Thursday, December 10, 1998. No. 139

Daniel Gawthrop

p. 15.

Sexual McCarthyism

The Chicken Book saga of John Michael Lewis

Last May, I received a most peculiar piece of fan mail at the Xtra West office. The anonymous letter, marked "Private," was from a "female supporter" who had read in Malcolm Parry's Vancouver Sun column that Saturday Night magazine was about to publish an article I'd written about the John Michael "Chicken Book" saga.

Without knowing what angle I had taken, my nameless correspondent wished me good luck, congratulating me for having the "guts" to pursue the story.

In retrospect I probably shouldn't have spilled the beans to Parry, given that Saturday Night -- whose editors had been sitting on my article for more than a year -- ended up spiking it a month later. This was unfortunate, since the story's revelations about 1980s politics, porn and police still resonate in the abuse-obsessed Nineties.

The Chicken Book saga, boiled down to the Coles Notes version, goes like this. John Michael Lewis, a successful 35-year-old American tour promoter, was living in Vancouver as a landed immigrant when he was convicted in 1983 of having sex with two boys aged 16 and one aged 15. Just days after leaving prison, he was accused of being the mastermind of an international kiddy porn and prostitution ring that allegedly involved Svend Robinson and a second member of Parliament.

Lewis faced an additional sex charge in San Diego, for which he was finally convicted in 1995. During this period, he faced a lengthy immigration appeal battle to remain in Canada.

These were all facts my anonymous "supporter" needed to know about Lewis. Her letter to me -- mostly a personal assault on Svend Robinson and the second MP -- basically argued that the gay and lesbian movement is going to hell in a handbasket because openly gay politicians like Robinson want to lower the age of consent to 14. Finally, she assumed -- perhaps because I'd submitted the article to a Conrad Black publication -- that my conclusions would be exactly the same as hers.

Christ, I wondered: has this woman read anything I've written?

Interestingly, her letter was not the product of some neo-con religious nutbar but a disillusioned NDP insider with years of experience in the social democratic movement. Quite possibly a Dworkin-ian, anti-porn feminist (maybe even lesbian?), my "female supporter" was perfectly willing to spread rumours, level accusations and pass judgement. But she lacked the courage to back those convictions with a name.

NO GRAND CONSPIRACY: John Michael Lewis was "investigated" by local media based on evidence from a jailed police officer. Lewis is pictured here in 1970 at the age of 22 -- six years before he met one of the boys he was accused of molesting.

Sexual McCarthyism strikes again.

To Sexual McCarthyists there can be no redemption, no mitigating circumstances, for men like John Michael Lewis. To these zealots, it doesn't matter that no victim ever filed a complaint (or that, on the contrary, one of the boys testified in court on Lewis's behalf). They don't want to hear that to only reason Robinson and another gay politician got ensnared in all this was that Lewis had appealed to them for help and written their names in his address book -- a book later confiscated by police who knew all about those, "swishy" MPs.

Nor do Sexual McCarthyists like to be reminded that the "Chicken Book" kiddy porn/prostitution ring theory was a complete hoax -- the invention of Los Angeles detective Mike Brambles, who intimidated a San Diego boy into testifying and used the address book to implicate Lewis, Robinson and others in a Grand Conspiracy that never existed.

One person who never questioned Brambles's credibility was the journalist whose pursuit of the Chicken Book angle ultimately cost Lewis his job at Malibu Yacht Charters and a seat on the city's prestigious Centennial Commission: Vancouver Sun reporter Moira Farrow.

Two years ago, I had a chance to interview the veteran scribe, who had recently capped a 33-year career at the Sun by winning the Jack Webster Lifetime Achievement Award for "enterprising investigation." Farrow, who died of cancer within six months of our meeting, had no apologies about her Lewis coverage.

"I didn't," she said, "get into all the kinds of introspection personally on the story."

No kidding. Somehow, the news had escaped Farrow that Mike Brambles -- her main source on the Lewis file -- was at that moment sitting in a maximum security cell in an Californian prison, serving 102 years for armed robbery and rape.

Lewis, meanwhile, was a Canadian citizen and a free man.

Daniel Gawthrop's chonicle of the "Chicken Book" saga is published in the December issue of Canadian Forum.

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Created: December 18, 1998
Last modified: December 18, 1998

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