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SexPlusSchadenfreude: Behind the Sex Scandal
Sonya JF Barnett: "Sex scandals aren't just about sex"

I’m not one for gossip and I really loathe people speculating about others’ lives, especially when it comes to love or sex, but reading about scandal is unavoidable to a point. I only open about every twentieth article about Carlos Danger, but being someone who writes about sex, I feel obligated to peek through one squinted eye at my daily news feeds.

While Anthony Weiner’s campaign implodes in New York and most of us watch with morbid fascination, I find myself wondering about our own scandals north of the border. As Canadians, we’re either boring, we just don’t care about other people’s sexual proclivities, or we’re better at hiding them from the public eye. I refuse to believe it’s the first possibility, preferring a mix of the second and third, but I simply can’t remember a Canadian sex scandal causing as much frenzy as ones touted by American media, shaking itself into a froth anytime sex is involved. A Google search for “Carlos Danger” yields 2.6 million results, and “Anthony Weiner, sext” gets 243 million. Sad. So very sad.

Eliot Spitzer is loving watching this all unfold, as it takes the heat off his own campaign for Comptroller. If you don’t remember Spitzer, he was nabbed as the NY Governor who liked to spend hefty coin on the sex trade he was ruthlessly lobbying against. He’s now back with a vengeance, not having served a single day in prison for his illegal activities, the people whose lives he destroyed be damned.

To anyone whose literary preferences extend past that of grocery-store tabloids, sex scandals aren’t just about sex. Though you can skim the surface of any media report to learn about who put their dick where, scandals create deeper roots of collateral damage that are felt long after the reporters are gone.

In the case of Weinergate, it’s not just about a ballsy campaign for running the city’s finances, it’s about attempting to destroy the credibility of Weiner’s wife – since we’re all apparently better and smarter than she is – as well as adding to the ongoing right-wing campaign against Hillary Clinton. It’s about white male privilege. And, as of Tuesday night, it’s also about no-holds-barred verbal abuse. Weiner’s own Communications Director was just caught in a tirade of slurs against a former intern. Based on the media-biased info, you couldn’t write a better movie of the week.

Though these stories of sexual schadenfreude litter US media, I could barely find ten notable Canadian scandals within this or last century. The searches on all of them wouldn’t add up to one measly million.

Here are the five most notable:

In what is probably Canada’s earliest recorded sex scandal, Albert Premier John Edward Brownlee was sued for ‘seduction’ in 1934. (It’s a thing: “when a male person induced an unmarried female of previously chaste character to engage in an act of sexual intercourse on a promise of marriage.” Seriously.) A young woman and her family claimed Brownlee had pressured her for three years into having sex with him, for the sake of his “invalid wife”. Though the case bounced between verdicts, the MacMillan family was eventually awarded the $10,000 they initially sought in damages. Brownlee resigned after the original verdict.

Graham Harle was Alberta’s (they’re randy out there) Solicitor General, who explained to an Edmonton newspaper reporter that him being discovered in his government-appointed vehicle with a sex worker was nothing more than an investigation into the province’s alleged ‘prostitution problem.’ The results of his ‘research’ was that, no, there didn’t seem to be a problem. After public cries of BS became too much, he resigned.

In the mid 80s, BC Labour Minister Bob McLelland had to testify at a prostitution hearing regarding the dealings of Top Hat Escorts. He had been called before the court because the agency was being watched by the local police and he was implicated by a VISA slip relating to one drunken night in a hotel room. It’s probably good sense not to use a credit card for an escort service if you don’t want to wind up under the spotlight. He resigned his post after the trial.

As Stephen Harper’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier suffered through a couple political scandals until the one involving the woman with whom he was sleeping got too hot to handle: she was discovered to have had previous ties with the Hells Angels. Though Harper originally stated for the public to mind their own business in relation to people’s private sexual relationships (for realz), he was forced to accept Bernier’s resignation when it came to light that Bernier had left some sensitive documentation at his lover’s home. Oops.

East German Gerda Munsinger was believed to be a prostitute and KGB spy living in Ottawa during the mid-twentieth century. Having slept with a few members of John Deifenbaker’s cabinet, her background was discovered by the RCMP and she was deported back to Germany. Though a Royal Commission was convened, the Supreme Court never found evidence of any security breach, and the matter was settled quietly.  That is, until a few years later when her name was mentioned in Parliament and all hell broke loose.

I would need to do some serious digging if I was ever to get even close to the whole truth behind these stories. The only things we know of these scandals are what media tells us or persuades others to tell us on any given day, and what remains on paper or screen will never be the full story. The media gets a traffic spike, society a quick rush of armchair psychology, and women like Huma Abedin and the employees of Top Hat Escorts have their lives torn apart.

Sex scandals are less about sex than they are about male privilege, hypocrisy, power, stigma, hubris, and jealousy. With enough access to information, analysis of any scandal would easily reveal all seven of the deadly sins– and lust would be the least interesting.


Sonya JF Barnett, also known as “The Madame,” is the founder of an erotic arts community called The Keyhole Sessions and the co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @KeyholeSessions

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