Little Sisters Battled Big Brother – Thank You Jim Deva

Little Sisters @ Vancouver Pride 2014 (photo: Mark Leiren-Young)

Little Sisters @ Vancouver Pride 2014 (photo: Mark Leiren-Young)

I just heard the news that Jim Deva, cofounder of Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, died in a tragic accident this week.

Deva wasn’t just a store owner – he was a Canadian hero.

When I was at Pride a few weeks ago I saw the Little Sisters float and thought… if there’s any Vancouver institution all Canadians should all be proud of…

I wrote about Little Sisters and their battles with Big Brother several times – starting in 1987 when Deva first showed me that Canadian censorship had a body count.

Charlie Smith just wrote in The Georgia Straight that, “The least that the city can do for this fine citizen is name a building or a park or a street after him.”

Yes, please.

And maybe City Council can also arrange a day in his honour/memory – like this Saturday – Sept. 27th – when his memorial is being held.

Here’s the cover story I wrote about Little Sisters for The Georgia Straight back in 1994 when 50 Shades of Grey would have been 500 Shades of Banned at the Border. (This isn’t the final published version, but it’s the last draft I could find in my files.)


The Georgia Straight 10/6/1994


Dita, an attractive blonde in her early 30s, is bound to a chair. One woman kisses her left breast while another holds the sharp point of a switchblade knife against her jugular vein. On the next page of the book, another photo shows Dita’s bound hands held high above her head by one woman while the other holds the tip of the switchblade against Dita’s crotch. A few pages later Dita is the aggressor. Dressed in leather pants and a few strategically placed chains, she is whipping another leather-clad woman with a cat-o’-nine-tails.
Another photo shows Dita in a gymnasium, dressed—or, rather, undressed—as a schoolgirl. Her books are scattered on the floor, most of her clothes have been torn off, and one man is holding her arms while the other apparently prepares to rape her. Then there’s the photo of Dita teaching a Labrador retriever tricks that most pups definitely don’t learn in obedience school.
These images appear to contravene a half-dozen sections of the Canada Customs guidelines dealing with obscenity. According to customs memorandum D9-1-1, goods are “deemed to be obscene” if they include depictions or descriptions of sex with violence, sexual assault, bondage, or bestiality. Any material entering the country that violates any of those or a small shopping list of other directives is supposed to be detained by customs officials.
The book in question certainly depicted and/or described all of the above and more—but because the woman in the photos is Madonna (she used Dita as her nom de tart) and because Sex was produced by publishing giant Warner Books, it was available in virtually every bookstore in the country and sold 35,000 copies in Canada. Before the book even arrived in most libraries, the waiting lists were in the triple digits.
“If it had been done by a smaller press and was more specific to the gay and lesbian community—and didn’t have the big money that Madonna’s book had behind it—you can be damn sure it would have been seized,” says Janine Fuller, manager of Vancouver’s Little Sisters Book & Art Emporium, the only gay and lesbian bookstore in Western Canada. “If you’re going to apply the laws, they should be applied fairly and equally, and Canada Customs has shown itself to be completely homophobic in the nature of its detentions.”
That alleged double standard is at the heart of the showdown that will soon determine what Canadians can and can’t see and read. On October 11, Little Sisters and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association take on the Government of Canada in a long-awaited B.C. Supreme Court case to decide if Canada Customs should have the right to seize any books at the border. Little Sisters and the BCCLA are also alleging discrimination—claiming that customs harasses gay and lesbian bookstores.
Asked why Madonna’s Sex was never seized while less-graphic publications are routinely detained, Michel Cléroux, a Canada Customs press officer, replies: “Do you think it is obscene under the Criminal Code?”
I’ve had no formal training in recognizing obscenity, but because customs officials only receive four hours of schooling on the subject before being given the power to detain books at the border—which is just four hours of training more than I’ve got—I figure I’ll give it a shot. I reply that although I’m not sure it contravenes the Criminal Code, it certainly appears to violate a whole batch of the rules laid out in D9-1-1.
