2 min

Losing your Cherry

Now it's obscene, now it's not

Credit: Xtra files

Too bad booksellers can’t sell, “Sorry.”

Canada Customs has decided it shouldn’t have seized copies of the lesbian erotic novel Cherry, bound last summer for queer bookstores. But Canada’s friendly border guardian still hasn’t gotten around to returning the seized shipments of the books.

“We’re sitting here, basically waiting,” says April Grant, spokesperson for Bleeding Rose, a lesbian and gay bookstore in Victoria, BC. It got notice in October that after a reassessment, Cherry was determined not to be obscene. Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto got a similar letter.

“Although the books contain some areas of concern, it would appear that the portray of sex is essential to a wider purpose,” the letter states. “Please accept our apologies for this error in determination and for the delay we have caused you in receiving these items.”

After the books were seized, the bookstores submitted letters and artists’ statements, arguing for Cherry’s literary merits. This is a new step in the process, added after the Supreme Court Of Canada decided in 2000 that Canada Customs unfairly picked on Vancouver’s Little Sister’s bookstore.

Grant is worried that the Cherry episode has put Bleeding Rose on the Canada Customs radar from now on. Invoices for three shipments of imported books recently arrived – but the books are nowhere in sight.

“It’s affected our daily business since then,” Grant says.

In an original assessment of Cherry, depictions of lesbian fisting caught the eye of the inspecting customs officer. Customs considers fisting obscene, though it is not in the Criminal Code nor banned by Ontario and Quebec film review boards. (The Canada Customs And Revenue Agency refuses to answer questions on this policy.)

Cherry author Charlotte Cooper says being a banned writer has been a strange experience, especially all the support and publicity.

“If it weren’t for the devastating effect of Canada Customs’ policies on small independent queer businesses, I’d almost say that that being seized by them is a great career move for any provocative new writer,” says Cooper. “People are really angry about the seizure, and shocked that detentions of queer books are commonplace.”

Customs seized another book this summer, The Slave King by Ben Elliott, though, oddly, they also sent booksellers a letter saying the book was okay. The Slave King finally showed up three weeks ago at Bleeding Rose and Glad Day. Bleeding Rose had only ordered one copy, but abuse by Customs left it almost unsellable.

“Its spine is broken. It’s been well read, well thumbed through,” says Grant.

Grant says there are several unfair things about the process. Just because these two titles have passed muster this time doesn’t mean they won’t be detained again. As well, copies of The Slave King and Cherry have been available at mainstream bookstores in Canada for months.