COLUMN: ‘Offensiveness’ policy a futile exercise
Facing another round of criticism from a familiar source on the former Lingerie Football League, Abbotsford city council has foolishly set itself a futile task.
Local residents Gerda and Richard Peachey are ever-present voices on morality issues in this city, including the Taboo sex show at Tradex, and the now-Legends league of female football players who wear skimpy uniforms as part of the marketing appeal.
There’s a wide range of public opinion on this league, which was hosted in the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre for several games last year.
Is it exploitative of women, or empowering? Is it sport or entertainment? Is the clothing comparable to that worn by women playing beach volleyball? If so, does that make it OK? Depends on who you ask, and if they actually care.
No question where the Peacheys stand. They consider it to be “offensive,” particularly in a public facility and, as such, insist that council has a responsibility to adopt a formal policy designating what organizations can use city property.
Remarkably, the majority of city council agreed this was actually worth valuable city staff time to examine.
However, Mayor Bruce Banman called an exercise designed to identify and block everything that may be “offensive,” as heading down a “dangerous slope.”
Oh, it’s all of that all right. It’s a pointless march into an immensely subjective argument.
Although not a direct comparison, but providing useful context, Canadian and American courts and lawmakers have struggled for decades with the definitions and parameters of obscenity and indecency, balanced on shifting societal standards and levels of community tolerance. Yet all of this collective expertise has yet to find answers that neatly wrap up such a complex issue.
But Abbotsford city hall staff are expected to come up with a formal written policy that protects against “offensive” activities and/or content in public facilities?
Define that, please... and in such a way it does not infringe on freedom of speech and expression, or impose an unwelcome community standard upon the majority.
And what of the huge range of variables that will exist in the application of such a policy?
Does the city pre-determine that an organization or group looking to use a public facility is going to be “offensive,” before they use it? Based on what criteria? Judged by whom?
Does it include rock acts that have sexually charged lyrics and steamy stage shows? Stay away Rihanna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Kanye West...
What about artists and authors who challenge society on racism, religion, and myriad other topics through means that might be offensive to some?
Do we ban Salman Rushdie from speaking at the library? Do we bar lesbian comedian Ellen Degeneres from doing a gig at the AESC? How about a political rally in Rotary Stadium by the Marijuana Party?
It’s very clear for those who share the Peacheys’ position.
They are entirely free to hold and share their perspective, but is it the measure of community standards in Abbotsford for all others? No thanks.
Based on the very muted level of opposition to the lingerie ladies of football in this city, and attendance at their games, it would seem there is a much higher level of tolerance here for what is offensive, what is not, and the latitude extended to individuals to make those choices, even if it does involve a public facility.
Does city hall have a responsibility to consider the activities and events it endorses? Certainly, on a case by case basis. They’ve done so in the past, and as we’ve seen, consensus is often elusive.
Can a “policy” be applied that neatly provides guidelines to city staff, in all instances, clear of ambiguity and interpretation? Not a chance.
Advice to council: This isn’t going down a slippery slope. It’s a freefall in endless debate.
Let your constituents ponder the moral enigma of booty shorts in the AESC. We need you concentrating on other matters of greater importance, such as taxpayers’ money.