Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Queer comics seized by Canada Border Services

Censorship process shrouded in secrecy

A shipment of erotic comic books bound for Priape in Montreal was seized by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) earlier this year because CBSA says the material is obscene, Xtra has learned.

All of the seized books are French translations published by H&O Comics in France. They include the titles Dads & Boys volumes one and two and Justin volumes one and two by English artist Josman, and Arena and Gunji by Japanese artist Gengoroh Tagame.

H&O spokesperson Olivier Tourtois says that the company is too small to devote resources to opposing the seizures. Without the publisher’s support, Priape owner Bernard Rousseau says he won’t appeal CBSA’s decision.

There is another reason Rousseau says he didn’t protest the seizure. “We didn’t protest because it was mostly about younger boys and incest,” he says. “We have protested before, but we decided that after looking into the matter it is too much.”

“They were determined to be obscene,” says CBSA spokesperson Chris Williams. “The indicators ranged from depictions of incest to sex with pain and sexual mutilation, defecation and vomiting.”

While Xtra has so far been unable to examine all the seized material, the Justin books are available on-line in English at the artist’s website.

“Does that mean that only certain people who are Internet savvy can access pornography?” asks Jim Deva, co-owner of Vancouver’s Little Sister’s Bookstore. “That it’s available on-line raises the question of how are we protecting Canadians from it.”

The on-line versions of the Justin books tell the story of a gay man who is reunited with his 18-year-old son, Justin, after several years. Justin moves in with his father and soon confesses his sexual attraction to him. In the two books, the two are depicted having oral and anal sex and, in one scene, Justin’s father urinates on him.

Priape purchaser Denis Leblanc says he didn’t know the storylines of the books when the store ordered them.

“I knew it wasn’t a church book. I knew it was erotic stories and that it was comics, but I didn’t know specifically what it was about,” says Leblanc.

Tourtois maintains that as adult fantasy comics, obscenity is H&O’s raison d’être, and that they are not harmful and no actors are harmed or exploited in their production. He also says that no other country has stopped shipment of the books.

Under Canada’s criminal code, anyone selling materials that a court deems obscene is liable for a prison term of up to two years.

“You have to be careful what you sell because you can go to jail and I don’t want to get involved,” says Rousseau. “I’m too old for that. You don’t look at everything that comes in. You might not even be aware that you’re selling something illegal.”

“Just to say that [CBSA] found this material in it, does not mean that it is dangerous. We need to have a discussion in Canada about intergenerational sex,” Deva says, stressing that Little Sister’s does not support the sexualization of children.

“I suspect [the seized material is dangerous], but let’s have some experts look at it, and if they do determine that it is, let’s keep it out. I really mistrust CBSA’s ability to determine what is obscene at the present time.”

How CBSA decides what mail to open and what they say is too dangerous for Canadian adults to see for themselves is at the heart of Little Sister’s ongoing court challenge.

CBSA says that if a shipment arrives at a border that arouses a border agent’s suspicion ? by originating from a publisher or geographic location known to have previously shipped prohibited goods, for example ? the agent inspects it and checks any titles against a database of previously examined materials.

If the titles are found in the database, the previous decision is used to determine whether the materials are permitted. The entire database of prohibited materials is not available to the public, and CBSA has refused to release it, even after access to information requests. Members of the public can get quarterly updates to the prohibited materials list via e-mail by sending a request to piu-uip@cbsa-asfc.gc.ca.

If there’s no previous decision on a title, the agent checks for “indicators of obscenity” by skimming the materials.

If the agent finds anything that might be obscene, it is sent to Prohibited Importations Unit (PIU) in Ottawa, where CBSA says specially trained agents examine the material more closely and make a decision.

CBSA refuses to elaborate on how agents are trained to spot obscenity, but agents at the PIU are required to have a bachelor’s degree with courses in law, sociology, criminology, cultural studies, psychology, art history, literature, film studies or visual arts.

Material deemed obscene by CBSA is seized and the importer has 90 days to file an appeal. If the prohibition stands up on second review, CBSA says it destroys the material. The importer’s only recourse is to the courts.

CBSA insists it does not target specific importers or inspect shipments based on importers’ past attempts to import prohibited materials. They say they do, however, target exporters who have attempted to ship prohibited materials to Canada. While H&O says its shipments to Canada have never been held up by CBSA before, CBSA refused to explain why it decided to inspect the shipment bound Priape.

But Deva says CBSA routinely targets shipments bound for his store in defiance of a 2000 Supreme Court Of Canada ruling that CBSA not target the store’s book shipments specifically.

“Our court case is important because it sheds light on the way [CBSA] make their decisions. We all deserve to know how that process works so that we have faith in that process,” says Deva.