The editor of a US gay men’s kink magazine is alleging censorship after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) seized two back issues of his publication on Sept 21.
The magazine, Instigator, which caters to the gay leather and SM community, was being shipped to a subscriber in a small BC town 140 kilometres north of Vancouver.
“I believe it to be a form of censorship,” says Michael Thorn, editor of the California-based publication.
“It’s one man’s view of what the rest of Canada should be looking at,” he says, referring to the border guards’ decision to seize the magazines.
Thorn says the seized issues would have gone undetected had his client not contacted Instigator last month upon receiving notification from officials. “Had the customer not taken a proactive stance, and had he instead cowered in fear and embarrassment, we wouldn’t have known what happened.”
The notice of detention sent to Alfred B (who asked that only his last initial be published) says the goods were seized for classification because “they may include obscenity.”
The document, which is not signed, lists possible reasons for the prohibition of publications entering Canada, including “sex with pain,” “sexual assault,” “sex with violence,” “taking of human life for the purpose of arousal,” “incest,” “bestiality” and “necrophilia.”
“There’s nothing checked off that deems it obscene, and there’s no signature whatsoever,” Thorn says.
“As a community I thought this issue was already dealt with,” he says, referring to past court battles between Little Sister’s bookstore and the CBSA.
“Canadians should be aware that their government is randomly and repeatedly opening mail and checking it,” he adds.
For weeks following receipt of the notice, Alfred could not get anyone at CBSA to return his calls. He wanted to know why border officials chose to confiscate these specific two issues when he has received shipments of the magazine in the past without problems.
“I just think they’re being silly. This magazine is sold in Canada, and obviously it is coming into Canada to be sold in stores,” he notes. “Why is it being seized?
“This is wrong,” he continues. “They have no right to take away someone’s property. It’s the usual confiscating silliness and control over sexuality.”
“I’m sort of becoming a little bulldog,” he adds with a laugh. “I want them to tell me why the magazine was seized or release it to me.”
Within days of Xtra’s investigation into the story, Alfred suddenly received his seized magazines by special mail courier.
He still thinks the federal government needs to reform its rigid import laws when it comes to sexually explicit adult material.
“SM is still a little black secret,” Alfred says. “We need to educate the people at the border.”
Thorn concurs. Though the magazine delves into rape fantasy, he says the scenes are implied and meant to be understood as consensual acts between adults.
Alfred blames the potential subjective bias of individual border officials for this incident and suspects that if the magazine catered to a heterosexual audience it wouldn’t have been targeted.
But the CBSA maintains that federal laws regarding sexual material dictate what gets confiscated at the border, not sexual orientation.
“The CBSA treats all suspect obscenity in the exact same manner, in accordance with policy, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual in nature,” says spokesperson Luc Nadon.
“Our officers are always on the lookout to make sure that goods and people coming into Canada are compliant with our laws,” he adds. “The CBSA has a duty under the Customs Act and Customs Tariff to prohibit the entry into Canada of obscenity, as that term is defined in the Criminal Code.
“If officials suspect that an item falls within the definition of the Criminal Code, it may be detained for further review. Classification decisions are based on a comprehensive set of guidelines that reflect relevant laws and legal precedents set by the courts. If the suspect material is found to fall within the Criminal Code definition of obscenity, its importation into Canada is prohibited,” he explains. “We remain committed to fulfilling this obligation.”
Nadon would not comment on the specifics of Alfred’s case, saying the matter is private.
Asked why Alfred’s notice of detention was only partially filled out, Nadon says, “if the suspect item is found to contain indicators, the item must be detained for determination by the prohibited-importations unit.”