Summer 1994, Vol. 20, No. 1

pp. 14-13.

Photo: Konnie Reich

Keep your fucking laws off our bodies:
organizing to repeal the youth porn law

The text of remarks made by speakers at the March 12 rally to repeal the youth porn law is excerpted below.

by Gary Kinsman

We are here in one of the most broadly-based protests against state sexual censorship and the criminalization of consensual sexuality this city has ever seen. Today's action is organized and endorsed by more than thirty-six community, arts, sex-trade worker, feminist, AIDS, gay, anti-racist, socialist and other groups.

We are here to protest that Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, the "youth porn" law which was allegedly designed to "protect" young people, is being used to criminalize the lives of young people. This law could be used, for instance, against a 17-year-old woman who was married and took a video camera into the bedroom to make a home movie of her and her husband having sex, since it criminalizes representations of acts that are entirely legal to engage in. It could be used to go after safe sex education videos made by young people themselves. It also criminalizes written materials about sexual activities including that in which young people write about their own sexual experiences. Simple possession of such materials could get you a five year prison sentence.

We're calling for the repeal of the youth porn law because:

  • It attacks artistic freedom. Eli Langer's art must not be destroyed. Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd and the Ontario government must free Eli's work now!

  • It is being used against young people themselves -- in Toronto and in London. It is being used to make the private lives of some young gay men public -- it is being used to go after young hustlers and gay youth especially. We call on Marion Boyd to end this practice now!

  • It is being used to collect evidence police would not otherwise have to lay charges against consensual gay sex -- especially for consensual anal sex. In 1988 Parliament set the age of consent for anal sex at 18 while for all others it was set at 14. This was to discriminate against a sexual practice they identified as gay.

  • It makes doing safer sex, AIDS and sexuality education with young people much more difficult. It gets in the way of dealing with this urgent health crisis.

We need a real campaign against physical and sexual violence and harassment. One that empowers young people, that attacks the lack of social and legal rights for young people, that attacks youth poverty, that establishes non-stigmatizing social services and gets at the arbitrary powers that adults have over young people's lives in families, institutional contexts and on the streets.

-- Gary Kinsman is a longtime activist against state sexual censorship from the days when Kevin Orr was busted at Glad Day in the early 1980s to the Joy of Gay Sex case, to the struggles against Bill C-54.

Andrew Sorfleet

When this law was passed, last August, not a single MP voted against it; one member of the senate spoke up to say that no one dared vote against the proposed law, no matter how flawed it was.

When political prostitutes and anti-censorship activists saw this law coming, we knew it didn't really have anything to do with protecting kids. We knew it was meant as an election ploy and that it would be used against young people, gay men, artists and sex workers. And we knew it would be damned hard to challenge this law and to defend the people the cops were going to attack with it.

I never would have believed, then, that we would be here today -- so many of us with so many groups supporting our demands -- to challenge the unchallengeable. Thank you for being here to defend some of those who many people thought this law was supposed to protect, who are actually among the people being attacked by it.

-- Andrew Sorfleet is part of Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto. Andrew and SWAT were among the organizers of this event.

Becki Ross

There's never been a consensus among feminists on the hot, contentious topics of the past couple of decades: censorship, sex work, "pornography" legislation, gay male sex, s/m, and youth sexuality. It is still unlikely that we will achieve a consensus on the meanings of pornography since any one image can provoke dissonant interpretations of disgust, indifference or arousal. But for decades a certain brand of anti-porn, pro-censorship feminism has dominated public talk and swayed public opinion. The most dramatic evidence of the influence of its protectionist handiwork is the Supreme Court's "Butler decision" and the new youth porn law. Troubling alliances between anti-porn feminism and moral conservatives have been starkly revealed.

However, in 1994, the tide is changing. We are seeing a new generation of young, sex-positive feminist, queer and, queer-positive supporters who are quick to condemn the police arrest and detention of young gay hustlers and the violation of artist Eli Langer and his work.

I've come to the conclusion that many feminists want more in their lives than sexual pessimism, danger, fear, guilt and shame. Violence is a reality for many women; experiences of sexual abuse, incest, and assault produce despair, cynicism, bitterness and ambivalence about pleasure and sexual freedom. But for many lust, lust, is a reality too, including same-sex and hetero-sex fantasy and practice by people under the age of eighteen. I, for one, want to hear more from young people about what they want and how the state interferes with them getting it.

