A 1949 law passed to prevent the corrupting influence of comic books is being used in Edmonton, Canada, to prosecute the owner of a website that posted a video showing the alleged murder and dismemberment of Chinese exchange student Jun Lin.
Daniel Schwartz with CBC News describes the “corrupting morals” law that is being used to prosecute Mark Marek, owner of the Best Gore website:
Much of the language in Section 163 dates back to 1949 and a North American obsession with the dangers of comic books.
E. Davie Fulton, who would go on to be a federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and twice a contender for the party leadership, introduced a private member’s bill following a senseless killing by two boys in northern B.C. in 1948. The crime shocked people and the investigation discovered that the boys were avid readers of crime comics.
Section 163 was specifically written to target crime comics, and it was passed by the House of Commons unanimously. Under the law, anyone who “makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever” or anyone who is “exhibiting a disgusting object” can be prosecuted for corrupting morals. Marek is likely being charged under the latter for posting the user-supplied video of the murder.
Schwartz discusses the use of the antiquated language in the law as it relates to this particular prosecution:
University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman says that the “Corrupting morals” title does remind people of what the section is really about, “a very old-fashioned idea that somehow looking at sex of any sort is going to lead people to moral hell in a handbasket.”
Cossman told CBC News that while “it sounds bizarre to be charged with corrupting morals…there’s nothing else in the Criminal Code that they could use to charge” Marek.
Crossman further notes that prosecution under Section 163 is rarely successful, and Schwartz indicates that Marek’s defense may be able to argue that he actually benefited the public good because the video led to the arrest of Luka Magnotta, who has been charged with the murder.
Comics may have been censored in the United States, but it was mostly self-censorship driven by the desire to avoid the passing of laws like Section 163. The fact that Canada has a law based in the moral panic that surrounded comic books is disturbing. But the fact that the law is still on the books — and is still being used to prosecute people — is appalling.
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Betsy Gomez is Web Editor for CBLDF.