Book review: Losing Control

Hot on the heels of Marci McDonald’s bestselling The Armageddon Factor, comes another expose on the religious right in Canada. I just finished Losing Control: Canada’s Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights, which was written by gay activist Tom Warner and published by Between the Lines.

Full disclosure: My review copy was provided at no charge by BTL publishing. Nevertheless, take my review as my honest opinion on this book.

Losing Control provides a good supplemental reading to the narratives provided by McDonald. While McDonald provides the detailed look into some of the cast of characters involved in the religious right, Warner adds an academic history in the events that date back to the formation of the modern rights movements in the 1960s.

Warner documents a shift in Canadian thinking from it’s Christian roots to a secular society that prizes individual and minority rights. This shift has obviously come hard for the social conservatives in the country, who have since rallied around various conservative parties, from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform, Canadian Alliance and modern Conservative Party.

Warner breaks his treatment thematically, treating the abortion debate, repressive sexuality laws, gay rights and gay marriage in successive chapters. He finishes with some discussion about the social conservative inroads in politics.

Unfortunately, he only has passing references to the debates over evolution vs. creationism and school prayer, both of which have been hot topics for social conservatives.

In The Armageddon Factor, McDonald used mostly original research to compose her book, however the vast majority of Losing Control is based on 29 pages of third-party sources. This extensive bibliography provides a valuable resource for anyone wanting to get the dirt straight from the source.

I partially criticized McDonald for minor editorializing at points in The Armageddon Factor, and while Warner uses the mostly neutral term social conservative to refer to Canada’s vast network of religious right figures (which includes evangelical protestants, Catholics, conservative Jews, Sikhs and Muslims), he does end many of his chapters in a more of a warning style.

As an example, at the end of the chapter on regulating sexuality he states:

Sadly, there is no realistic reason to believe that members of Parliament will take the next logical step and actually decriminalize prostitution and repeal the repressive bawdy house sections of the Criminal Code. As has so often been the case in the past, the best hope for progress on those issues rests with the justices of the Supreme Court and their interpretations of the rights guaranteed by the Charter.

This is of course not to say that I disagree with anything Warner has to say, I’m with him almost the entire way through this book. He does come down firmly with the BC Civil Liberties Union and criticizes other gay activists who have used the Human Rights Tribunals to censor hate speech, to which I’m still undecided upon, but otherwise I’m in total agreement.

I think the greatest value in Losing Control is in its framing the battles with the religious right in terms of conflicting societal values. It’s secular rights (which include religious freedoms) versus theocratic ambitions to regulate morality.

One final chapter I was hoping for was for Warner to connect the dots (something McDonald attempted to do) and discuss the main organizations that have been active in the fights against progressive minority rights. Such organizations as REAL Women Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Focus on the Family Canada. At the very least, a brief perusal through the comprehensive index will identify the organizations that routinely come up in church-state separation debates.

Overall, Losing Control is a well-researched book that covers the history of social conservatives in Canada and the battles that have been fought and progress that has been made since the introduction of various Bills of Rights and the Charter. While not an outright replacement for The Armageddon Factor, it does make a good supplement for anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into these issues.