A Chronicle of Freedom of
Expression in Canada

(Part 2, 1995-present)
barbed wire

censor Part 1, 1914-1994
Events before 1995 are found in Part 1 of the Chronicle.

January 1995
A student at Guelph University faces disciplinary action for starting a "tasteless jokes" computer conference.

February 1995
A regional library board in Abbotsford, B.C. bans all free publications from its branches that contain paid advertising, because of pressure from local politicians who objected to advertisements in XTRA! West, a gay newspaper. It subsequently reinstates the free publications, including Christian Info News, but puts XTRA! West out of children's sight.

Meanwhile, during Freedom to Read Week, L'Androgyne bookstore is notified that 55 books have been seized and prohibited by Customs -- by far the largest detention in the bookstore's history. Most of the books have been available in Canada for years, and some have been previously detained and released as admissible. Customs claims the books contain "child sex," a claim the bookstore adamantly denies. "We seriously doubt they have been read by Customs officials," say the store owners. Most are part of a line of gay male erotica called "Badboy" and do not contain illustrations. The books the store does receive are damaged. L'Androgyne faces a $1000 invoice for books not received.

April 20, 1995
Mr. Justice David McCombs finds that Eli Langer's artwork is not illegal, having artistic merit, and urges that in future police should have to get a judge's permission before closing down a gallery or bookstore. (This would involve changing a word in the Criminal Code, so that instead of saying a judge "shall issue a warrant authorizing seizure" the law would say that the judge "may" do so.) However, the judge does not strike down the so-called child pornography law as unconstitutional. Langer's lawyers attempt to have this issue heard in the Supreme Court of Canada, but the court declined to hear the appeal.

May 1, 1995
After consulting with Ontario censors and the police, the Showcase cable-tv channel "temporarily" cancels a May 4 showing of Pretty Baby, which was to have been part of a series on forbidden cinema.

The channel's representative tells the Toronto Star that it had received anxious calls and letters from potential viewers, even though the movie contains no explicit sex scenes; viewer feedback by Internet, however, had supported the festival of censored movies.

In its place it schedules In Praise of Older Women, a movie about, among other things, the sexual initiation of a teenage boy by an older woman. Showcase also cuts part of a masturbation scene from The Bad Lieutenant. (Pretty Baby does eventually run in late September.)

May 25, 1995
The CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) pulls the plug on a 30-second commercial for Labatt Genuine Draft. The commercial featured "Joel" and other youthful actors promoting the "Genuine Party CD Pak'' giveaway. The CRTC decision said the advertisement "depicts persons that [sic] could reasonably be mistaken for persons under the legal drinking age.''

June 1995
Toronto artist J.B. Jones receives a notice of detention from Canada Customs. The prohibited books: five copies of the catalogue of an exhibit of her own work, sent from her SoHo dealer. Jones is unsuccessful in appealing the ruling. One of the drawings she exhibits in Toronto's Power Plant Gallery the same summer portrays two girls in a library filled with about 100 seized books.

August 1995
The Metro Toronto Separate School Board imposes a moratorium on the purchase of books from the Impressions series on the grounds of "violent images " and "satanic verses" , despite pleas from both Mike O'Gorman, the board's language arts co-ordinator, and the deputy education director. Replacing the books, used in 77% of the board's elementary schools, could cost $1 million.

July 1995
The Supreme Court upholds a multi-million dollar libel award in Hill v. Church of Scientology , where the injured party was a public official. Critics of the decision, while often (like the justices) repelled by the facts of the test case, argued the principle that in a democracy, critics of government should not face financial ruin.

September 1995
The Financial Post reports that the CRTC is considering ordering Canadian cable operators to "black out" offensive foreign television programs. The plan provokes strong protests from Rogers Cable, which vows to replace any blackouts with a screen message explaining that the CRTC is responsible for the lost signal.

Eli Langer abandons plans to remount his 1993 exhibition at Mercer Union gallery in Toronto.

And in Vancouver, Guerrilla Media members are arrested but not charged when they hang an anti-Molson banner off a public bridge that faces the Molson Indy. They try again in 1996 and are escorted out of the area. Police claim they are disturbing the peace, an peculiar accusation during a deafening car race.