“But here’s the point,” replies Cléroux. “How long has it been in Canada, two or three years now? Nowhere in Canada has it been prosecuted under the Criminal Code as obscene. I don’t know if anyone’s tried, but to my knowledge no one has prosecuted or found it obscene under the Criminal Code. So if it’s our job to keep out things which would be obscene under the Criminal Code, we can’t have been that far wrong.”
But following that logic, why seize anything bound for Little Sisters?
During almost a dozen years of operation, Little Sisters has been firebombed three times, vandalized, and harassed with abusive calls, but it’s hard to believe that anyone or anything has done the store more damage than Canada Customs. Where some businesses are plagued by red tape, Fuller’s nightmare is orange tape—which is what customs uses to rewrap the boxes they’ve opened and examined.
In theory, customs is simply one arm of enforcement when it comes to Canada’s obscenity law, but the reality is that, where bookstores are concerned, they appear to be the only arm. Little Sisters has never had a book seized by police, nor have the owners ever faced formal obscenity charges. Yet in its dozen years of operation, Little Sisters has had hundreds of shipments of books seized at Canadian border crossings. Most of these publications have eventually been released and delivered to Little Sisters, although more than a thousand books have been destroyed.
Although police seem to have no trouble with Little Sisters, customs clearly feels the store merits special attention. Although customs searches are, theoretically, conducted at random, Little Sisters routinely receives what is known as a “notice of detention/determination” with a little check mark indicating whether the material has been stopped because of sex with violence, child sex, incest, bestiality, necrophilia, hate propaganda, anal penetration, or the ever-offensive “other”. This means a customs officer at one of Canada’s border crossings has decided the book should be detained.
Unless Little Sisters appeals this decision, the material is destroyed. If the store does appeal, the publication is then sent to a regional superior, who either clears it or sends another form saying it has been assessed and is still denied entry into Canada. Once again, the store must decide whether to file a formal appeal or allow the books to be destroyed. If appealed, the books are sent to what the Globe and Mail once called “Canada’s most exclusive literary salon”, the prohibited-importations directorate. If customs’ Ottawa-based literary critics then decide the material contravenes D9-1-1, Little Sisters can then appeal to the deputy minister of revenue. And if all the above find the publication obscene, the store can take its case to court—if it’s prepared to wage a lengthy and expensive court battle.
This process of review—not counting a trial—can take anywhere from a few days to a year. While the book is detained, Little Sisters is not only out its inventory, but also the money that had to be paid to the book’s distributor. To make matters worse, when books are returned they are frequently damaged due to poor repacking or mishandling. As well, says Fuller, sometimes books never arrive and customs tells her they simply got lost in the mail.
Fuller first started working at Little Sisters about four years ago after moving to Vancouver from Toronto. Two years ago, the former visual and performance artist was promoted to manager; since then, she says, a huge portion of her working day has been taken up with assorted customs crises, and as the trial approaches it becomes almost impossible to deal with anything else. As well, says Fuller, “The more media coverage we have, the more trouble we have with Canada Customs.”
Considering that part of Little Sisters’ case is the allegation that Canada Customs is harassing the store, it’s ironic that each time the case comes to trial, customs spends more time with its books.
Ironic, but logical.
Because there’s a court case pending, the store’s battles with customs are in the news, which means customs officers across the country become more conscientious about checking out anything destined for Little Sisters.
This also means customs is more likely to make the type of bizarre book seizures that make for amusing news stories—such as its recent decision to detain a Noel Coward biography and a children’s book about body image, Belinda’s Bouquet. “I don’t know why it would take them a week to figure out that Noel Coward is admissible in Canada,” says Fuller dryly.

