Canada Customs Case in the News
The Ottawa Citizen weighs in on the Canada Customs Case:
Wed Jun 29 2011
Crimes of imagination
Canada has charged an American and is threatening him with at least a year in jail because he came over the border in 2010 with comics on his laptop, comics the customs officer decided were child pornography. If he’s convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of a year for importing the material. This case and others like it demonstrate the flaws in Canada’s law.
According to the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund, the comics were in the “manga” style that originated in Japan (Astro Boy and Sailor Moon are examples of manga comics. Charles Brownstein of the CBLDF says he believes the comics in this case include images of stick figures in sexual positions).
There’s no point in having a right to free speech if we make exceptions for everything that people find distasteful or offensive. We must make an exception, though, when expression causes real harm – such as pornography that uses children as models for photographs or videos. That’s a horrible crime, and even the possession of such material must be treated as a serious offence.
But Canada’s current law goes beyond pornography that causes harm to children. It also makes some works of the imagination – stories and drawings – illegal if they depict people under the age of 18 in sexual situations. Many classic works of art might meet that definition, and the law does allow for a defence on the grounds of artistic merit. This puts the courts in the bizarre position of determining what is a work of art. Citizens cannot hope to know in advance what the law really forbids, and whether the judge will share their opinion of what is art. Policing the way you express yourself on a piece of paper or on your laptop comes awfully close to policing your thoughts.
Judges are not meant to be arbiters of taste; they are meant to balance rights in a free society. Imaginary people do not have rights.
The CBLDF Looks to Canada Customs Case: