Yes Means No?
Letter to the Editor:
Betty Disero and Beverley Richardson profess support for the principle
that "No Means No" and "Yes Means Yes" (Letters,
27 May). However, after paying lip service to this admirably
clear rule, they reveal that what they actually support is the position
that "Yes" means "No".
Adopting a line of argument which is rapidly gaining popularity
among those who wish to use society's desire to prevent assault
as a cover for legislating their own brand of morality, Disero and
Richardson claim that "Yes" means "No" if one
or both of the parties are "under the influence of alcohol".
According to this point of view, drinking and sex should be equated
with drinking and driving, and the law should view both with equal
Those who equate these situations betray their incomprehension
of what the issue of consent is all about. No one, whatever their
state of sobriety, wishes to hit by a car, whether it is driven
by a drunk driver or by a sober one. People who drive when intoxicated
inflict a considerable risk of such collisions on others, and that
is why we as a society refuse to allow people to drive after they
have been drinking. The question of consent never arises, because
being run into by a drunk driver is never a consensual act.
However, people in varying stages of sobriety do willingly engage
in sex. Individuals who are too intoxicated to drive safely are
still quite capable of desiring sex, of consenting to sex, and of
participating in sexual activity. It may offend the sensibilities
of the new puritans, but some people actually find that they desire
and enjoy sex more when they have been drinking or taking certain
drugs. This should not be a matter for the law.
It should also not be the business of the law to legislate a paternalistic
double standard by holding that a woman is no longer capable of
distinguishing between "Yes" and "No" if she
has been drinking, while a man remains capable of telling the difference
when he has been drinking. There may be times when there is guilt
or regret afterwards about the decision to engage in sex, but if
there has been no coercion, that too should not be a matter for
the law. Justice Minister Campbell has therefore acted correctly
in removing the "intoxication" provision from Bill C-49.
The business of the law should be to make it clear that "No"
means "No" and that society will not tolerate the use
of force or coercion to obtain sex. Anyone who can't tell the difference
between "Yes" and "No" is part of the problem.