Perhaps the most frequently detained book in Canada these days is Macho Sluts, a collection of erotic fiction by San Francisco author Pat Califia that has been seized on five occasions en route to Little Sisters alone. Madonna’s book might have been shipped in the hundreds; Fuller says a typical order of Califia’s book might be eight copies. These small parcels of books, destined for a specialty bookstore catering to gays and lesbians, pose enough of a potential threat to our national security that they have repeatedly been detained by a customs official, cleared, and mailed to the store.
Not surprisingly, Califia will be one of the people testifying when the case finally goes to trial next week, and a look down the witness list shows that this could turn into a bigger literary schmooze-fest than the Vancouver writers’ festival. The roster includes authors such as Nino Ricci, Jane Rule, and Stan Persky, an encyclopaedia full of booksellers, and enough academics to staff a small campus.
It’s not hard to imagine half the headliners at the writers’ festival dialling up their agents and demanding the chance to testify. “We think this is going to be a bit of a literary event in the courthouse,” says BCCLA president Andrew Wilkinson, but he stresses that the case is not just for and about the literati. “It doesn’t matter what your political stripe is. Whether you voted Reform or whether you voted NDP, you should be interested in this. It’s not about good guys and bad guys. It’s about government control of what we read.”
Although customs officers only receive half a day’s instruction with regard to enforcing D9-1-1, Cléroux says this is a reasonable chunk of time, considering that Revenue Canada officials receive just four months of training and are charged with applying approximately 75 different statutes from 18 different government departments. He also feels the half-day figure is deceptive because customs officers learn on the job how to differentiate between what is and isn’t considered obscene. “Just as a customs officer would become better at knowing the difference between a sack of sugar and a sack of heroin on sight, and open fewer sacks of sugar.”
He also notes that the border guards only make the decision to detain material, and that the bureaucrats who are actually doing the book banning have more specific training in the enforcement of D9-1-1. In order to avoid hassles at the border, some publishers—of men’s magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse—send their material to customs for advice to ensure that it doesn’t contain anything that could result in it being detained. In the case of Madonna’s book Sex, an article in the October 3 New Yorker revealed that the high-powered Toronto law firm of Osler, Hoskins and Harcourt was contracted to prepare a legal analysis to lubricate the book’s entry into Canada.
When asked if perhaps customs has ducked away from blocking any material from large publishers, Cléroux says it’s not the size that counts. “It’s the content of it—it’s judged on the content.” However, customs is unable to cite a single example of a major publication that has been banned or detained.
Some major books do get examined without being seized. In 1989, Canada Customs reviewed Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses before it was shipped on the grounds that it might qualify as hate propaganda. Then–prime minister Brian Mulroney admitted to being “embarrassed” after a front-page story in the New York Times ridiculed the decision. American Psycho, a sexually explicit crime thriller by Bret Easton Ellis, was reviewed at the request of Canadian feminist groups, but despite it containing such graphic scenes as a description of live rats being forced into women’s vaginas, the book was okayed.
Galiano Island author Jane Rule’s acclaimed novel The Young in One Another’s Arms didn’t get such fancy treatment. It was seized en route to Little Sisters in 1990, and the Writers’ Union of Canada was so incensed it wrote to then–revenue minister Otto Jelinek and demanded that customs’ authority to review books be revoked. On the sillier side, a customs officer in the 1980s seized a Book-of-the-Month Club selection called Stroke. Customs released it after someone realized it was about rowing. And in January 1993, customs even seized a book by antipornography crusader Andrea Dworkin.
However, Little Sisters and the BCCLA don’t want customs to take the brunt of the blame. They are quick to point out that individual customs officers are just following orders. Customs is charged with preventing obscene goods from entering Canada, and their political masters have placed them in a very awkward position by not defining exactly what obscenity is. According to the Criminal Code, “A publication is deemed to be obscene if a dominant characteristic of the work is the undue exploitation of sex or of sex and crime, horror, cruelty or violence.” The question is, how much exploitation of sex is undue?
It’s a question nobody bothered to answer until 1985, when customs and the Justice Department got together to draft Memorandum D9-1-1, which Cléroux describes as “an amalgam of the best understanding that we have of the obscenity provisions of the Criminal Code plus the various court cases that define them further”.
One issue in the upcoming trial is whether customs actually defined them in broader terms than the courts intended. Customs seemed to concede this point just 12 days before the court date when it repealed the D9-1-1 provision prohibiting descriptions or depictions of anal sex—the regulation that was the most frequent reason for books being seized en route to Little Sisters. However, the fact that with a stroke of the pen customs instantly rewrote the definition of obscenity only serves to emphasize the reality that although D9-1-1 is officially no more than a bureaucratic document, this “memorandum” is essentially backdoor legislation that functions as this country’s de facto obscenity law—despite never having been debated in Parliament.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, because defining pornography is the type of no-win issue that politicians dread: any definition is bound to offend at least as many voters as it pleases. Besides, by keeping the issue out of Parliament, politicians ensure that most Canadians are unaware that obscenity and hate laws even exist. I first found out about Canada’s censorship system in 1987 when I was working as a researcher on a cover story on AIDS for Maclean’s magazine. I asked Little Sisters co-owner Jim Deva what kind of information was out there regarding disease prevention, and he pulled some gay magazines from behind the counter and flipped to pages where little squares of information had been blacked out. If one looked very closely through the black ink, it was sometimes possible to make out ads for Man to Man condoms or information about how the disease was spread. Because D9-1-1 banned depictions or descriptions of anal sex, U.S. distributors had removed the information in order to allow their publications to be sold in Canada. In 1988, the tariff code was amended to state: “Goods which are intended to primarily provide advice on how the risk of AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections can be minimized are not to be prohibited solely by reason of their containing incidental but necessary references to anal penetration.” If customs officials hadn’t bothered to make that amendment, would gay men have died to keep our country safe from “obscenity”? Deva believes the question is not a hypothetical one—that the delay in changing the rules took its toll. “We strongly felt that lives were probably being lost.”

