ROB ANDERS & JASON KENNEY
“No sex, please, we’re Reformers”
(The Ottawa Citizen, Jan 23 1999, Page: B1, Byline: Glen McGregor)
The twin virtues of charity and chastity intertwined in a most personal way for Reform MP Jason Kenney last month when he confronted a group of bureaucrats at Revenue Canada.
Shortly before Christmas, Mr. Kenney came to Revenue Canada’s Ottawa headquarters to protest the way the department treats registered charitable organizations. As the public servants listened politely, he complained about their decision to revoke the charity status of two anti-abortion groups, and the refusal to grant charity status to an Ottawa-based organization that educates school children about chastity.
These are important causes for Mr. Kenney, who not only opposes abortion, but also counts himself among a small number of Reform party members who have chosen a lifestyle of chastity, abstaining from sex outside wedlock.
As Mr. Kenney, 30, has never married, this commitment means refraining from sex completely.
Although he’s not entirely comfortable about discussing his chastity choice in a public forum, Mr. Kenney allows the decision takes root in his strongly held religious beliefs.
“I’m a practising Catholic and I take the teachings of my church pretty seriously when it comes to applying them to myself,” says Mr. Kenney.
In an age of polyamory, promiscuity and presidential fellatio, Mr. Kenney admits his choice to abstain from physical love puts him among what many consider an “eccentric minority.” But he is not alone among Reform party ranks, nor even in the Reform backbenches of the House of Commons, where he is joined by another Alberta MP, Robert J. “Rob” Anders, who also opts for a life without sex.
With their seemingly antiquated views, both MPs find themselves aligned with chastity advocate the Challenge Team [local copy]. They echo the group’s mantra of fostering respect for a “healthy sexuality” by abstaining from sex outside marriage.
“Chastity is not about not having sex,” says the Challenge Team’s Harold Visser. “It’s about saying, ‘Sex is something very significant, so I want to have sex at a time in my life that’s truly beneficial.’ “
The secular organization, which operates out of borrowed office space in Sandy Hill, sends its volunteer members across the country each spring to speak in high schools and elementary schools about the advantages of chaste living. They talk about prevention of disease and pregnancy chastity brings, but stress the freedom to plan for the future and build good relationships that, Mr. Visser claims, the lifestyle affords young people.
Challenge Team funds these chastity drives with honorariums from the groups it addresses, and would like to make those donations tax-deductible by winning charity status from Revenue Canada.
But the government claimed the Challenge Team taught a one-sided approach to sex education. Because of the”perceived bias,” Revenue Canada disqualified the group [local copy] as an educational organization and rejected the application for charity status.
Now, with Mr. Kenney failing to convince the bureaucrats to grant status, Mr. Visser has no other recourse than to take his case to federal court. As his organization cannot afford a lawyer, he expects to represent himself in court, perhaps as early as May.
His chances in court seem remote. In March, the same court found in Revenue Canada’s favour when they revoked the charity status of anti-abortion group Human Life International in a case that raises some of the same issue the Challenge Team will address.
At the very least, the Challenge Team appeal could pump the group’s public profile in the absence of public figures speaking out on their behalf. Though not secretive about their chastity, neither Mr. Kenney nor Mr. Anders believes they should use their positions as MPs to advance their own opinions about this very personal subject.
“Thinking about the whole Bill Clinton thing [Monica Lewinsky], I decided it confuses the role of legislator to discuss private life on that level,” says Mr. Kenney.
But both recognize that America’s most famous fellatee [one who is fellated] exemplifies the kind of abuse that the aphrodisiac of political power can cause.
“As a member of Parliament, there are times you may be approached by women who otherwise wouldn’t approach you,” says Mr. Anders, “but those are probably the ones you have to be specifically wary of.”
Mr. Anders, who also abstains from alcohol, feels his choice of chastity at a young age allowed him to channel his energy into other avenues, politics in particular. While his friends were out drinking or “chasing skirts,” Mr. Anders felt no such distraction and, as a result, he says, he was able to get elected MP at the age of 25.
“I just decided it wouldn’t be fair to a woman I was involved with to be involved sexually and leading them on with no intentions to settle down,” explains Mr. Anders of his chaste choice.
He concedes that his policy “probably deprived me of a few interesting experiences along the path, but I’ve had good relations with all the girls I’ve dated. None of them have ever felt jaded because I had used them sexually.”
