Sunday, July 05, 2009

Saskatchewan: The Apartheid Province

Ever since I was a boy newly arrived in Canada, and long after I discovered that sadly there were no bears on Mount Royal, and that building an igloo was harder than I thought, I always wanted to go to Saskatchewan.

To lie in one of those beautiful golden Wizard of Oz fields and stare up at the big blue sky.

But now that dream will never come true because Saskatchewan doesn't want me...or other gay people. It's an apartheid province.

The Saskatchewan Party government is proposing legislation that would allow the province's marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

Where to placate its rabid hate mongering Christianist base a Canadian government is prepared to humiliate gay people, deny them equal rights, treat their love as something dirty, and turn them into second class citizens.

Of course, as Dr Dawg, A Creative Revolution, and stageleft point out, this case is about more than just gay rights.

It's about whether public servants have the right to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve. And the only decent thing to do is to ask these public servants whether they are prepared to serve ALL citizens.

And if they say no...... to FIRE their bigot asses. Because Canada isn't Iran and in Canada human rights trump religious rights any old day.

The good news? This apartheid move only reinforces the need for Human Rights Commissions to prevent citizens from being discriminated against by their own governments. And the ReformCons of the Wall government will be shamed in the eyes of the world....and boycotted from every direction.

The bad news? It just struck me that lying in one of those golden fields on a clear night full of stars would be even more awesome.

Oh well. They can destroy my big sky dreams....or put them on hold. But they can never destroy our humanity. Or make me believe that our love isn't as beautiful as any other.

And of course I'll fight them FOREVER.

Those miserable bastard bigots who are ruining my country...


P.S. I have to admit that when I was a teenager, I also used to dream of driving a convertible at full speed through an endless wheat field. Like Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek did in the classic 70s movie Badlands.

While blasting the music from this scene on the car stereo...

But S├ębastien said that wasn't a good dream. So I gave that one up voluntarily.



  1. Simon --

    Psssst. The sky looks JUST as marvelous from the plains of Manitoba. Particularly at night. And, within the major city there, Winnipeg also has a *bitchin* music scene, as well.

    Just sayin'...

  2. I understand that this is a very touchy subject and I apologize for my provincial government's shitty public relations department.

    In its quest to inject sensationalism into the doldrums of summer, the mainstream media has failed to report three very important facts in this case.

    - In Saskatchewan, Marriage Commissioners earn $50.00 (plus a mileage fee of 36.23 cents/kilometre) per ceremony. It is not a salaried position.
    - There is a list of marriage commissioners. If one refuses, you can move down the list and call the next.
    - The Saskatchewan Government will make sure someone is available to perform every legal ceremony.

    Because of this:

    - Tolerant marriage commissioners will get more marriages and make more money.
    - Individuals retain the right to preserve their fundamental freedoms under Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Sometimes, preserving freedom is about making compromises. And frankly, I think that if you weigh all of the facts, you will see that this legislation makes a good compromise.

    Sorry my first comment on your blog is a negative one! If anything, consider it a compliment - it takes a very skilled writer to inflame my senses as you just did. You've got a killer voice and I look forward to reading more of your works!

    And finally, I apologize again - my province caused you some serious pain. There is a whole lot of beauty in this province - beautiful scenes, beautiful people and beautiful skies are just some. This beauty more than covers up the scar of extremism. You're welcome here with open arms.

    Peace and Solidarity.G

  3. Anonymous4:53 PM

    Greg, Its great they still want to accomodate but company's can get sued for refusing service based on sexual orientation. Maybe these people should be also. They should be told to marry everyone or you lose the right to marry anyone.

    I wonder what outrage their would be if a gay public servant like myself refused to serve a straight person. Lots of outrage I'm sure. Seems its perfectly ok to discriminate if you are the majority.


  4. Greg,

    Tell me, which other civil (public) servants in Saskatchewan will get to pick and choose which segment of the public they will serve because of their religious beliefs?

    I'm fairly certain it will be none.

    Compromise it may be, but it's still a faulty compromise.

  5. Anonymous7:43 PM


    I have to agree with Greg H. particularly where he mentions the two benefits that follow the words:

    Because of this:

    Go and look there and you will see what prairie sensibility is.
    It truly is a different mind-set and the likes of Tommy Douglas exemplify it best.

    The kicker is the statement that the tolerant commissioners will make more money.