Many feminists, myself included, were initially seduced by anti-porn rhetoric; we were outraged by pictures of bondage, mutilation, subservience. Some of us were convinced that prostitutes were the quintessential victims in need of rescue, that picketing and bombing porn outlets were bold, direct actions that seemed like effective, easy answers. Yet all this calling on the state to obliterate porn and prostitution has done little to eradicate the actual sexism, racism and poverty that stunt so many women's lives. The narrowness of anti-porn feminism has been exposed over the past fifteen years as short-sighted, manipulative and class-biased. Clearly the answer is not to trust in a state that rarely acts in the best interests of oppressed peoples.

-- Becki Ross is a feminist, anti-censorship activist, teacher and porn consumer.

Tim McCaskell

It is enormously important to ensure that clear, targeted safe sex information is available to youth.

The youth porn law however makes such material illegal. It criminalizes youth who are involved in the production of this material. It makes illegal the depiction of legal sexual activity among youth. This law therefore undermines the important work of providing safe sex information to youth. It criminalizes those who produce such materials. It marginalizes gay youth and makes education even more difficult.

If the government was really concerned about protecting youth it would provide more explicit safe sex information, not arrest those who produce it. If the government was really concerned about protecting youth it would provide money for shelters for young gay men and lesbians who have fled their homes and who find themselves on the streets struggling to survive in any way they can. If the government was really concerned about protecting youth it would make sure that young gay men who are infected with HIV could afford the treatments they need to keep healthy.

This law does not protect youth, on the contrary, it makes an already vulnerable and marginalized segment of our community even more vulnerable and marginalized. It is a gift from homophobic, youth phobic legislators to homophobic, youth phobic police. It encourages ignorance, the main vehicle of transmission of HIV and AIDS, and is therefore a danger to public health.

AIDS Action Now! calls on legislators to withdraw this law before more youth are criminalized and before more youth are infected with a disease that could cost them their lives.

-- Tim McCaskell, steering committee member of AIDS Action Now! and an anti-racist youth educator.

Eli Langer, "Untitled," pencil drawing, 8.5X11.

Eli Langer

Dropping the criminal charges has not relieved the fact that my artwork, that which is in detention and that which I still produce, is threatened with destruction under the current law.

It is clear that these sex laws are being used to harass people such as myself and Matthew McGowan, bookstores and art galleries, rather than to protect real children from real danger and violence. Instead we see the law being used to justify the shameless loathing and intolerance of the authorities.

Canada Customs and the Morality Squad have long demonstrated their blunt ignorance and irresponsibility in the application of these laws at our borders and in our streets, in our workplaces and our homes.

Eli Langer, "Untitled," pencil drawing, 8.5X11.

These gun-toting thugs for hire, underqualified to act as the moral guardians of our culture and society, and armed with vague laws which allow police to use their so-called common sense to decide the difference between art and pornography, legal and illegal, harmless and harmful.

I'm deeply offended by this shameful, disgusting game I've been forced to play over my artwork. It must be acknowledged that the state is committing both a profound personal violation and a significant historical-cultural offence.

-- Eli Langer is one of those charged under this law.

Matthew McGowan

I'm going to stick to the things I know.

The boys in London are being treated like criminals for trying to earn a living as hookers which is their business. Their private lives have been splashed all over the press and all over their communities. But London is not the only place young male prostitutes are being harassed.

Over the past eight months in Toronto, four young males have been arrested and many others have been questioned around a so-called "kiddie porn" ring. The police have got to stop this cruel witch-hunt before they ruin any more young people's lives and reputations. Some questionable tactics were used to gain information from some of these youth. Things like coercion, intimidation, promises of light sentences, offers of bail -- all to get statements so they could prosecute more people. And for what? For having consenting sex.

Sex is not dehumanizing or degrading and most of all sex is not obscene. Sex is natural and intimate, exciting and stimulating but there has been such a taboo on sex for so long that no one really knows their body or how it feels to explore someone else's. We're all so afraid and uncomfortable around the issue of sex, let alone youth sexuality, that we continue to perpetuate these attitudes.

What we're calling for is the repeal of these repressive, homophobic laws, the release of the young men who have been identified by the circulation of still photos made from discarded videos and at the very least an apology to those people who have had their private lives made public by some overzealous cops who have a hard-on for arresting young male hustlers.

