COLUMN

Firing a ‘hooker’ is an employer’s right

There is a world of difference between having a right to express a view and an obligation to give someone a forum for expressing that view

BARBARA AMIEL December 18 1995
COLUMN

Firing a ‘hooker’ is an employer’s right

There is a world of difference between having a right to express a view and an obligation to give someone a forum for expressing that view

BARBARA AMIEL December 18 1995

Firing a ‘hooker’ is an employer’s right

There is a world of difference between having a right to express a view and an obligation to give someone a forum for expressing that view

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

A journalism teacher at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto has been suspended and is being investigated on two counts: first, he is accused of using his lectures to promote his views on sexual encounters between men and underage boys. Secondly, he has revealed that as well as teaching his course on freelance magazine writing, he also works as a prostitute.

Ryerson had always known about the professor’s views on pederasty. In 1977, he wrote a high-profile magazine article extolling the splendor in the grass of a sexual encounter he witnessed when camping with another man and some small boys. Neither this nor the professor’s subsequent campaign to have the laws prohibiting pederasty changed discouraged Ryerson from hiring him. The revelation of his work as a “hooker” caused them to suggest he mark term papers at home.

Schizophrenia has gripped our intelligentsia in this matter. Globe and Mail columnist and Ryerson media ethics instructor Bronwyn Drainie sees it as a conflict between freedom of speech and ethical concerns about his overall behavior—which, in her case, means the prof should resign at the end of term. Journalist Judy Steed, long consumed by the belief that the single most important problem facing Canadian society is covens of satanic child abusers, compares the professor to neo-Nazis who believe the Holocaust didn’t take place. The Writers Union of Canada has supported the professor’s right to espouse his views on pedophilia. The part-time faculty’s union has filed a grievance saying he has done nothing wrong, while the professor has filed another grievance alleging unjust discipline.

In my view, any school should have a perfect right to determine both its curriculum and the moral standards of the people who work for it. If the school does not have the right to determine these two matters, then

they inevitably will be determined by some state institution such as a human rights commission. A society is healthier when a “diversity” of views is allowed, and that will be the case so long as each school is free to act independently—for better or worse.

It is argued that when an institution is taxsupported it must respond to the concerns of the majority of taxpayers: this argument is specious. I prefer a society in which there is private medicine and private schools because their policies are decided by the people in charge of them. When the state’s institutions make policies, we get moral relativism: neo-communists are all right while neo-fascists must be fired; homosexuality is normal while sadomasochism is abnormal; matriarchy is fine and patriarchy is bad or vice versa. This reflects only fashion or special interests.

It is argued that the professor’s suspension violates his freedom of expression. This is not so. Why shouldn’t a school fire a teacher who insists on teaching something that runs contrary to the school’s own curriculum and/or if the teacher’s work as a part-time hooker contravenes the school’s view of the morally correct stance of its

teachers? This has absolutely nothing to do with the civil right of a person to be a Moonie or a part-time hooker, so long as the activity itself is lawful, nor does it have anything to do with the absolute inalienable freedom of expression to advocate the legalization of anything from heroin to pederasty.

But there is a world of difference between having a right to express a view and a corresponding obligation on Ryerson to give someone a forum for expressing that view. A freedom of expression issue arises if a school willingly allowed the expression of certain views and was then censored by some state authority. If Ryerson had a professor stating views, say, against homosexuality, that professor and Ryerson would probably be censored today by a so-called human rights tribunal. This points to what is so insidious about this muddle: the state has created two classes of controversial opinions—those that are protected and those that are unprotected or even abhorred. As a homosexual activist, the Ryerson professor belongs to a protected species. But as an advocate of pederasty he is abhorred.

The argument that teachers ought to have a higher standard of ethics because they are responsible for shaping young minds is absolutely true, but I find it immaterial in this discussion. If we really believed that, we would allow religious schools, for example, to demand that teachers correspond to such criteria as (a) never having been divorced; (b) never having lived common-law; (c) never having had an abortion, and so on. If our schools tried this, they would run headlong into some government commission. The only way you can truly have freedom of speech in a society is by allowing everyone to speak at their own risk and obliging no one to listen to him or give him a forum. If a school is not free to fire someone who had an abortion, how can it be justice to allow a human rights commission to get New Brunswick teacher Malcolm Ross fired for holding (abhorred) opinions on a Jewish conspiracy that he never expressed in his classroom?

If I ran Ryerson, and someone held a wellargued class on why, under certain circumstances, sexual contacts between men and boys should be legalized, I would not interfere. Speaking personally, I happen not to believe the equation that every form of sexual contact between individuals, one of whom is of age and one of whom is not, is necessarily abusive. It may be so, but a blanket statement doesn’t take into account the nature of human sexuality or the wide range of sexual maturity among human beings.

Conversely, if one of my teachers was a hooker, I would fire him. I fully agree that being a hooker is a human right, but it is also my human right to disapprove of hookers as teachers in my school. Finally, if the Ryerson students find this professor to be a guru, and if he is fired, nothing prevents them from attending whatever school hires him, or indeed attending his private classes and paying him. This is freedom of expression; one day Canada may want it.