October 1995
The Status of Women Committee of the Toronto Board of Education complains to Pepsi-Cola Canada that its ads on school vending machines contain "subliminal sexual imagery" such as an ice cube that resembles a breast. A baffled Pepsi spokeswoman explains that the photo was an undoctored picture of actual ice.

And in Alberta, the government proposes to roll the Alberta Foundation for the Arts into an umbrella Lotteries Foundation, and to give local communities the right to establish community standards for arts grants. The move responds to Tory backbenchers who have been harshly critical of several exhibits and performances.

More than 300 people picket the Vancouver Art Gallery to protest its acquisition of two cibachrome prints by Andres Serrano, showing the Pope immersed in urine. A group calling itself the Interfaith Coalition Against Hate Art targets the gallery's corporate sponsors. One, a senior vice-president of the Bank of Montreal, sends the gallery director a letter stating his belief that while the gallery should be able to purchase art independent of the controls of sponsors, he believes "it is equally important that a public gallery be sensitive to the views of its patrons."

November 1995
The Public Library in St. Catharines, Ontario removes Lethal Marriage by Toronto Star reporter Nick Pron from its shelves, after an appeal by Donna French and a visit from the Niagara Regional Police -- a force that has come under public fire for its spectacular bungling of the case described in the book. Lethal Marriage is an account, based largely on public records, of the crimes of convicted murderers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka; Mrs. French is the mother of one of the victims. The book had had a waiting list of several weeks and is freely available in bookstores. The mother of another victim, Debbie Mahaffy, asks the Burlington Library Board to ban the book or alternatively to reduce public access, but they refuse by a vote of 8-3. The Burlington decision adheres to the policies of the Ontario Library Association.

Meanwhile, at the Women in Media conference in Toronto, anti-porn crusader Judy Steed (who had previously written that porn was to blame for the Bernardo murders) successfully calls for Ryerson Polytechnic University to investigate Gerald Hannon, a National Magazine Award-winning sessional instructor in journalism who in his career as a freelance writer who has written articles sympathetic to gay teenage sexuality. Hannon claims not to use those particular articles in the classroom and objects to the university administration's "McCarthyist" investigation. Acting Dean Don Obe says the faculty has not received a single complaint about Hannon's classroom conduct. Hysteria mounts as the tabloid Sun mounts a campaign against him, and Hannon is suspended indefinitely with pay over vociferous protests from his students. The university subsequently reinstates Hannon and clears him of any breach of the limits of academic freedom, but issues him with a disciplinary letter warning him not to engage in "discourse" or media interviews about his sexual activities as a prostitute. When his contract expires in June 1996, it is not renewed.

Also this month, the Supreme Court of Canada acquits adult-video retailer Randy Jorgenson; the charges related to three movies that had previously been passed by the Ontario Film Review Board. In a complex ruling, the court declares that retailers must have a general idea that products are obscene if they are to be found guilty of knowingly selling obscene materials.

And Little Sisters finally receives copies of Forbidden Passages: Writers Banned in Canada. Three Canadian printers, including Best Gagne and Metropole Litho, refused to print the Canadian edition of the anthology; Kromar Printing of Winnipeg eventually took the job. Publisher Cleis Press of Pittsburgh also had to find another Canadian distributor for the book when its regular one balked. The book includes writings by Jane Rule, Dennis Cooper, Pat Califia and others.

December 1995
The Sisterhood of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in Winnipeg, claiming a "scheduling conflict," abruptly withdraws a speaking invitation to award-winning children's fiction author Carol Matas. The most recent of Matas' 15 books, The Primrose Path, is a story about child sexual abuse by a rabbi. The story has some similarities to a police investigation in Winnipeg in the 1980s, but is based on research on such incidents across North America. (Indeed, on Matas' book tour, people in at least two other cities told her they realized it was a thinly disguised account of some incident in their community.) Although no litigation is pending against the book, the congregation received a legal opinion it could be sued for publication of a libel if it permitted Matas to speak.

