Ryan Matheson’s Personal Statement

My name is Ryan Matheson. I am currently a 27-year-old software engineer and a resident of Minnesota in the United States. I am a fan of Japanese anime and manga and Japan in general. The following is my own personal statement about the criminal case filed against me in Canada. I was 25 at the time the case started. In a nutshell, I was wrongfully arrested, detained and prosecuted based solely on drawn Japanese manga comic book images on my computer.

On April 15th, 2010, I traveled to Ottawa, Canada for a 5-day vacation trip to visit a friend I have known for well over a decade. It was my first time traveling to Canada and my first time traveling outside of the United States. Since both my friend and I are geeks and programmers, I brought some of my electronics, including my laptop computer. There was nothing bad or illegal on my computer. Through the customs and immigration process, I was immediately picked out and searched by a pair of customs officers. I knew I didn’t have anything to hide, so I willingly gave them my password to log in to my computer. Through an unusual search that lasted over four hours, they found anime illustrations from art books and other fully-clothed drawings of fictional anime and manga characters on my computer. Unfortunately, Canadian customs officers consider any comic or anime-style drawing suspicious. Other fans of comics and manga should realize that Canada is extremely strict in their customs and immigration process — probably the strictest in the world — and should exercise extreme caution if you travel there.

I was charged with possession and importation of child pornography before I was ever even admitted into Canada. The police and the customs officers at the time didn’t know what the material was and called a police investigator to ask for help. The investigator, without being physically present and having no way of actually seeing the images in question, told the police that they were sure that it was child pornography. Several times that day I was told that I was going to be let free, but through delays and uncertainty of the situation, the police finally decided to arrest me. After I was arrested and the police investigators began their case, their evidence ultimately came down to two images: one was drawings depicting hand-drawn, manga-style fictional characters and the other was an image of an actual page from a manga. There was no evidence of any criminal activity or wrongdoing. I had no criminal record. I am a peaceful person and a responsible citizen. The case was dragged on for 22 months and a trial date was set for February 6th, 2012.

Ultimately, I took a plea deal shortly before the trial to a non-criminal regulatory offense that is part of the Customs Act of Canada, which was also subsequently discharged by the judge. As part of the deal, the prosecutor withdrew all criminal charges against me. I knew my defense was extremely strong, but I also knew all trials are inherently risky. If I had gone to full trial, the original criminal charges against me posed the risk of a minimum mandatory sentence of one year plus having to register on a sex offender registry in Canada and potentially even in the United States. Therefore, in the end, I decided that the final plea deal was acceptable because the criminal charges would be withdrawn completely.

After nearly two years, my case is finally resolved. This entire ordeal is the hardest thing I have gone through in my whole life. Some people might think it’s easy or glamorous to go to court and fight unjust things like this, but it was truly hell to go through. The entire time I kept thinking to myself, “My entire life is at risk here. If something goes wrong, my life as I know it is over. What is going to happen?” I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, and I have been completely innocent since day one, but that really doesn’t change much. You still feel like the world is falling apart and people still treat you like you’ve committed some kind of horrible atrocity.

I believe my treatment throughout the entire ordeal was unfair and unjust. I was abused by the police. The police station jail cell was kept unreasonably cold, and I was given a freezing cold slab of concrete as a bed. I asked for blankets or a pillow but was denied. I asked for food but was denied even after asking at least five times. I politely asked an officer at the police station if I could speak to the U.S. embassy, but she replied, “Are you serious? I don’t think we have that here,” and walked away. I was never able to talk to the embassy, and even when my brother arrived for my bail, he too was denied from seeing me at all. Police officers who transported me would slam metal doors on my head and laugh at me, saying “This one’s easy!” And finally, after being transported to the long-term detention center, guards would torment me with phrases like, “You know, if you get raped in here it doesn’t count!”  I was jailed for five days before bail, longer than most people. These are the horrible things I had to go through when I was simply accused of something.

Besides the immediate abuse while I was in jail, the first prosecutor assigned to my case was unreasonably overzealous. I was given extraordinarily strict bail conditions, considering it was my first offense of any kind and I had a totally clean record. My bail conditions tightly restricted my use of computers and the Internet. My conditions had even specifically named a single company I could work for, which prevented me from advancing my professional career. I am a computer programmer and I’ve been in love with computers ever since I was seven years old. To place such overbearing conditions on me was heart-wrenching and very difficult to endure. Even for people who do not have a life and career based on computers, I believe completely restricting Internet access is wrong; too many things in life and society nowadays rely on the Internet. In my opinion, it’s like restricting use of basic utilities like water and electricity.

The offenses I was charged with were completely inappropriate. No children were involved whatsoever. A serious problem arises when police start charging innocent people with horrible crimes based on their own morality or dislike for the person or their hobbies. Police cannot effectively enforce things they are completely ignorant of.

This case was important to me. Japanese animation and manga are something I hold precious. I first got into anime when I was about eight years old by watching Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z that aired on TV at the time. Soon after I started reading manga with my first volume of Ranma and began drawing my own illustrations and making my own animation flipbooks. To this day I still draw and have attended art and drawing classes. I have been studying Japanese since high school. To have this healthy and fulfilling hobby of mine deemed “unfavorable,” “deviant” or “criminal” by ignorant government officials is insulting and degrading not only to me, but also to the millions of fellow fans who take part in enjoying this art. After going through such a challenging and difficult period of my life, my own convictions about what anime and manga mean to me have become stronger than ever before.

Others like me that are interested in comics, manga and anime should become informed about this important issue and stick together. Some people may be tempted to say things like, “Well, I don’t like that type of manga” or “That doesn’t bother me — I’ve never read that title,” but you should step back and take a look at the big picture. The law shouldn’t be based on what you like or don’t like. The people should have their own choice to pursue what they like and avoid what they don’t like. When overzealous governments try to unjustly attack comics and manga, they are attacking all of literature and art as a whole. Free speech should be absolute, not a pick-and-choose sort of thing. This is a very important right that we enjoy every day and we need to stand up for ourselves and protect it!

I want to sincerely thank all of you who contributed to my defense and all of the friends and family who supported me throughout this long ordeal. I deeply appreciate all of the help provided by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund during these tough times, as well as the stunning legal work that Michael Edelson and his team put forth for my case.

–Ryan Matheson