Has the Tom Flanagan hatred gone too far after child porn comments?

·National Affairs Reporter

Bless the existence of Canada's freedom of expression. Even recent comments by former Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan about the right to watch child pornography has its defenders.

Days after Flanagan told a crowd of students at the University of Lethbridge that watching child porn was a victimless activity, and following a furor that saw him dropped from nearly every association he was a part of, those advocates of freedom of speech have moved in to claim the high ground.

Flanagan said, in a comment captured on video, that he has "no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.... It is a real issue of personal liberty. To what extent do we put people in jail for doing something for which they do not harm another person?"

Those who have come to Flanagan's defence say he has every right to make such a statement. And they are correct, to the extent that people have a right to voice their opinion. Specifically professors, who should engage student in difficult debate.

[ Related: Academics defend Flanagan's child porn views as public debate ]

Philosphy professor Mark Mercer wrote in the Ottawa Citizen:

Those who think Professor Flanagan mistaken in suspecting that viewing child pornography shouldn’t be punished with jail time should thank him for raising the question, for now they have an excellent opportunity to explain why jail is appropriate. So far as I can tell, though, they seem more interested in attacking Flanagan rather than in answering him. “I’m disgusted,” no matter how strongly stated, is not an argument.

Of course, if Flanagan has a right to express his opinion, everyone else has a right to express their opinions as well. And few have left their argument at, "I'm disgusted."

Alberta's Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, in cutting all ties with the former party strategist, wrote:

The viewing of child pornography first requires the production of child pornography, which causes untold suffering and abuse towards children.

CBC News, in releasing him as a commentator on the show Power & Politics, said:

While we support and encourage free speech across the country and a diverse range of voices, we believe Mr. Flanagan's comments to have crossed the line and impacted his credibility as a commentator for us.

The University of Calgary, in announcing his previously tendered resignation, said:

All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children. Viewing pictures serves to create more demand for these terrible images, which leads to further exploitation of defenseless children.

Sgt. Mike Lokken, with the northern Alberta’s Internet Child Exploitation, told the Canadian Press:

Child pornography just isn’t an innocent photo. It’s a permanent record of sexual abuse of a child. And every time somebody views these images, they’re revictimizing that child.

Those who have vocally shunned Flanagan know why they are doing it. And it is not simply "I'm disgusted."

[ Related: Flanagan retires from U of Calgary after child porn comments ]

Studies into child pornography show that the majority of children who appear in the videos have been abducted or physically forced to participate. The act can have long-lasting debilitating physical, social and psychological impacts on the children.

And considering child pornography is made in order to feed a market of demand, those who distribute and collect child porn should accept part of the blame for its existence.

That said, there is a need for some sober second thought on the subject of Flanagan’s shunning. Should he be vilified for comments, made during a tangential moment amid an unrelated debate?

The man may be controversial, but it's not as if he intentionally promoted the act of watching child pornography.

In his attempt to apologize the following day, he said, "My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children."

Stumbling and awkward they may have been, but he was not misquoted. He has expressed similar sentiment before. Last time, he was wise enough not to expound.

Yet, was he not simply engaging those attending his lecture in a debate on a controversial topic — whether the imprisonment of those who flirt with pedophilia by watching child pornography is the best course of action?

The National Post's Jonathan Kay, comes to Flanagan's defence by suggesting his ill-conceived comments should be weighed against his reputation.

Kay wrote:

Flanagan did not publish his comments in a written article or deliver them in carefully prepared remarks. He said them extemporaneously, in response to a question from the audience. In such situations, people express themselves in all sorts of clumsy, and sometimes bizarre ways.... And so in analyzing a person’s character, the goal should be to get at what they meant to communicate.

By now, those who know Flanagan, those who have heard of him and those who have heard his comments have come to their own conclusions on what he said, and what he meant. They are free to react as they see fit. If a news group now finds him lacking in credibility, they are free to bid him adieu. If a political party sees his cons as outweighing his pros, they can cut bait.

One would suspect this is not the end of Flanagan’s life, or the end of his career. He will speak again, either after this maelstrom dies down or before. And when he does he may be more careful with his words.

Or maybe he won’t. It is entirely up to him.

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