Yet despite what appeared to be a bureaucratic foul-up of astonishing proportions, Maclean’s didn’t mention this in its AIDS article.
Although it’s hardly as likely to get the blood boiling as the blacking out of AIDS information, Deva says the prohibition of materials dealing with sadomasochism is a definite problem for fans of whips and chains. “It’s very difficult to bring in material so people can explore those fantasies. Many, many people play with sexual fantasies and S&M fantasies, both heterosexual and gay, so we definitely have had problems bringing in S&M material that deals with how you do it and how to approach it. Some day, the argument is going to be raised: How can consensual sex be violent?”
But as Deva has discovered, it’s tough to get people riled about censorship in the 1990s, because there are would-be book banners on both ends of the political spectrum, all the way from the religious right to the righteous left. Besides, Canadians don’t have that Yankee tradition of free speech, so as long as the censorship is discreet, the only people who ever seem to get publicly riled are a few grant-sucking artistes, a professional pundit or two, and the increasingly endangered species known as civil libertarians. And for a while, even the civil libertarians were ducking the issue for fear of being labelled as patriarchal pond scum.
In an essay entitled “The Porn Wars”, former BCCLA president John Dixon writes that many civil-liberties associations throughout North America were torn over the debate about whether, by fighting against censorship of pornography, “civil libertarians were either the conscious or unconscious tools of the exploiters”. Dixon wrote that the turning point for the BCCLA came in the late 1980s, when a number of prominent Canadian women, such as writer/activists Sara Diamond and June Callwood, began campaigning against censorship. Suddenly the civil libertarians were back out of the closet.
The Little Sisters case is perhaps the perfect illustration of why civil libertarians believe censorship is dangerous. Although some feminists had hoped obscenity laws would change the way women are presented in the media, the reality is that those laws have essentially restricted the ability of women to create their own erotic images and have made it illegal to depict or even describe fundamental aspects of homosexual sex. Says Fuller, “There are so few images out there, it’s imperative that we have writers like this that celebrate all of our stories as a gay and lesbian community.”

