion to the gravity of the crime." Brenda Elliott, the Tories' latest community services minister (an earlier one had told the poor to look for cheap tuna in dented cans) responded: "At this time we are not contemplating changes to our zero tolerance policy."

"Rarely in our society," Coyle wrote, "do lifetime sanctions apply. Not even for impaired drivers responsible for tragic carnage. By comparison, cabinet ministers who have recently made improper expense claims for similar amounts have merely offered up an unconvincing Oops and -- because they had the wherewithal -- paid public money back."

"We are faced," he said, "with the spectacle of a government reserving its heaviest, most unforgiving hand for the most marginalized and desperate people."



Go to:
What you  can do



For developments from May 2003, to the wrap of this effort in September 2003, see:
Postscript  as prologue

Go back to:
Ideas  in play  (List of contents)
Gay marriage? Wrong question  (Lead page)

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This page:
January 2003 / Last revised: May 3, 2003 / Postscript link added: Sept 12, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2003 /