    Let's also remember that the rights and freedoms cannot be trampled underfoot and this saw-off achieves the better solution in a difficult situation--for the present time.

    Someday, there will be greater open-mindedness about marriage. Until that time, it's best to proceed carefully and try not to step on too many toes. Some people are further ahead in intellectual development and have to patiently wait for the others to catch up.

    I wonder what Stanley Knowles and Tommy Douglas would say about this situation?

    Just a thought a propos en passant:
    Isn't moderating comments quite like what some of the commissioners are doing now? And do you moderate your comments and decide not to post some of them?

  6. My buddy Balbulican put it best:

    Why fuss about segregated drinking fountains? The ones for coloureds are just a few feet away.

    This isn't a "compromise." It's a statement about human rights. No bigot needs to take on the job of marriage commissioner--he or she has complete freedom of choice. But when he or she does, they are contracted to serving the public impartially.

    I wonder what Greg H. would think of marriage commissioners refusing to marry mixed race couples? Would that be OK?

    From a public policy standpoint, Brad Wall's initiative stinks.

  7. Market economics shouldn't determine human rights. Period. If you're not willing to do your job, get another job. To use Greg's argument, it's only $50 bucks a whack, mostly on weekends. No big loss, right?

  8. First, I need to supply you some context to Brad Walls' new law. Wall is a conservative cut from similar cloth as Stephen Harper - he's giving a political bone to social conservatives in his base. The policy, is in my view inexcusable and I condemn it.

    That said, I doubt Wall's new law will have *any* impact. There is a small number of marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan - every wedding I've attended in Regina that was run by a marriage commisioner was carried out by the same one woman (at least ten weddings). I've had discussions with this woman a number of times, and she'll marry anyone who can pay the $200. I can't see anyone in Regina being denied a wedding and that is pretty close to 20% of Saskatchewan.

    It is bad policy, but its unlikely to affect anyone. So let's move on to the apartheid comment.

    I understand you were trying for emotional impact by using the term apartheid. The use of this term ignores the fact that Saskatchewan has a very strong, and vital progressive movement - many members of the progressive movement, friends of mine and some candidates in the next election marched in Regina's gay pride - this same group of progressives are the direct descendants of great Canadian progressives like Tommy Douglas, Woodrow Lloyd, and Allan Blakeney. Saskatchewan was electing CCF and NDP governments when other parts of the country were controlled by members of the Orange Lodge or the Catholic Bishop's office. Unfortunatly we lost the last election but we Saskatchewan progressives have nothing to do with Brad Wall, he is not *our* candidate.

    Moreover, apartheid involved segregation of schools, pushing 90% of the population out of entire urban areas, closing off a number of occupations to non-whites, tightly controlling the media, not allowing segments of the population to vote in any meaningful manner, and routinely sending out military and para-military personnel to control people. Is the province that gave Canada medicare, really an apartheid-controlled geography?

    Bottom line, is the progressives in this province will be back in charge in a political cycle or two. We could certainly use the support of progressives in other parts of the world, and don't deserve to be lumped in with Brad Wall and his policies.

  9. Hi ' now you tell me that manitoba is flat too? Great. How come when I visited Winnipeg once all I saw was mountains...of snow?
    Although I did quite enjoy myself...inside. ;)
    Seriously though as you know I love every part of our country and I certainly intend to get to know more of the West before I'm done...
    And the day the Wall government falls I'll be driving to Saskatchewan in a convertible.... :)

  10. Hi Greg...thanks for your comment and I don't consider it a negative one. Just because I'm always right doesn't mean people can't disagree with me. :)
    But seriously...I believe in religious freedom, and I am also big on compromise because after all it's the Canadian way.
    But here's the thing. I work in the health care system and I have to help a lot of people who aren't very nice, or whose views offend me. But they'll never know it. Because my views and beliefs end where my job begins. And I'm going to be as smiling and cheerful and bust my ass to help them as much as I would any other human. And I expect the same treatment. Why should gay people on such a special day even have to worry about being treated differently than others?
    But anyway you are obviously a nice person, so I just want to say that I know there are a lot of beautiful people in your beautiful province and I intend to drop in on you all some day... :)

  11. Hi anonymous....I agree with you as I just explained to Greg. I consider it my duty and my pleasure to be able to be able to help any Canadian... even those who hate me.
    So while Greg makes some interesting points I'm with you on this one...

