Queer BC bookstore Little Sister’s may continue its legal fight against censorship at the border, despite being denied advance costs by the Supreme Court Of Canada.
“We’ve been encouraged by other people not to let up,” says Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller. “We’re taking a deep breath and looking at where we stand.”
The bookstore, which has been fighting the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) — formerly known as Canada Customs — for two decades, was denied funding by the high court on Jan 19, seemingly making it impossible for the store to continue its current fight.
But now Fuller says the bookstore is considering fighting on based on private donations and smaller-scale legal tactics.
“We’ve started to look at the possibility of what donations might lead to,” she says, adding that she’s touched by the support Little Sister’s has received since the January ruling.
“A homeless guy who lives in the back alley gave me $20 the other day. You don’t feel like giving up entirely.”
Even if the store can’t afford to fight another large-scale case, Fuller says she’d hate to see all the work that’s gone into the current case go to waste.
“This case has piled up an incredible amount of evidence and witnesses and I’d hate to see that end up on the cutting-room floor. We’re talking to our lawyers about other smaller cases, even if it’s not the huge case.”
CBSA hasn’t seized any material since the current case began, but she doesn’t think it’s a sign that they’ve eased up.
“I think, as usual, they’re just holding off. During a court case, they don’t usually seize material.”
In 2000, the Supreme Court Of Canada ruled that CBSA was unfairly targeting queer bookstores and materials and ordered the agency to stop.
But Fuller says the agency didn’t follow the court’s orders, and that CBSA has actually added definitions to their obscenity regulations that disproportionately target queer material.
“After 2000, they added bootlicking and fisting to the regulations. It was quite appalling to think our community might face the brunt of those seizures.”
In 2001, Little Sister’s filed another complaint about the CBSA’s seizure of four SM comic books. But the store realized it couldn’t fund another extended court fight. It applied to the BC Supreme Court — which was to hear the comics case — for advance costs, based on legal precedents established for cases considered to be of sufficient importance.
In June 2004 the BC Supreme Court sided with Little Sister’s on the costs. But the BC Court Of Appeal overturned the ruling in February 2005 and the Supreme Court Of Canada upheld that decision in January.
The store’s cause is starting to get support from individuals across the country.
Toronto-area resident Terry Lewis, who describes himself as “perfectly straight,” says he was so outraged by Little Sister’s troubles that he’s trying to mount his own fundraising campaign.
“You can’t call it anything less than abuse by Canada Customs,” says Lewis. “Someone in Canada Customs has decided they don’t like the material that Little Sister’s imports. The problem with that kind of abuse of authority is there’s no knowing where it’s going to stop.”
Fuller would not say how much the store has spent on the fights so far. “Our lawyer has certainly given a lot of his time and effort with no compensation.”
Closer to home, Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop has spent about $100,000 fighting government censorship at a lower court level. The queer bookstore was charged in 2000 with selling videos that had not been reviewed by the Ontario Film Review Board. The bookstore appealed the ruling, and the Supreme Court Of Ontario ruled in 2004 that the government body had no right to exercise any prior restraint on films exhibited or sold in the province.
But even with subsequent changes to the law, every film has to be submitted to the OFRB for approval and classification at a cost of $4.20 per minute of film. If a film is not submitted, offenders can be prosecuted.
The board is no longer able to require the removal of scenes from a film, but continues to classify mainstream films according to which age can see them. The board also continues to examine adult films to see if they can be refused for violating the legal definitions of obscenity.
Glad Day owner John Scythes says he doesn’t want to say anything about the case or about Little Sister’s that might annoy the OFRB. But he did say that Glad Day received some of its funding for the case from the adult film industry.