-- Matthew McGowan is one of those charged under this law.

Lynne Fernie

What is particularly disturbing today is that all youth sexuality is being put into the framework only of abuse. Of course it's important to confront abuse, but we must not allow the state to use instances of abuse to censor pleasure, lust and desire, nor must we allow it to frame all sexual situations as abusive.

Freedom from abuse comes from representation and debate -- it does not and never has come from silence and censorship.

Pro-censorship feminists who believe that laws like the Butler decision and the kid porn laws will keep women and children safe, deliver the very power of speech and action they have fought for from the state into the hands of the state. That is truly perverse.

If pro-censorship feminists had spent one tenth -- one twentieth even -- as much time over the past twenty-odd years listening to and working with sex workers as they have to working with the various arms of the state to censor porn and control representations of sexuality, our sexual culture could have been transformed.

Censorship does not protect youth -- at best, it abandons them to silence and guilt; at worst, it criminalizes them. Censorship does not protect women -- it reinforces the paternal power of the state over our lives. The silencing of speech and debate harms us all -- men, women, children, lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, undecided and not-practicing-at-the -moment ...

The seizures of pictures and books, the criminal harassment of sex workers, writers and artists maintains the power of the police and the state over our sexuality. The current laws sanction and foster the legal harassment of youth, sex workers, writers and artists. They are abusive and dangerous. We must and will work to repeal them.

-- Lynne Fernie is co-director of the fabulous lesbian film, Forbidden Love, founder of Fireweed, and was, until recently, the editor of Parallelogramme.

Arif Noorani

We've been at this place (In front of police headquarters on College Street) many times before. We've been here each time the police have shot and killed black youths. We were here to protest police inaction and complicity around gay bashing. We were here to protest the raid of Glad Day Books and the seizure of lesbian porn. We were here to protest the public strip-search of Audrey Smith by the police. And now we're here to protest the harassment of young street workers and the seizure of artist Eli Langer's work as a result of the child porn law.

The Toronto Coalition Against Racism would like to extend its solidarity with the organizers of today's demonstration. TCAR is a coalition of over fifty community-based anti-racist and social justice organizations. We oppose police harassment of our various communities whether we are people of colour, independent artists, street youth, lesbians and gays, women or street workers.

The Butler decision and youth porn law show us some of the dangers of allowing the state to control our images. Giving the state and police the power to decide for us often means that they will use their power on communities with no power -- censoring our bodies, stories and lives.

-- Arif Noorani is a member of the steering committee of Toronto Coalition Against Racism.

Nancy Nicol

This law is clearly a repressive law -- it is also part of a larger moral backlash -- a moral backlash which started with the attack on women's right to choose and on gays and lesbians in the 1980s, a moral backlash which the state, in Canada as well as the U.S. and Britain, has increasingly resorted to in the context of deepening economic crisis.

In Britain, Prime Minister John Major's "Back to the Basics" Campaign, launched last October, was supposed to end the troubles which racked the Tory government last year, by rolling back the "permissive society."

In the U.S., President Clinton has launched the "two years and out" policy -- that after two years on welfare, recipients will be forced off, and a woman who gets pregnant on welfare will loose her benefits.

The moral sex panic, like Clinton's war on drugs, provides a means by which the government can increase its policing of society, of the working class, of the poor, of street youth who are often on the street in the first place because of unemployment and the economic crisis.

The moral sex panic by promoting the idea that family breakdown, single mothers, gays and lesbians are somehow responsible for the crisis in society provides a scapegoat, in an attempt to cover up the failure of the state to deal with the economic crisis.

When governments pass repressive laws such as this one, they open the door to the moral backlash -- to scapegoating people like artists, gays and lesbians, sex-trade workers, and single mothers.

This demonstration today is more than a symbolic action -- it represents the broadest mobilization in this city against censorship in quite some time. It has brought together anti-racist organizations like Toronto Coalition Against Racism, arts organizations like ANNPAC, the national alliance of artist-run spaces, the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, AIDS activists and sex-trade workers. And we are just beginning. It is clear that we can mobilize a campaign to call for the repeal of this law and to stop the attack on youth which it represents.

-- Nancy Nicol is a member of International Socialists and another one of the people who organized today's event.

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Created: November 25, 1996
Last modified: June 25, 1999

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