Breaking the Code, and then Breaking the Spirit.

Author:Normey, Rob

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms case, (Delwyn) Vriend v. Alberta. There was some fine reporting in the Edmonton Journal and elsewhere on the case, including where Delwyn Vriend is now and what his experiences have been in the struggle to see gay rights entrenched in Alberta's human rights legislation. Readers will gain an appreciation of what a long and arduous struggle is entailed in raising a Charter challenge, involving decisions by three levels of court, over a period of many years, culminating in Vriend in a ringing affirmation of the existence of gay and lesbian rights under s. 15--the equality rights provision. The decision also removed any doubts about the positive duty to include protection for these rights in a human rights statute.

In 1990, about the time that Delwyn Vriend's legal journey was just getting started, I attended the Citadel Theatre's production of Breaking the Code, by Hugh Whitmore. It was directed by Bob Baker and rarely have I seen such a searing drama on an Edmonton stage. It was based on the life of the brilliant British compute scientist and pioneer, Alan Turing. The play can be viewed on DVD or on the web and is well worth watching or reading.

The play was first presented in 1986 in London by the Theatre Royal and starred Derek Jacobi as Turing and Isobel Dean as his mother, Sara. The BBC later produced a version for television, again starring Jacobi. In 1986 and again here in Edmonton in 1990, it was surely the case that most of us knew very little about Alan Turing. He was truly a mystery in British society on several levels. First, we learned during the production that he was the computer scientist with the key responsibility for decoding the German Enigma Code in the heroic days of World War II when the fate of the free world hung in the balance. Turing and his team were absolutely essential to the Allied war effort and their work saved countless lives. His work, though, would have gone largely unrecognized during his lifetime. His tragic death followed two years after his conviction for homosexual offences.

The play is one of the relatively rare examples of a successful modern tragedy. As Aristotle has so helpfully explained, tragedy is essentially the art form whereby an elevated figure is brought low by a series of events, shaped by an archenemy, which bring about his or her downfall. It is evident from the plots of Classical and...

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