The chaste Reformers recently found an ally in abstinence in another party member, Logan Day [local copy], son of Alberta treasurer Stockwell Day, and controversial aide to Reform MP Cliff Breitkreuz.
Last February , Logan Day riled House of Commons Speaker Gib Parent by trying to give a Canadian flag to a Bloc Quebecois MP. He found himself barred from Centre Block over the stunt.
Logan Day flouted the Speaker’s ban last month by sneaking into Centre Block to propose to his girlfriend of five months, Juliana Thiessen. The 19-year-old Ms. Thiessen holds the title of Miss Canada Universe and writes a weekly column for the Calgary Herald.
In a carefully orchestrated media event, Mr. Day draped a flag over her shoulders and popped the question in the rotunda beneath the Peace Tower. She consented, but the rules of their engagement follow an agreed upon course of chastity.
“For us, we believe it will lead to a greater chance for a truly trusting and intimate relationship with each other,” says the 26-year-old Mr. Day.
He won’t discuss whether he has followed this course all his life, saying only that he and his fiancee drew on their observations of “what works and what doesn’t” in their previous relationships.
Echoing the secular slant of the Challenge Team, Mr. Day says his choice is more pragmatic than a matter of belief, but admits a certain amount of divine intervention in his upcoming marriage.
“Anyone who knows me and saw the headline, ‘Miss Canada engaged to Logan Day,’ will believe in miracles,” he says. “I believe she’s a gift from God and I want to treat her that way.”
But Mr. Day fears he and Ms. Thiessen will also require the firm hand of the Almighty to keep their chastity pact intact until they walk the aisle Aug. 21. “Only by the grace of God will we be able maintain that position until we are united as one by marriage.”
Mr. Anders, who also has a girlfriend, admits being lured by temptation, yet says he has never succumbed. “Of course, there are temptations. If it’s not questioned, you have to wonder how deeply held the belief is.”
Indeed, the chaste who date must navigate a slippery slope when it comes to physical contact. The Challenge Team recognizes that knowing the limits of touching creates a difficult challenge for young people who opt for chastity.
Mr. Visser recommends viewing physical contact in terms of either affection or passion. Holding hands or friendly pecks on the cheek count as safe touching, but outright necking risks escalation to more libidinous pursuits beyond the scope of chastity.
For Rob Anders, the cut-off line falls somewhere below the lips. “For myself, I’ve gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will, but that’s as far as I’ve gone.”
The chastity group is one of the organizations Mr. Kenney will reference when he begins his assault on Revenue Canada’s charity policies once the House resumes sitting next month.
“There are more and more cases like this where bona fide groups are being denied charitable status when, really, Revenue Canada is making political judgments,” says Mr. Kenney, Reform’s revenue critic.
The cases that cross his desk increasingly reflect what he suspects is a bias against groups with conservative viewpoints. He accuses the government of “blatant double standards” in enforcing its charity laws when it rejects applications from groups like the Challenge Team or anti-abortion Human Life International, while approving pro-choice groups that give information on getting abortions.
If there is an appearance of bias, says Revenue Canada’s Carl Juneau, it’s because anti-abortion groups argue against the current legislation, while pro-choicers often provide education about all possible options, including abortion.
“Organizations that go about their job to counsel people about what solutions there are to a crisis pregnancy are OK,” says Mr. Juneau, “but the organizations that happen to be on the other side of the fence are implicitly lobbying in favour of a change in the law. That’s the problem.”
Mr. Juneau is responsible for technical interpretations of charity law in an area tinted by grey-scales of subjectivity. Ultimately, groups that provide a balanced view of an issue get the green light for charity status. Those with one-sided opinions, especially in politically combustible areas like abortion, risk losing their charity designation.
The Challenge Team aims to educate young people about “healthy sexuality,” yet offers only a model that doesn’t include the approximately 50 per cent of Canadian teenagers who are sexually active. This rates a “perceived bias,” according to the department. For teens awash in hormones, Mr. Juneau explains, the preaching chastity is “sort of like telling people, if you don’t want to get into a car accident, don’t get into a car.”
For the Reformers who have chosen chastity, the lifestyle will remain an insulating vehicle against what Mr. Day describes as “the ongoing sexual shenanigans on Parliament Hill.”
“If you believe the rumours and the e-mails and the stories in the restaurant, I would say that male MPs and female assistants is the hottest recipe here on the Hill,” Mr. Day says. “At least, it starts out hot and ends up in devastation.”