Workers Vanguard No. 952
12 February 2010
Canada: Anti-Sex Witchhunt Targets Teachers
(Young Spartacus pages)
We reprint the following article from the Young Spartacus pages of Spartacist Canada No. 163 (Winter 2009/2010), newspaper of our comrades in the Trotskyist League of Canada/Ligue Trotskyste du Canada.
On October 3, Toronto high school teacher David Dewees calmly lay down on the tracks at the High Park subway station and waited for the approaching train to end his life. Two days earlier, Dewees had been charged with “invitation to sexual touching” and “luring” based on emails he purportedly sent to a couple of teenagers at a Christian camp where he had volunteered since 1997. Inflaming the crusade against Dewees, the Toronto Star had outrageously and falsely claimed that he had also been charged with sexual assault, while prominent Star columnist Rosie DiManno continued to smear Dewees after his death.
When this popular teacher was honoured by his former students at Jarvis Collegiate in a memorial at the High Park station, one of them rightly decried the press vendetta, saying Dewees “did not commit suicide, he was murdered by the media.” David Dewees is the latest victim of an anti-sex witchhunt that has seen countless people persecuted for things like sending emails that in any rational world would not be crimes at all. His tragic death throws a spotlight on the decades-long campaign to demonize and criminalize teachers and others who might in any way run afoul of the twisted “morality” of the ruling class.
The puritanical witchhunt against “sex offenders” waged by governments at all levels is a variant of the Christian fundamentalist crusades against “sin.” For anything from looking at a porn website or sending an email to having an entirely consensual sexual relationship with a student, teachers are treated as though they are child rapists and murderers. Many innocent people have been trapped in the state’s snare, framed up, fired and jailed. Their names are put on “sex offender registries” (in Ontario alone the list has some 8,500 names) and their careers are destroyed.
In this witchhunt, the powers of the state are augmented by the Ontario College of Teachers. Carrying out its own “investigations,” this august “professional body” posts the names of accused teachers on its widely feared online “blue pages,” exposing them to public scrutiny and humiliation. Meanwhile, students in teachers college are advised to avoid any conduct that might whisper of “impropriety,” and it is made clear that once they become teachers, their private lives are pretty much an open book.
Only a few weeks before Dewees’ death, Leslie Merlino, a Mississauga [Ontario] high school teacher, was sentenced to 12 months probation, convicted of sexual exploitation, breach of probation and failure to comply with a court order. In 2006 Merlino and a 17-year-old student began a relationship. Merlino was convicted of common assault, driven from her job and ordered to stay away from the “victim.” Refusing to bow to the court, they continued to see each other, and a short time later, when the (now former) student was 18, they vacationed in Quebec. Back in Toronto they were followed by the cops and Merlino was arrested again, charged and jailed for two-and-a-half months. Now, in addition to a criminal record, Merlino’s DNA is on file and her name will be on the Ontario sex registry for 20 years.
The case of Brampton [Ontario] teacher Dina Calautti is another harrowing example of how easily a teacher’s life and career may be destroyed by this state inquisition. In 2007 she counseled a 17-year-old student who was depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend. Calautti ended the online correspondence after a week when she realized that the student’s romantic MSN messages could put her in danger. When the student’s father contacted police over the amount of time his son spent communicating with Calautti, she was suspended from her job and buried under a mountain of wild charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and Internet luring. At her trial Calautti, an enormously popular and dedicated teacher, was forced to plead guilty to the luring charge in order to avoid jail time.
The Bourgeois Family, Private Property and the Capitalist State
The number of students and their teachers who have fallen for each other and acted on it over the years is legion. Who among us has not fantasized about a sexy schoolteacher during an interminable afternoon in class? But teachers are supposed to embody and enforce “appropriate” behaviour for their students, i.e., the mythical norm of one man on one woman for life. Merely the entire history of our species has shown that human sexuality does not conform to the moral codes imposed by this ruling class. To condemn as “exploitative” sex (or anything hinting of it) between hormonally charged youth and their teachers is a blatant attempt to control and criminalize completely harmless human behaviour.