BCCLA president Wilkinson says that despite sharing the costs with Little Sisters, this has become the biggest case his organization has ever taken on. “We’ve never had anything even close to this in terms of expense.” However, he’s convinced this one is worth going to the wall for. “I think the human aspect of this is, to me, the most compelling part of this. When you think of Jim Deva and [co-owner] Bruce Smyth in their bookstore and they say we know there’s this book published in Connecticut which is about gay and lesbian issues. We’d like to sell it in our community here and we know there’s going to be a reasonable demand for it, so let’s order 10 copies, pay for it. Then they get a letter from customs saying you’re not allowed to read this. The absurdity is that they can go to the U.S., buy it, and carry it across the border. They can have it faxed across the border. They can have it e-mailed across the border. But if it comes in in a box through commercial channels, then it becomes something you’re not allowed to read.”
Joe Arvay, counsel for Little Sisters and the BCCLA, says his clients are seeking a declaration that the customs legislation is unconstitutional. “We are claiming that the customs legislation is unconstitutional, both because it violates the guarantee in the charter on freedom of expression and because it violates the guarantee of equality in the charter.”
Lawyer Hans Van Iperen, who is acting on behalf of the Crown, agrees this is an important constitutional battle. Van Iperen, who recently acted as government counsel on the Sue Rodriguez assisted-suicide case, explains: “It is really a freedom-of-expression issue and the limitations that the government can put on freedom of expression and whether those limitations are reasonable.”
For Little Sisters, the debate isn’t simply a philosophical exercise. If they win their case, Deva estimates the financial implications could be quite profound. “We certainly won’t be redressed for past injustice. It would mean that we could import the books that we want to into the country with some sort of confidence that they’re going to reach us, which is an amazing thing financially.”
But Deva is adamant the case is not about money (Little Sisters isn’t even suing for damages). “The major impact, I think, if we are successful, is that gay and lesbian books will be imported into the country again with confidence, and they’ll be put on bookstore shelves with confidence. At the present time, there’s sort of this feeling I detect across Canada that mainstream bookstores are not carrying the books that they should be because they’re afraid they’re going to be stopped at the border. They’ve somehow got the concept that gay and lesbian books are obscene, which is repugnant.”
Although the case may not be about money, the figures involved are staggering, considering the size of the players involved. “The cost factor is enormous,” admits Fuller. She says the court battle has already cost Little Sisters and the BCCLA $100,000, and the trial will cost the groups at least another $100,000.
Fuller points out that although many people assume the BCCLA is footing most of the bill—an assumption she believes has slowed Little Sisters’ fund-raising efforts—this is not so, and neither group has deep enough pockets to afford the case they’d ideally like to present. “If we could have raised $200,000 over the last year, we would have had more witnesses—and there are certainly more witnesses willing to come forward,” says Fuller.
The lawsuit, which originally focused on challenging the validity of the obscenity provision in the Criminal Code, was first slated to land in B.C. Supreme Court in September 1991 but was put off to April 1992, pending the result of a similar case in Manitoba dealing with a video-store owner named Butler. When the Butler decision came down and the Supreme Court of Canada decided the government did have the right to ban certain obscene material, the case was rejigged to argue that customs should be stripped of the authority to determine what was obscene and that customs has been unfairly discriminatory against gay and lesbian erotica.
After more delays, a trial date was finally set—for last fall. BCCLA and Little Sisters lined up a witness list that sounded like a who’s who of Canadian writers, including CanCon stalwarts like Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood. Plane tickets for the witnesses were bought and paid for, but the trial didn’t take place. The Crown won a last-minute delay on the grounds that there wasn’t enough court time allotted.
When the Liberals came to power shortly thereafter, both the BCCLA and Little Sisters hoped the delay just might be permanent and that memorandum D9-1-1 would vanish into the bureaucratic ozone. After all, this was the party of Pierre Trudeau, who once declared, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”—which is where much of the material ends up once it leaves the bookstore.
The Straight attempted to ask Revenue Minister David Anderson about this, but despite an assurance from his executive assistant more than two weeks ago that the minister would call “tomorrow”—and after leaving several phone messages and even faxing a list of questions—he has so far offered no response. Presumably, Anderson is out with his children, presenting roses to visiting dignitaries.
Says Wilkinson: “Unfortunately, in this country there’s a general trend that when something is too awkward to deal with politically, because you’ll antagonize an important constituency, then you just dump it into the courts. We see that in Clayoquot Sound, we see that in abortion clinics, we see that in gun-related issues, and we see that in terms of [freedom of] expression issues. If it’s too hot to handle, then leave it in the courts, and, unfortunately, that often means whoever’s got the most cash wins.”
One of the toughest aspects of the seizures for Little Sisters is that just when things return to what passes for normal in their business, customs always seems to have a new surprise for them.
In January, customs somehow ended up opening a package that was mailed within Canada, despite the fact that they have no legal authority to inspect domestic mail. Says Fuller: “It had a metered Canadian postal stamp and it says Penguin Canada, Newmarket, Ontario. I immediately phoned and did a press release about what happened. They phoned the day after the newspaper came out and said it was simply an error. Somehow it went onto the wrong conveyor belt at Canada Post. It seems quite odd that we’re the only ones in Vancouver who went on the wrong conveyor. They seem to be able to make an endless amount of mistakes without a great deal of accountability. I don’t want to be paranoid, but I don’t know what they’re doing.
‘The most insidious part of this whole customs thing is a lot of stores are afraid to import gay and lesbian material, so it becomes self-censorship. They’re afraid to get on the list of ‘known importers of pornography’. Once that happens, everything that crosses the border is examined, delayed, detained, and seized.”
As the old joke goes, though, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. When Fuller talks about stores worrying about getting on a blacklist, it sounds like she’s been watching too many episodes of The X Files, but customs acknowledges that its officers do look more carefully at stores that have a reputation for importing banned material.
“It’s the same logic the police would use in enforcing speeding laws,” Cléroux says. “There are some streets they would watch more often than others. There may not be an official list, but logic tells you there must be streets they watch more than others.”
It’s the fact that customs often seems to be watching only the road to Little Sisters that has provoked charges of discrimination. Despite the fact that she runs Vancouver’s biggest bookstore chain—and frequently orders the same types of books that are seized from packages bound to Little Sisters—Celia Duthie can’t recall a single shipment of hers ever being detained by customs. “I don’t think we’ve had a book stopped in more than a decade,” says Duthie, who is scheduled to testify on behalf of Little Sisters.
In preparation for the trial, Duthie ordered a shipment identical to one that was stopped en route to Little Sisters. Sure enough, it arrived at her store untouched. “The whole thing came through,” says Duthie, “every single book.”