January 19, 1996
Mr. Justice Kenneth Smith hands down his judgement in the Little Sisters Case, more than a year after the end of the trial. He finds that Canada Customs has used its mandate to censor books and other materials in a manner contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The unconstitutional conduct was a "grave systemic problem." The ruling is, however, disappointing insofar as it fails to declare that the statute that allows Customs to censor books is itself unconstitutional. Little Sisters and the BCCLA plan to appeal this aspect of the decision. and seeks an injunction to enjoin Customs from seizing materials bound for any bookstore in Canada pending the appeal.

January 28, 1996
The Edmonton Journal pulls a comic strip, "Us and Them," by Wiley Miller and Susan Dewar, and runs instead a repeat from 1995. The strip dealt with a female character's embarrassment about being examined in a teaching clinic.

February 1996
A Liberal MLA is denied permission to move that Freedom to Read Week be declared in Alberta. (A similar motion had been moved and passed 53-40 in 1995, although a second part of the motion, acknowledging the negative impact of censorship on lifelong learning, did not pass.)

March 1996
Mr. Justice Smith orders Canada Customs to take Little Sister's off its "lookout" list and orders the government to pay almost $170,000 of the store's $261,000 in costs.

May 1996
A renowned experimental theatre group in Montreal stages Nudité, a non-sexual performance that requires everyone to be naked, from the ticket seller to the comedians, including the audience. The police close it down on the second night.

July 1996
Calgary Herald publisher Ken King refuses to include the latest issue of Saturday Night with the newspaper, because it includes nude pictures of an 80-year-old woman. Saturday Night editor Kenneth Whyte protests that "This is the kind of thing that only happens to lesbian and gay stores." The magazine has run full nudity before without incident, but the models were young.

August 1996
Julius Yankowski, an Alberta PC MLA, calls for the provincial government to ban How Do You Spell Abducted, a novel by Edmonton author Cherylyn Stacey that is aimed at readers aged ten to 14 and deals with the subject of parental abduction. Yankowski, in keeping with the tradition ofAlberta book-banners, has not read the novel, but bases his opinion entirely on a vitriolic July 31 column by right-wing Toronto columnist Michael Coren. The MLA further criticizes the fact that Red Deer College Press, the award-winning publisher of the book, receives an annual grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Yankowski subsequently apologizes to Merle Harris, organizer of Edmonton's annual Freedom to Read Week event (while reiterating his desire for content guidelines associated with publishing grants). But he does not apologize to the publisher or author, who are forced to fall back on soaring book sales as solace.

On the 19th, the Ontario Court of Appeal upholds the federal law prohibiting publishing opinion polls, including republication of previously issued polls, during the three days before a federal election.

On August 25, Metro Toronto Police bar anti-smoking protesters from the du Maurier Open Tennis Tournament at York University, at the request of York President Susan Mann. The protesters approach incoming motorists at a public corner off campus and hand out anti-duMaurier paper fans, welcome in the hot weather, until police ticket them and seize the fans. A similar protest by Artificial Intelligence Media at the du Maurier Downtown Jazz festival in June had provoked a similar response, with protesters evicted from public places and threatened with arrest.

September 1996
Wal-Mart Canada, like its parent company in the U.S., refuses to sell the eponymous CD, Sheryl Crow, by the Grammy-winning artist. The album includes an anti-violence song that criticizes Wal-Mart for selling guns.

October 1996
An irate citizen lobbies the residents of Milton, Ontario because Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, by Joyce Carol Oates, is optional reading for Grade 12 students. With the assistance of Rev. Ken Campbell, a well-known pro-censorship agitator, he distributes a home-made broadsheet tirade containing about 100 phrases, all taken out of context, and circulates a petition to have the book removed from the curriculum. Students circulate their own counter-petition in support of the book. As the dispute becomes public in Feb. 1997, the NDP and others say it calls into question the Tory plan to devolve curriculum decisions to local parents' advisory committees, who like the Foxfire petitioners may or may not have read the books concerned or who could be dominated by religious special-interest groups. Missing from press coverage is the fact that parents in Ontario already have the right to select alternative texts for their own children, and Milton further extends the choice to students themselves. so the challengers in this case are trying to eliminate parent choice, not promote it.