The purpose of these moral crusades—which include drives against pornography, prostitution, youth sexuality and abortion—is to regiment the population and to bolster the repressive powers of the capitalist state. This state—including its cops, courts and prisons—is not a neutral arbiter, but the instrument for the suppression of the exploited by the exploiters. As such it plays a key role in enforcing the oppression of women (and youth) alongside organized religion and the patriarchal family, which remains the central instrument for the subjugation of women under capitalism. The family is critical for the ruling class to pass on its property to “legitimate” heirs and to instill obedience to bourgeois codes of morality.
We oppose all the laws which prohibit consensual sexual relations in the name of “protecting” youth, just as we demand that the sex registries, which are a witchhunting prosecutor’s dream, be scrapped. We also oppose “age of consent” laws which falsely conflate consensual sex with violent crimes. We do not accord the capitalist state the right to decree the age at which youth can engage in sex. The guiding principle in all these matters should be that of mutual effective consent. This means nothing more and nothing less than mutual agreement and understanding, as opposed to coercion.
Unfortunately we are all but unique in defending the victims of this anti-sex hysteria, whether teachers hounded for private sexual acts or famed director Roman Polanksi, an innocent man who faces a renewed state vendetta for having had consensual sex with a precocious 13-year-old one day back in 1977 (see Workers Vanguard No. 944, 9 October 2009). That they have no other defenders on the left besides our organization is a measure of how deeply the so-called “socialist” groups have adapted to “family values” bourgeois reaction.
To support the capitalist state’s right to legislate morality is to support this decaying social order which produces genuinely horrific crimes against women and children. The state is a violent, unrepentant and chronic abuser of youth, and that includes the very real and horrific crime of sexual abuse. Stories emerging from the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, a new $100 million superjail housing 102 youth, are bloodcurdling. Shortly after it opened in May, inmates began launching complaints about abuse that included food deprivation, restrictions on family visits and full-body cavity searches under the ludicrous pretence of looking for missing DVDs.
At the same time, a racist “law and order” offensive is targeting mainly black, Native and other minority youth for cop violence. The Conservatives’ “anti-crime” law raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 while enforcing mandatory sentences for “gun crime” convictions that target black and South Asian youth. In the bourgeoisie’s eyes, teenagers are too young for sex, but not too young to be tried, sentenced and jailed as adults. Underlining both their thoroughgoing support for racist Canadian capitalism and the moral priggery that typifies these social democrats, the New Democratic Party backed the Tories’ reactionary law.
In Toronto, cop repression has been sharply ramped up under social-democratic mayor David Miller. In black and Asian neighbourhoods like Jane and Finch, where unemployment and poverty are rampant, the cops act as an occupying force, harassing and detaining youth at will. Meanwhile, armed cops patrol the corridors of 50 Toronto high schools. In October, one of these cops was caught on camera brutally beating a black student inside Northern Secondary School, sparking angry protest. Many minority parents have begun to speak out against cops in the schools.
For a Revolutionary Workers Party, Tribune of the Oppressed
The working class must come to the defense of all victims of capitalist state repression, including teachers rounded up under anti-sex laws and students victimized by cop terror. Instead, in a 2005 policy document, the bureaucracy that runs the OSSTF high school teachers union actually encouraged the government to put cops in schools.
A class-struggle leadership of the unions would make a concerted effort to break the climate of fear, shame and stigma that surrounds teachers caught in the state’s puritanical web. This battle must include combating the pernicious religious moralism that permeates teachers colleges and the school system. At the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education a special “Catholic Teacher Education Program” trains hundreds of future teachers in the fine art of preaching anti-scientific “Gospel Values.” Such “values” include church doctrines that ban birth control and treat abortion as murder. Religious obscurantism serves to oppress women by preventing them from exercising control over their own fertility. We are for free abortion on demand! We call for an end to publicly funded Catholic schools and demand one secular school system.
The Spartacus Youth Clubs seek to train the future cadre of the Leninist vanguard party that alone can lead the working class in struggle to overthrow racist, capitalist rule. A workers state will enforce full democratic rights for gays and begin the task of liberating women from the oppressive confines of the family. Only world socialist revolution will lay the material basis to replace the institution of the family and open the door to an egalitarian future. In fighting to expose the material underpinnings of religious backwardness in bourgeois society, we look forward to the world described by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, a world where people “will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual—and that will be the end of it.”