University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan has learned the price of unpopular, wrong and dangerous ideas. Mr. Flanagan is uncomfortable with the idea Canada criminalizes, or imprisons, someone who views child pornography. He is free to voice his opinion, and a university classroom is an appropriate venue for the debate.
It is surprising that in 2013 a man of his awareness and sophistication would consider the consumption of child pornography, be it pictures or video, to be harmless.
Mr. Flanagan spoke at a University of Lethbridge seminar Wednesday. Asked about similar remarks he made at the University of Manitoba in 2009, he said 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.
"We put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person," he said. "So it is a real issue of personal liberty."
It is not "personal liberty" to contribute to a crime, and those who tap into the millions of images produced of children being sexually abused -- most of whom are younger than six years old -- are doing just that. The distribution of those images victimizes the child over and over again.
There would be little market for pornographers if no one watched. That is why Canada's Criminal Code sets out a minimum sentence of 90 days in jail, and a maximum of five years.
Mr. Flanagan was grievously wrong to believe viewing pictures of the sexual abuse of a child does not harm that child. But Canadians should not vilify the man. The University of Calgary was quick to distance itself from his views, which is appropriate (it also noted the professor is on leave until his previously announced retirement June 30). Mr. Flanagan was dismissed as a panelist from a CBC political show.
Others leapt to defend his right to express his opinion and to protect free debate and inquiry, especially in the halls of learning. It is comforting the weight of opinion voiced opposed Mr. Flanagan's view, but the fact a learned man could see no harm in the watching of child pornography indicates there is much public education yet to be done.