On October 25, director John Greyson, attending the premiere of his award-winning film Lilies in Toronto, is arrested for trespassing after the theatre management call the police. Greyson had taken the opportunity of distributing leaflets urging the audience to protest against government cutbacks. Lilies was one of the last films funded by the Ontario Film Development Corporation before the Ontario government cut its budget to $1.6 million from $25.5 million.

On the 26th, a Famous Players Cineplex in Halifax plans a showing of A Clockwork Orange as a benefit for Christmas Daddies, a charity that raises money to help children living in poverty at Christmastime. The Mail-Star runs a front-page story that quotes one 59-year-old woman from Dartmouth who has never seen the movie, but says it is an inappropriate vehicle to raise money for this organization; the woman, after polling five of her friends, declares that she will not be giving any money to Christmas Daddies this year. A day later, the newspaper reports on its front page that the fund-raiser has been cancelled after the associated telethon had second thoughts about being associated with the controversial Kubrick movie.

January 21 1997
Mr. Justice Irwin Lampert of New Brunswick's Provincial Court finds Halifax performance artist Christopher Yorke guilty of committing an indecent act, after a show at Owens Art Gallery at Mt. Allison University in November 1995. The 15-minute performance, dealing with mating rituals, included simulated oral sex as well as poetry reading, guitar playing etc. Yorke is sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

February 1997
During Freedom to Read Week, an unknown number of parents ask teachers at St. Peter's Separate School in Cornwall Ontario to review Mystery at Lake Placid, a peewee hockey novel for teenagers by Roy MacGregor. The objectionable paragraph: "Nish, the team pervert, giggling that two of the rounded hills in the distance looked like boobs...Nish was so crazy he once said that the face-off circles reminded him of two big boobs in front of the net."

Meanwhile, The Maritime Film Commission Board bans Bastard out of Carolina, Anjelica Huston's acclaimed made-for-pay-tv movie about child abuse. The ban applies to theatrical and video release in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The film is based on Dorothy Allison's best-selling autobiographical novel and is rated R in Ontario.

And the Foxfire duo in Milton appeal to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps to support their cause, notwithstanding the fact that education is a provincial responsibility, because the book supposedly imports American cultural values.

May 1997
Based on a complaint from a caller to an open-line radio show in February, Winnipeg police order the Winnipeg Public Library to remove Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Sexual Fantasies, by Nancy Friday, or face criminal charges if it remains. The book has been in the collection since it was published by Simon & Schuster in 1991, and was a Canadian best-seller in 1993.

Winnipeg police also notify other Canadian police departments that a crown opinion considers the book to contravene Criminal Code sections dealing with obscenity and child pornography. Vancouver RCMP in turn forward the Winnipeg memo to all B.C. police detachments. As a result, police enter three B.C. libraries asking staff to remove the book. In Merritt, the mounties claim to have a court order to seize the book, but won't produce it, so the director advises staff not to comply.

After national press attention, the Manitoba Attorney General steps in and halts the harrassment in his province, declaring that the whole thing was a big mistake.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Doug Collins, whose columns for the obscure community newspaper North Shore News have drawn criticism for racist and homophobic content, is charged under the B.D. Human Rights Act after a complaint from the Canadian Jewish Congress. The B.C. Press Council intervenes in the case, hoping to get 1993 amendments to the Act struck down as unconstitutional. The amendments are much broader than hate provisions in the Criminal Code, set no limit for fines and do not provide for a defence for the accused.


censor Back to 1914-1994 and Part 1 of the chronicle.

censor More magazines and books that have been detained or banned by Canada Customs.

censor Be sure to read this wonderful speech by Parker Barss Donham...

censor and this equally wonderful speech, The Real Meaning of Free Speech in Cyberspace, by Jeffrey Shallit.

censor More censorship links.

This chronology was compiled by Sandra Bernstein on behalf of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada and the Book and Periodical Council, in collaboration with Electronic Frontier Canada. While she has tried to make it as accurate as possible, neither Sandra Bernstein nor any of these organizations is responsible for the consequences of any errors or omissions.

Updates to the Chronicle are temporarily on hold but will resume in spring 1998.

Last updated June 9, 1997

© Sandra Bernstein 1995, 1996, 1997