  12. hi Frank...Yikes that's a good one.
    Because once you set a precedent where will it end?
    Why didn't I think of that one? Damn... :)

  13. Hi Torontonian...I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. But gently just like I did with Greg.Especially with this part:

    Someday,there will be greater open-mindedness about marriage. Until that time, it's best to proceed carefully and try not to step on too many toes.

    Because although I'm tired of having to kick up a fuss about my human rights, if we hadn't stepped on some toes we'd be nowhere. As Dr King said once "wait usually means never."

    I realize it's not the biggest issue in the world, but after having to fight so hard for gay marriage I won't settle for anything less than full equality.

    As for my comments...I moderate them because sometimes I can't get near a computer for hours and I don't want to have somebody libelling or threatening somebody else on my blog.

    And besides that, some of the stuff I receive is so ugly and vile I don't want any young gay person....or my mother... to see them.

    So I do delete about seven or eight comments a month,but only because of that. Never because they don't agree with me.

    As Greg said some of my posts may "inflame the senses" ;)

    But I'd rather keep the comments cupboard as a place for polite discussion.

    I know it's a drag, but it's necessary...

  14. Hi Dr Dawg...again I agree with you, but I won't say anything more. Because I don't want to make it look like we're ganging up on Greg ;)

  15. Hi Dr know I hadn't thought of the market economics angle. Boy am I dumb. :)
    But you're right of course. Equality should be equality, and human rights are human rights. Period.

  16. Hi LRT...whoa I'm sorry if I offended you. My attack was aimed at the Wall government not at the people of Saskatchewan. And I am very aware of the great progressive history of the province. And how it gave Canada the greatest gift ever...medicare.
    And no I am not really comparing it to the situation in South Africa. But on the other hand we are a minority that has been brutally discriminated against, we have to fight bigotry every day of our lives, and our pain is just as real as any other.
    And we have had enough of that nonsense so every bit of discrimination will be met with angry words until it goes away.
    I wish it didn't have to be that way, but sadly it is...

  17. Wow, sorry for commenting and sort of disappearing! This got really interesting and I appreciate everyone's comments/critiques. Sorry if this opens up any old wounds, but I would like to respond to a few points. And, I would like to thank Torontonian, who gets it completely and who stood up and explained my points for me!!

    First off, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a straight, white male (though I shy away from using sexual orientation and skin colour as adjectives). I cannot imagine what it would feel like to to be in your shoes. And I cannot imagine the pain that such legislation would bring. My perspective is limited, so my commentary can only be skewed.

    Simon - Once again - great article. I read it again today and got riled up once again! Only good writing can do that...

    You said that you serve people despite the fact that their views conflict with yours. Is it safe to say that you do so because of your professionalism and sense of compassion?

    In a perfect world, professionalism and compassion will be the cornerstones of the public service. But until we get there, I think we have to look after the old guard that is not quite prepared to adapt. I think if you keep reading, you'll have an easier time understanding my point of view.

    Now come to Saskatchewan - amazing province that is full of beautiful, compassionate people!

    T-Roy - There would be tons of outrage if a gay public servant refused to serve a straight person. But there would also be so much confusion that you would likely get away with it (and emerge as some sort of hero for your trouble).

    Personally, I would support your right to refuse to serve a straight person. I'm really not very smart, I'm far from worldly, and I certainly don't know all the answers. So, who the hell am I to stand in the way of your thoughts and beliefs? The one thing I will not be shaken on is the belief that no person or entity should be able to force you to do something that is against your deepest beliefs.

    Beliefs often clash. When they do, I look towards harm minimization. The legislation in question revolves around two legal parties:

    - a gay couple
    - a marriage commissioner who interprets the bible in such a way that (s)he believes that God would be very unhappy if (s)he helped extend 'marriage' to a gay couple.

    Their rights conflict and each party faces pain. The marriage commissioner faces the sting of eternal damnation; the gay couple has to call the next number on the list. Eternal damnation versus calling someone who can actually be happy to officiate at your marriage. Who should win?

    Frank - you're dead right - it is a faulty compromise. But it is a very unique situation and this legislation will not be used for very long. As our world becomes more and more tolerant, intolerance will become intensely marginalized. By then, the masses will realize that this legislation is comical and faulty and politicians will line up behind taking it off the books.

    And finally, Dr. Prole, what if the market is the most powerful tool we have to protect human rights? Maybe in this current political landscape, our wallets are actually more powerful than our votes.