On Friday morning, University of Windsor law professor Noel Semple became the latest Liberal candidate in the 2022 Ontario election campaign to come under fire thanks to some third-party vetting: In 2004, when Semple was a law student at the University of Toronto, it seems he wrote a letter to campus newspaper The Varsity opposing a new student levy that would direct $ 25,000 to campus organization LGBTOUT.
“I’d be willing to support a student levy for a U of T food bank, homeless shelter, or psychiatric counseling facility,” a much younger Semple then argued. “The hungry, the homeless, and the mentally ill are groups of people who genuinely need special assistance. LGBTQ people, by contrast, are not a needy or victimized subset of society, nor are they a visible minority. ”
You can imagine the Ontario NDP’s reaction, but here it is anyway: “Will Steven Del Duca’s Liberals stand up to bigotry against 2SLGBTQIA + people and drop this candidate?” And on Friday afternoon, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca gave his answer: Nope! Semple would remain as the candidate in the Etobicoke Center.
“Enough is enough,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Eighteen years ago, Noel Semple wrote an article in a student paper opposing a new student levy. … In the same article he denounced homophobes as scumbags. He is not and was not a homophobe. ”
“Enough is enough” was an interesting interjection. Enough of what? Why did Semple get a walk while the three other candidates that Del Duca hastily tossed overboard in recent days did not?
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It’s easy to understand why Barry Stanley got the boot in Parry Sound-Muskoka: His self-published 2009 book proposing that infants inhaling their own oxygen-depleted breath might cause sudden infant death syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and homosexuality doesn’t exactly read as anti-gay. But it’s bloody weird, which is not what you want in an MPP. (Plus the Liberals aren’t winning that riding anyway, so who cares?)
But Alec Mazurek was just a kid in junior high school on the (at least) two separate occasions when he referred to Facebook friends as “faggot.” There is no indication that Mazurek meant the word to mean “you’re gay and I hatefully disapprove,” but rather as an all-purpose and good-natured (though very antiquated and obviously offensive) epithet amongst friends. Eight years later, on Thursday, that got him the sack as the Liberal candidate in Chatham-Kent-Leamington.
Aidan Kallioinen, meanwhile, says he was “13 or 14” when someone – not him, he insists – left some nasty AIDS-related comments under his handle on a Minecraft forum. Now 18, he’s the ex-candidate in Sault Ste. Marie. “It’s troubling my name would be attached to something like this,” Kallioinen told the Sault Star. “I feel like I’m owed a chance to clear my name. I’m in a bit of shock. ”
It’s best that aspiring young politicos learn sooner rather than later: Political parties “owe” them bugger all. There is rarely anything “fair” about politics except hopefully the electoral process itself. Canadian politics routinely installs terrible, corrupt, stupid people in very fancy offices and grinds great, ethical, brilliant people into fertilizer. The Liberals in particular have clearly drawn a line in the sand: If nobody knows who you are, if it’s not too late to yank your name off the ballot and if we don’t think you can win your riding – always the number-one consideration in these matters – then we will happily feed you to the pigs to avoid even five minutes of controversy.
It’s particularly jarring in this case, though: When Del Duca offered a tenured law prof a “not a homophobe” stamp of approval, the implication was that his two defenestrated teenage candidates might well be homophobes, despite having arguably provided even less evidence to support it.
This phenomenon is not limited to politics as it stands: it’s just as easy for a personal rival to search someone’s online history as it is a political rival. Corporations face increasing pressure on fire employees and exclude candidates with bad browsing histories. And we are only now seeing the first generation graduate into adulthood that really grew up jabbering constantly on and posting photos and videos to searchable, semi-permanent media.
Adolescents and young adults of my generation left our worst moments in the ether of smoky bars, boozy parties, exes’ apartments and police cars. Even understanding to some extent the hormonal maelstrom that is the adolescent brain, what some kids nowadays are willing to post online beggars belief. And I wonder if the past two years might have exacerbated the situation.
Isolation and stress reduced many intelligent grown adults I follow on social media to spittle-flecked lunacy. Biostatistician Ryan Imgrund, a frequently quoted media source during the pandemic, recently apologized under duress for suggesting a McMaster University medical professor “had caused the deaths of many individuals.” When adults are deciding it’s somehow fine to wander around social media calling medical professional murderers, I shudder to think what cooped-up and fed-up teenagers might have been posting.
This problem may solve itself, to some extent: The more people whose youthful missteps are searchable, the less we might care about them. But in the meantime, at least, I’m afraid young people graduating into universities, workplaces and other facets of society that (unlike politics) are supposed to operate with a degree of procedural fairness will fall victim to precisely the same judgmental forces. Corporations have, if anything, less incentive to stand up for “difficult” candidates or employees than politicians do, after all. If I were a parent, it would haunt my dreams.