VANCOUVER (CP) -- Canada's child pornography law should remain unchanged because it protects children from sexual exploitation, a crown lawyer argued yesterday as he attacked a ruling against the law.
John Gordon's arguments to three B.C. Court of Appeal judges launched the crown's bid to reverse a bombshell court ruling that said the law violates freedom of expression rights.
The decision last January fuelled national outrage and even prompted a death threat against the B.C. Supreme Court judge who handed down the ruling.
Justice Duncan Shaw dismissed two charges of child porn possession against Vancouver resident John Robin Sharpe.
But as a subdued Sharpe looked on yesterday, Gordon said the law enacted in 1993 remains a valid weapon against child pornography and Shaw's ruling should be overturned.
"Many nations around the world have criminalized the possession of child pornography due to the harms children are put to by the production of this material", said Gordon.
The law "is a response to the harm to society of material such as this".
Sharpe, 65, is a retired city planner. In 1995, customs officials seized 10 photos of nude boys as well as a collection entitled Kiddie Kink Classics, short stories he had written.
A year later, police seized more books, writings, and computer discs at the modest apartment where Sharpe lives alone.
Gordon dismissed suggestions by some that Sharpe should not be punished for his writings because they are products of his mind, not the exploitation of a specific child.
"It's all dreadful stuff, very badly written", sniffed Justice Mary Southin, who peppered Gordon with pointed questions throughout the hearing.
But she added: "There are graphic books written about rape, but we don't ban them."
Gordon noted that written material can help motivate pedophiles to abuse children. Sharpe is not facing charges of sexual assault against a child.
Later, Southin wondered aloud whether society's view of child porn might undergo a shift in attitudes similar to the one that has allowed homosexuals more rights.
Gordon dismissed the suggestion.
"Is society going to evolve to the extent that material that promotes and encourages the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children becomes acceptable?" Gordon asked.
"I submit not because children, like homosexuals, deserve dignity, privacy, autonomy of body. Child pornography is antithetical to the rights of children."
After his acquittal, Sharpe became notorious because he spoke openly to the media about his interest in child pornography, boasting of his willingness to challenge a law he considered oppressive.
He was far more subdued yesterday, saying only: "I have had more positive feedback than negative."
Others were more vocal.
The Canadian Police Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the victims' rights group CAVEAT, and an evangelical group are among the parties that have lawyers in the hearing.
Toronto lawyer Tim Danson, speaking for the police association, warned that officers will be placed in a "legal straitjacket" if the law is undermined.
But the B.C. civil liberties group maintains the law is a flawed "exercise in legislative cynicism".
The association wants a child porn law that cracks down on such forms of pornography as photographs of the sexual use of children, but feels the current law that works against writing is too broad.