On March 16th, 2000, Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium and the BC Civil Liberties Association will take their constitutional challenge against Canada Customs to the Supreme Court of Canada. Little Sister’s and the BCCLA are now at the final stage of the court battle they have been fighting for over a decade — a case that will be of major interest to all Canadians concerned with intellectual freedom. This is a momentous occasion for Little Sister’s, whose staff and supporters have seen this historic case take many turns:
- from 1986 to 1990 the bookstore and the civil liberties group tried unsuccessfully to get Canada Customs into court to defend its censorship practices, but the government kept conceding on the eve of trial;
- in 1990, noted constitutional lawyer Joseph Arvay, Q.C. took on the case, and we launched a frontal attack on Canada Customs’ power to censor material as it came across the border;
- in 1994, after a four-year struggle to be heard, we spent 40 days in BC Supreme Court, with testimony from over 30 witnesses including such literary and academic figures as Pierre Berton, Jane Rule and Nino Ricci. That trial ended with a partial victory for the bookstore as Mr. Justice Kenneth Smith found that Canada Customs’ application of their mandate had repeatedly infringed on the Charter rights of the plaintiffs with arbitrary and inconsistent seizures of books and magazines, and systemic discrimination against lesbian and gay materials.
- in 1998, in a 2-1 decision, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision by refusing to strike down the law giving Customs its censorship powers. However, the dissenting judge, Mr. Justice Lance Finch, found that the legislation was unconstitutionally vague, stating, “A statutory scheme which imperils the distribution of morally unimpeachable material cannot be justified by the lame excuse that obscenity was the real target.”
Several groups will intervene in this case on behalf of Little Sister’s and the BCCLA, including PEN Canada, LEAF, EGALE, the Canadian Conference on the Arts, the Canadian AIDS Society, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Little Sister’s and the BCCLA will ask the Supreme Court to recognize that Canada Customs should not be in the business of censoring books and magazines at the border, and that lesbians and gay men in this country should not be the targets of government-endorsed discrimination.
“We believe that Canadians can be trusted to make up their own minds about what they choose to read,” said Little Sisters’ Manager Janine Fuller. “We are confident that finally Canada will join the rest of the free world by getting rid of this antiquated censorship law.”