A brief history of sticks up Saskatchewan’s ban-happy butt

OPINION by Stephen LaRose

Any political strategist will tell you that right-of-centre political parties have two political bases made up of people who are extremely likely to turn out to vote in large numbers: older voters and the religious right.

Neither group would have been impressed with last year’s legislative changes allowing strip clubs in the province. And Saskatchewan is scheduled to go to the polls this October.

Just saying we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Saskatchewan society has been mostly dominated by the Calvinist/Protestant/”if-it’s-fun-something’s-wrong” philosophy since settlement began. (Moose Jaw’s infamous River Street scene, filled with bootlegging, brothels, and gambling, was the yang to Saskatchewan’s yin in the 1920s.) And that morality once found a home in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and the New Democratic Party that succeeded it.

In the late 1970s, for example, this province was amongst the last to get cable television (except for Weyburn and Estevan, which picked up North Dakota television signals) due to a jurisdictional dispute between the Blakeney government and Ottawa over broadcasting content control. The Saskatchewan government of the time wanted all cable transmissions to go through SaskTel in order to enforce provincial laws against cigarette and alcohol commercials as well as sexually explicit shows.

Government concerns about pornography and so-called community values also led to a constitutional showdown with Pierre Trudeau, in the midst of repatriating the British North America Act. Blakeney and his Alberta counterpart, Peter Lougheed, demanded an opting-out clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “notwithstanding clause”) to allow governments to opt out of constitutional guarantees — particularly, Blakeney told reporters at the time, on the matter of pornography.

In the 1990s, as the ’moral Tories’ left the NDP and voted for right-of-centre political parties, the government’s attempts to enforce ‘community standards’ appeared more satirical than constitutionally debatable. In August 1992, Saskatchewan’s liquor law enforcers closed the Regina Exhibition Association’s beer gardens during Buffalo Days because the presence of spandex-clad women performing exercise routines was deemed too close to stripping for the government’s comfort.

And in 1994, the Saskatchewan Film and Video Classification Review board tried to ban Exit To Eden, a comedy starring Rosie O’Donnell, Dan Aykroyd and Dana Delany, about two undercover cops pursuing a jewel thief who had decamped to a BDSM resort. (The board reversed its decision a week later, and ironically the only place the poorly received movie did any box office was in Saskatchewan, where many went to see what all the fuss was about.)

Even in the age when the 500-channel universe was coming into its own, and the Internet was only making baby steps into our lexicon, it would have been impossible for the board to enforce such a ban if the movie ran on an out-of-province station distributed through Saskatchewan cable or satellite TV systems.

Then again, the fact that banning something doesn’t keep people from wanting to see, hear or experience it has never been a good reason not to try anyway, in Saskatchewan.