Canada Customs Case in the News

July 6, 2011
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With the recent spate of legal victories that CBLDF has celebrated, Brigid Alverson with CBR’s Robot 6 blog took a moment to touch base with CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein about the Canada Customs Case:

It’s been a momentous week for the CBLDF. Last Friday we announced our decision to build a coalition to aid an American traveler facing prison time in Canada and registering as a sex offender for traveling with comics on his laptop.  On Monday we received news that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a California law that would have made violence a new category of unprotected speech by banning the sale and display of violent video games, and that Justice Scalia cited our amicus brief as part of his majority decision.  And just today news arrived that we successfully helped knock out an Alaska law that would have placed severe restrictions on internet speech.

As a week of news, it’s a tremendous capsule illustrating what the CBLDF is all about. We protect the First Amendment rights of the comics art form. Sometimes that means coming out against bad laws that almost everyone agrees are bad laws, and sometimes that means fighting for important free speech principles by protecting unpopular speech.  Protecting free expression is messy work.  Often protecting the principles of free expression means defending material that makes one personally uncomfortable.  That discomfort is a small price to pay for maintaining a culture of free expression.

In terms of fundraising for the Canada Customs case, we’ve seen a good start, but there’s still a long ways to go.  In the first week we raised slightly over $5,000 in donations, which is divided between pure cash donations and donations in exchange for premiums.  It’s a long way from the $150,000 the case is expected to cost, but it’s a start, and one we’re grateful for.  This summer we hope to work with communities within the American comics, manga, and digital comics communities to create new fundraisers and awareness raising opportunities surrounding this case.  I’d encourage anyone who wants to be part of helping us raise funds and awareness to get in touch with me or our Development Manager Alex Cox by sending a line to info@cbldf.org.

We’ve been very pleased to see so many responses to our work this week.  We’re grateful to our friends at Bonfire for putting together a terrific ad campaign to help us build awareness.  We’re very glad that the media has responded to our announcements, and has spread the word about our important work.  And we’re glad that people are discussing these important issues.

Getting to court in Canada is going to be a long march, and there are other fights we’re maintaining alongside it.  But we hope that we can continue to collaborate with the community in spreading awareness, and that they’ll help us raise the funds we need to fight our important casework.

The Ottawa Citizen decried the flaws in Canada’s laws:

There’s no point in having a right to free speech if we make exceptions for everything that people find distasteful or offensive. We must make an exception, though, when expression causes real harm — such as pornography that uses children as models for photographs or videos. That’s a horrible crime, and even the possession of such material must be treated as a serious offence.

But Canada’s current law goes beyond pornography that causes harm to children. It also makes some works of the imagination — stories and drawings — illegal if they depict people under the age of 18 in sexual situations. Many classic works of art might meet that definition, and the law does allow for a defence on the grounds of artistic merit. This puts the courts in the bizarre position of determining what is a work of art. Citizens cannot hope to know in advance what the law really forbids, and whether the judge will share their opinion of what is art. Policing the way you express yourself on a piece of paper or on your laptop comes awfully close to policing your thoughts.

CBLDF is on its way to meeting its fundraising goals for the case, but we have a long road ahead of us. Please support the CBLDF’s defense of Free Speech by making a donation or becoming a member today!