Jim Deva

Jim Deva


Less than two weeks before the B.C. Supreme Court trial challenging its right to act as Canada’s national censor, Canada Customs has changed the criteria they use to determine obscenity.
On September 29, customs announced they would no longer be prohibiting the entry of material featuring “depictions or descriptions of anal penetration, including depictions or descriptions involving implements of any kind”.
The timing of this decision is just one more in the series of startling coincidences that have become commonplace in the seven-year battle by Little Sisters Book & Art Emporium and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to have customs’ censorship powers declared unconstitutional. The history of the court delays reads like a cross between Orwell and Kafka, with a touch of Bugs Bunny thrown in for good measure.
The BCCLA and Little Sisters first attempted to challenge customs in 1987 after two issues of the gay newsmagazine the Advocate were prohibited from entering Canada. The idea was that challenging this seizure would force the court to decide whether customs had the constitutional right to ban books.
The case was scheduled for federal court, but in 1988, just two weeks before the trial, customs decided the two magazines weren’t obscene after all, which meant that although technically the BCCLA and Little Sisters had “won”, in reality they had lost their chance at the constitutional  challenge.
Ironically—and the history of Canadian censorship is littered with irony—when Little Sisters requested that the no-longer-obscene magazines be returned, customs informed them that it was impossible because they’d already been destroyed.
On June 7, 1990, the BCCLA and Little Sisters launched a direct challenge to Revenue Canada’s right to censor material, filing a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court. The suit claimed customs was violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in three different ways: that prohibiting the importation of books and magazines solely on the basis that they are obscene infringes on the right to freedom of expression; that it was unconstitutional to detain material that had not been declared obscene in court; and that the way customs seizures were carried out unfairly discriminated against writers, readers, and distributors of gay and lesbian erotica. The trial date was set for September 1991, but was delayed because of a pending Supreme Court decision on Canadian obscenity laws.
In February 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s obscenity laws were legal, so the BCCLA revised their case, dropping the challenge to the law itself but still claiming discrimination and that customs had no legal right to act as the nation’s arbiter of taste.
Just before the trial was to start, the government moved to dismiss the claim, which forced a delay until its motion could be heard. The motion was heard and defeated, and another trial date was set for October 4, 1993.
In September of 1993, the government attorney announced that the case was more complicated than expected and there wasn’t enough time scheduled to properly deal with the issues involved. Despite the fact that the government had taken more than a year to reach this conclusion (and that the BCCLA and Little Sisters had spent thousands of dollars on air tickets for witnesses), the postponement was granted and the trial was rescheduled for October 11, 1994. BCCLA President Andrew Wilkinson estimates this delay alone cost the two organizations at least $20,000.
Just three weeks before this trial date, Hans Van Iperen, the attorney for Revenue Canada, told the Georgia Straight that he couldn’t foresee any delays and that he fully expects to be in court on October 11.
Although the BCCLA and Little Sisters are delighted that customs policies are no longer quite as anal retentive, the two groups can’t help but be cynical about the timing. “It’s very ironic that this announcement is made a week before the case begins,” says Little Sisters manager Janine Fuller. “I think if it was something that was done in good faith and with the real interest of the Canadian public, it would have been done years ago.”
Says Wilkinson: “We are pleased that customs will no longer be stopping books and magazines at the border just because they contain descriptions of anal sex. But if they think this small concession will prompt us to back off from the court challenge, they’re wrong.”
However, just like Charlie Brown playing football with Lucy, every time the case comes to trial, Customs seems to pull the ball away. Fuller says she has “absolutely no doubt that this case is going to court”, but it’s hard not to wonder if customs’ recent change of heart has nothing to do with a sudden realization that the prohibition on material describing or depicting anal sex was discriminatory against gay men and/or that it wouldn’t hold up in court and everything to do with a last-ditch attempt to postpone the trial one more time.



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