One of Canada’s largest gay sex shops is questioning Canada Post’s requirement that any admail with even a hint of sexuality be placed in an opaque envelope marked “adult material” — even if the mail is addressed and solicited.
Priape’s director of marketing and planning says the postal agency’s new policy requiring warning labels on already-opaque envelopes is causing concern throughout the gay store’s customer base.
It’s hard on business, says Daniel St-Louis. “We guarantee discretion and envelopes that don’t contain anything but a return address.”
Priape specializes in gay, leather and SM clothing, sex toys and porn and has stores in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary. It also distributes four catalogues a year to customers who have asked to be placed on its mailing list.
St Louis says Priape never had any problems sending the catalogues — which are addressed, solicited and placed in “inconspicuous envelopes” — as bulk mail through Canada Post. Until last January.
That’s when he noticed some catalogues that had been returned to the store had been stamped with a warning: “Adult material.”
The warning stamp stems from a court challenge to Canada Post’s “Non-Mailable Matter” policy in 2006. BC’s Sex Party challenged the policy after the postal agency refused to deliver one of its political pamphlets containing images of potentially erotic art, including a photo of a doorknob in the shape of a penis.
Canada Post rejected the pamphlet because, according to its admail policy at the time, it “will not knowingly deliver offensive articles that contain sexually explicit material.”
Ruling that the corporation’s restrictions were “impermissibly vague,” federal court Justice Michel Beaudry gave Canada Post six months to clarify its regulations and define what counts as “sexually explicit.”
Canada Post subsequently offered the court the following definition: representations of nudity suggestive of sexual activity, representations of sexual intercourse, and written text describing sexual acts in a way that is more than technical.
Had that definition been included in the corporation’s regulations to begin with, Beaudry said he would have dismissed the Sex Party’s complaint outright.
Imposing certain conditions on the distribution of sexually explicit material is demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, he ruled.
Canada Post’s revised policy, implemented in July 2008, now states that all admail containing images or representations of nudity “that are suggestive of sexual activity,” images or representations of sexual intercourse, and text that “describes sexual acts in a way that is more than purely technical” must be enclosed in an opaque envelope marked “adult material.”
The policy does not distinguish between addressed and unaddressed admail.
“The whole thing is just bogus,” says Sex Party leader John Ince.
The regulations placed on adult sexual imagery are greater than the ones placed on images of environmental destruction and war, he says, adding that “sex negative attitudes are not appropriate for public policy.”
The issue now, says Ince, is that even customer-requested admail has to be stamped with warnings of sexual content.
“We have received complaints from our customers,” St-Louis says. “For certain people [the warning label] carried problems.”
The policy is “prejudicial to our business activities,” he says.
He wonders what the rationale is behind Canada Post’s strict regulation of sexual content.
A spokesperson for Canada Post says she suspects the warning labels are a safety precaution. “If you send it to a family and the children open the parcel, now that could be a problem,” she suggests. She promised to get back to Xtra West with more information by press time. She didn’t.
St-Louis sees irony in that explanation. “Kids will jump on it,” he says, adding that labelling the envelope “goes against the issue of keeping it discreet.”
To avoid customer concerns, St Louis says Priape tried to “work around” the labelling policy, even going so far as to mail one catalogue through Canada Post’s first-class mailing system, which cost Priape 50 percent more than general delivery.
Canada Post’s strict sexual warning policy has driven Priape to “re-examine mailing as a tool to communicate with [its] customer base,” St Louis says.
He says the store will continue to use the internet to communicate with its clientele but acknowledges that not all customers have internet access and others simply prefer to receive mailed catalogues.
Priape’s head office has met with Canada Post to examine its options, St-Louis adds.
“We’ve been able to identify alternate strategies to mitigate part of the problem,” he says. He wouldn’t divulge what the strategies are but says Priape is evaluating the labelling issue to see if it infringes on human rights and freedoms.