March 16, 2000 12:53pm
Gay shop tells Canada court porn is good
by: Randall Palmer
(OTTAWA, CANADA) -- A lawyer asserting the right of bookshops to import violent hard-core pornography told the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday that porn is valuable and customs inspectors should not determine what Canadians read.
``It concerns their right to read what they want, write what they want, view what they want, publish what they want, create what they want,'' Joseph Arvay said on behalf of a Vancouver bookshop that caters to homosexuals.
He was arguing in one more case in which Canada's legal system, like that of the United States and other countries, is grappling with how to balance concerns over pornography with the right to freedom of expression.
The court heard another case in January in which a child pornographer sought to overthrow the child porn law, arguing it was Orwellian thought control.
The current case has arrayed writers and gay rights groups against federal and provincial governments and organizations who argue that restrictions on hard-core porn should be kept or even strengthened given its explosion on the Internet.
Central to the argument of the Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, backed by civil liberties groups, is the controversial assertion that pornography is more important to homosexuality and gay porn should be protected.
``It's extremely important to our community as well as affirming who and what we are,'' the bookstore's manager, Janine Fuller, told Reuters ahead of the hearing.
``We believe that rape is violence no matter who perpetrates it and no matter who's the victim of it,'' Jessica Neuwirth, president of the women's rights group Equality Now, told reporters before her organization was to testify.
Equality Now's written submission detailed material that Customs had stopped Little Sister's from importing -- including a magazine showing women hung from chains around their necks or wrists, their nipples compressed in clamps, being whipped by other women.
It described another publication in which men torture other men in sexually explicit ways with hot wax, heat and fire.
Arvay told the court: ``Material which is erotic, sexual speech, sexual imagery -- call it pornographic if you want, but short of obscene is expressed material of great value to all Canadians.''
In the foyer of the court, Canada Family Action Coalition spokesman Peter Stock told reporters that there was a strong link between violent pornography and criminal assaults, as seen with Canadian killers Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo.
``In this case the appellants are seeking to create sexual anarchy. If this case is lost, then every Canadian loses some of their freedom to walk the streets in safety.''
Arvay told the court that Canada Customs was better suited to looking at widgets than freedom of expression, and ended up excluding too much material that might find its way to public libraries through other channels.
``The expression right is too important...to leave it to people who are on the front line dealing with Oleo margarine and secondhand mattresses,'' he said.
Justice Michel Bastarache asked him if the problem might not be that some officers may have enforced the law improperly rather than that the law itself was flawed.
``It's not overreach by the act. It's overreach by the agent who doesn't identify the proper material,'' he said.
The writers organization Pen Canada told the court that special provisions must be made to protect freedom of expression.
``We're dealing with a constitutionally protected right, and that's the bottom line,'' Jill Copeland said for Pen Canada.
The Canadian government accepts that the customs legislation does infringe such freedom but that it is justified.
Justice Charles Gonthier told Copeland: ``Society has the right to be protected against certain types of material.''
The Supreme Court was likely to take several months to make its ruling.