I hated guys like Bill Whatcott when I was pro-choice, and I hate them more now that I’m not.
For whatever reason, I don’t play nicely with picketers on either side of anything (photographic proof!); maybe my pregnant mother was traumatized by a pile of sticks. I do know that any measly reduction in abortions since Roe v. Wade is attributable to things such as ultrasound and the movie Knocked Up—everything except the amateur Grand Guignol theatrics of anti-abortion picketers, whose homeliness hasn’t declined in the 30 years since George Carlin uttered his career’s sole perceptive observation:
Have you noticed that most of the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn’t want to fuck in the first place?
Bill Whatcott is arguably Canada’s most famous pro-life sign-bearer, but when he stands before the Supreme Court next month, it’ll be on account of his other bête noire: homosexuality.
Besides picket signs, Whatcott gets his message out through flyers—hundreds of thousands of them, he figures—that he shoves into mailboxes nationwide. They feature statistics about gay mortality rates and photos of anal warts. One flyer was simply a photocopy of an ad from a local gay publication: “searching for boys/men.…Your age…not so relevant.”
Whatcott has been charged repeatedly with fictional-sounding offenses such as “stunting,” “obscene theatrics,” and the Star Trekkian “violation of the bubble zone”—that invisible barrier around abortion clinics designed to keep protesters off surrounding (public) sidewalks.
(One grandmother, Linda Gibbons, has spent almost as many years behind bars for violating this “temporary injunction” [which dates back to 1994] than Canada’s most hated woman, Karla Homolka, did for murdering at least three teenaged girls, including her sister.)
But it’s those flyers that get Whatcott into the most trouble. Steve Camp of the Edmonton “hate crimes unit” called Whatcott’s flyers “offensive” and “an affront on the basic tenets of our society, which is about multiculturalism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence.” (That robotic parroting of Trudeaupian goodspeak really is how our cops talk now when they aren’t busily arresting all the wrong people.)
Whatcott’s flyers were so “offensive” that a Human Rights Tribunal fined him $17,500 for reprinting the men-seeking-boys ad. He appealed and won. But the HRT appealed the appeal, hastening next month’s Supreme Court date.
Just in time comes a new documentary with the unfortunate title Freedom of What?cott, a dead-simple, well-balanced film about his 15-year, one-man Christian crusade. Made by “the Moon Brothers,” the flick has an Errol-Morris-on-a-budget look and feel. Unlike the vast majority of so-called “independent films” made north of the 49th parallel, this one was made without government funding.
I’m a free-speech absolutist in principle, but I still steeled myself to spend an hour or so with Whatcott, even if only on film. What struck me immediately was how quintessentially Canadian Whatcott looks; he’d be perfect for a Tim Hortons commercial, the dorky dad huddled over a steaming double-double at his son’s 5 AM hockey practice.
Less reassuringly, he also looks and sounds like notorious New York subway shooter Bernhard Goetz, with the latter’s guileless Aspergian candor and placid affect. As far as Whatcott’s concerned, when he hands out flyers stating that gay men are more likely to die of AIDS than straights, or when he’s quoting Bible verses, he’s just stating scientific facts and repeating 2,000-year-old scripture. He even includes his real name and phone number! Why is he in so much trouble?
Whatcott admits without rancor that not even other pro-lifers and evangelical Christians like him much, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike his stiff-necked comrades, Whatcott is (consciously or not) working out of the Merry Pranksters tradition of zany Groucho Marxism. With a gap-toothed smile, he recalls insinuating himself into a Gay Pride march and maneuvering to the front of the line. That’s when bystanders realized the man leading the parade was carrying a sign condemning “sodomites” to hell. Whatcott says they “threw gumballs” and other projectiles at him. He was eventually bum-rushed by “a big gay on roller skates.”
(Whatcott actually managed to hold a Straight Pride Day in Regina back in 2001. His permit wasn’t renewed in subsequent years.)
When he learned that abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler was to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, Whatcott claims he “got an image of the Order of Canada, crapped on it, wrapped it up, and mailed it to the Governor General.”
So basically he’s Andrew Breitbart if Andrew Breitbart had a really lousy childhood.
Whatcott’s youth was a modern-day Dickensian saga of foster homes and abuse that left him a glue-sniffing street kid. On camera, he admits to sexually servicing a man for drugs so matter-of-factly he could be talking about what color he’s decided to paint the kitchen.
Whatcott found God in jail, of course. He got a practical nursing diploma (with honors) and worked in a Salvation Army senior’s home, then at AIDS hospices. His supporters in the film explain that Whatcott was the last face many gay men saw before they died. As Whatcott explains, “Their boyfriends and friends were long gone.”
As for his own friends, many express reluctant support and tempered admiration for Whatcott’s “stunting.” One gay activist who loathes the man appears on camera supporting Whatcott’s Supreme Court fight, the infamous “Little Sisters” case having become a major chapter in his community’s modern mythology. But not major enough: At least in this film, his fellow homosexual activists are far less generous toward their opponent—and less coherent.
Whatcott’s is the latest case comprising what looks suspiciously like a Gay/State guerrilla war against Christianity, a battle about which I cowrote a book and so tire of rehashing: the printer fined for refusing to print pro-gay materials and court-ordered to do so anyway; the preacher banned for life from quoting certain Bible verses, even in private correspondence; another for taking out a newspaper ad citing those scriptures (the chapter and verse references, mind you—not the actual words).
His case’s outcome will help determine whether or not the chilling of free speech in Canada drops yet another degree. Those of us who’ll be watching most intently—we who intentionally violate Canada’s poorly drafted and arbitrarily enforced “hate speech” laws pretty much every day, just because we feel like it—will carry on doing exactly what we are doing regardless of the court’s decision. Whatcott himself answers to a higher authority. I’m pretty sure his biggest concern the morning of October 12 will be choosing the most annoying T-shirt to wear.
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