A funny thing happened on the way to the freedom of expression debate. A grown man confessed to participating in a child sex assault and nobody batted an eye.
By now, everybody knows that Ryerson journalism professor Gerald Hannon thinks it's quite all right for adults to have sex with children.
He talks about it. He writes about it. He has raised the issue in the classroom. He claims this is his right. He also claims he will continue to raise this issue whenever he deems it germane to classroom discussion.
Until a nationally televised debate on Saturday night I was not clear on how far Hannon would go to press his views. While he says he's not interested sexually in children, he admits to being "something of a voyeur" - someone, by dictionary definition, who "obtains sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts." This presumably explains why he listened while a man assaulted a 12-year-old boy and didn't try to stop it.
(There is a second explanation which could be offered and it's this: as a journalist, as a chronicler of the human condition, he simply wanted to provide an eyewitness account for his essay Men Loving Boys Loving Men. Perhaps Ryerson could include this in its journalism ethics course curriculum.)
"Billy" was a 12-year-old farm boy from "somewhere north" of Toronto when he met "Barry," a man who had already seduced his two older brothers. The parents, of course, didn't know about "Barry," so on this occasion, they met in the backwoods and polished off a bottle of wine before going to bed in a tent. In a first-person account, Hannon described what he saw and heard that night.
"I was glad to see midnight," Hannon wrote. "The two older boys crept off home and we got ready to slip into our sleeping bags - in our underwear, though I could tell by the giggling that Barry and Billy had taken theirs off as soon as the flashlight went off.
"Odd man out, I lay there listening to the murmuring, the giggling, the occasional explosive snort. It didn't last long." I must confess, it took several readings of the essay for this to sink in. At first I thought it was fiction. But Saturday night, on CBC Newsworld's On The Line, I was straightened out.
"You were not there," Hannon snapped. "I was. I don't write fiction. It happened."
Further, he claims, there are times when relationships like these are "ethically" appropriate. This is not a question of ethics, which try to determine human conduct in various circumstances. It's a question of morality - of what is right or wrong.
And now, it appears, it may even be a question of legality.
By his own admission, Hannon was present while a sexual assault took place. (Legally speaking, a child cannot consent to sex with an adult.) That could leave him open to charges under Section 21 of the Criminal Code on aiding and abetting.
It's also possible Hannon could be charged under Section 152 which cover crimes involving persons who "counsel or incite" persons under the age of 14 to touching, among other things, for sexual purposes.
Then again, they could proceed through Section 465.1, which sets out the law on conspiracy, which may or may not cover the arrangements which took Hannon to the little tent in the woods so many years ago.
Admittedly, nothing may come of any of it. After all, without "Billy," police would have no complainant.
Men Loving Boys Loving Men first appeared in 1977, so today "Billy" would be 30 or more.
One can only speculate about how "Billy" and his brothers now view those secret gropings.
Was it, as Hannon would claim, a "healthy" experience. Or are "Billy" and his brothers like so many other survivors of childhood sexual abuse, embittered men living broken lives?