A chrnology

11.28.95 p.A19


by Michael Valpy

Socrates, having been found guilty of corrupting the young of Athens - and you know what this column is about - was offered a way of avoiding the death penalty.

To the amazement of the judges and the distress of his friends, however, he proudly declared that he had rendered the city a benefit and deserved a reward. Bingo. His judges voted on his sentence again and, by an increased majority, decreed the hemlock.

History has declared his judges wrong, guilty of killing the greatest hero of freedom of thought.

Gerald Hannon is the inevitable outcome of modernity's embrace of the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the human soul, the fashionable liberation of the self from the constraints of the community.

Mr. Hannon, a journalist and (until this past weekend) part-time lecturer at Ryerson Polytechnic University's school of journalism in Toronto, was already the subject of loud controversy because he publicly favoured "intergenerational sex," by which he appears to mean that it is okay - not harmful and perhaps even life-enriching - for adolescent males to have sex with adult males.

Mr. Hannon's views on the subject have been hanging around in public print - in The Globe and Mail et al - since at least 1977. In an age that elevates "doing one's thing" to the status of theology and, moreover, entrenches it in the Constitution, he seemed - as last week drew to an end - to be on the safe side of tolerance.

The authorities of the journalism school defended his right to hold his beliefs. So did a number of his students. Discretion on Mr. Hannon's part might have seen him comfortably into calm waters.

At that point, he gave an interview to The Toronto Sun - a "startlingly frank conversation," the newspaper called it, in an understatement - in which he talked about his "quite enjoyable" and "very resourceful" experiences (present tense) as a male prostitute and his appearance in a "low-budget art film . . . acting out a night as a prostitute with a 21- year-old actor as the paying customer."

On Saturday, the Sun helpfully, along with the interview, published a still photograph from the film.

On Sunday, Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse issued a public statement announcing that Mr. Hannon had been suspended pending an inquiry. Vice-president Michael Dewson issued another public statement saying: "While under suspension, Mr. Hannon is to have no contact with his students and will not be permitted on campus without my authority or that of the dean of applied arts."

One wishes nothing more than that Mr. Hannon would shut up and thus not require defending. However. . .

If Mr. Hannon has been suspended because he has acknowledged being a prostitute, where are the merits of the university's action?

Prostitution is legal. Mr. Hannon has said he has not talked about his prostitution to his students. There is not the slightest suggestion that he has solicited any of his students, which would be illegal.

It is a university journalism school for adults where Mr. Hannon teaches, not a Bible college for young teen-agers. Journalism students are supposed to learn about the real world - which includes people who do things and believe things that Mr. Hannon does and believes.

The university, for its part, has violated its collective agreement with its employees by publicizing a disciplinary action. And the union representing Mr. Hannon has filed a grievance because, among other things, Mr. Hannon has been suspended prior to an inquiry being held.

If Mr. Hannon has been suspended for favouring "intergenerational sex," what are the facts?

He says he is talking about sex with adolescents, not sex with children. His views offend society's norms to the extreme, but the law permits persons over the age of 14 to have sex with persons who are not in a position of trust.

He says, and he has not been contradicted by his students, that he has never in the classroom advocated sex with adolescents, that he has talked in the classroom about his views only in the context of the legal difficulties a journalist can get into when he writes on a taboo subject, a reference to Mr. Hannon's celebrated obscenity trial of several years ago.

By his advocacy, by talking about his beliefs, is he encouraging pedophilia, counselling an illegal act? The law would require him to exert more direct influence.

Would these arguments in defence of Mr. Hannon be different if he were teaching adolescents, if he were in a position of trust as their teacher and if there were a reasonable belief that he might influence or manipulate them to satisfy his sexual appetites? Yes.

Mr. Hannon, however, teaches in an adult setting whose purpose is to encourage debate, discussion and challenge.

Does freedom to philosophize, however unpopular, necessarily undermine society and conventional morality? Or is a good society impossible without freedom to philosophize?

A chrnology