Thursday, December 7, 2006

If you're going to deliver hate, deliver sex, too

by Brenda Cossman

This commentary was first published in Xtra on November 9, 2006.

According to Canada Post ó the new unofficial censors of what we read ó hate is okay, but sex, well, that's offensive.

Last month about 60 postal workers in Vancouver staged a 15-minute walkout protesting a homophobic pamphlet, which they considered to be hate literature and did not want to deliver.

The pamphlet in question, an unaddressed mass mailing, was the September edition of The Prophetic Word, published by the Fundamentalist Baptist Mission in Waterford, Ontario. It called AIDS the plague of the 21st century and a consequence of the sin of homo-sexuality, which it described as "ungodly, unhealthy and unnatural."

Canada Post condemned the action of its workers, saying that mail carriers do not have the right to refuse to deliver the material.

Ironically, back in January, Canada Post itself refused to deliver a campaign brochure for the Sex Party Of Canada, saying it will not deliver sexually explicit material.

Canada Post told the Sex Party, a registered political party, that it does not censor the mail, but is "sensitive to the concerns raised by the general public with respect to receiving unsolicited, unaddressed advertising of a sexually explicit nature."

The campaign brochure did not include any graphic depictions of sexual activity. It did include a reproduction of an abstract rendering of a penis and a photograph of an artistic sculpture of a penis. That apparently was enough to violate Canada Post's sense of what will offend the general public.

But in the hate mail controversy, the Canada Post spokesperson said the Crown corporation doesn't recognize the term "hate mail." "We're not about to go into the business of defining what hate mail is."

So let's just recap here: Canada Post is not in the business of defining hate, but it is in the business of defining sexually offensive material ó and then censoring it.

To make matters even worse, this appears to be official policy. Canada Post publishes a document entitled Unaddressed Admail Customer Guide dated Jan 17, 2005. It states: "Canada Post will not knowingly deliver offensive articles that contain sexually explicit material." There is no corresponding policy in relation to hate.

Canada Post was able to conclude that the antigay pamphlet was not obscene and therefore it was "acceptable and appropriate for mailing under the Canada Post guide."

I actually thought that the days of this kind of outright censorship of sexually explicit by quasi-government officials was a thing of the past. There is absolutely nothing in the Sex Party's brochure that would begin to make it obscene under Canadian law. It is not sex with violence. It is not sex that is degrading and dehumanizing. It's not even sex. It's an artistically rendered penis.

For Canada Post, representations of penises need to be stopped. Condemnations of gay folks don't.

Canada Post can't have it both ways. Either it is in the business of censoring materials in a way consistent with Canadian censorship laws, like the provisions in the Criminal Code, or it is not. So, either it censors obscenity and hate literature (and gets into the very tricky business of defining both). Or it censors neither.

I'd prefer Canada Post censor neither. If officials see something they suspect might be illegal, they should go tell the cops.

If following the law is just too hard for Canada Post, it could revise its policies. It could oblige folks who want to send unsolicited, unaddressed ad mail to Canadians to put their wretched junk mail in envelopes. It would cost a bit more, but it might have the pleasant side effect of all of us receiving a little less junk mail.

At least Canada Post would be out of the business of trying to manage the general public's sensibilities.