THE BODY POLITIC August 1986, No. 129. Chris Bearchell

p. 5.


Nutty, absurd — and dangerous

If the Tory government in Ottawa has its way, George Orwell's sex police will be only a couple of years behind schedule in Canada.

In the middle of June the federal government finally let us know what laws it's planning to enact in response to the concern it has helped generate about pornography and child sexual abuse.

So far, the anti-porn proposals have been almost universally assailed as anti-sex. Even some of the people who helped formulate them — including former prime minister Trudeau's advisor on women's issues, Maude Barlow, and the odd, misguided liberal seeking feminist brownie points by conceding that the horrors of porn might only be curbed by state censorship — have now said that the Tories have gone too far. Some of them even have the nerve to seem surprised at this perfectly unsurprising turn of events.


First, the good news. Bill C-113 — which revamps the sex abuse sections of the Criminal Code and the status of young people in the Canada Evidence Act — puts males and females on an equal footing under these laws, and acknowledges the competence of young people to testify about abuse they have suffered. It also holds out some promise of improvement in the status of young gay people: Bill C-113 repeals the gross indecency section of the Criminal Code (which currently sets the age of consent for same-sex activity at 21) and reduces the age of consent for buggery (anal sex) from 21 to 18. These measures would effectively set the age of consent at 14 for all sexual activity, with the exception of anal sex or sex between a person under 18 with an older person who is in a position of trust or authority over him or her.

Bill C-113 still assumes that people under the age of 14 are incapable of consenting to sex, unless it is with someone no more than three years older than them. It also would make it a crime to "incite" children under the age of 14 to touch their own bodies for a sexual purpose, thus even prohibiting parents from letting their kids know it's all right to masturbate.


The real assault on adolescent sexuality is contained in Bill C-114, the proposed anti-pornography law. It would forbid the sale to anyone under 18 of books that even mention ejaculation (Section 159.6). It would also criminalize — as child sexual abuse — the production or possession of written arguments that adolescents have sexual feelings, needs and desires. This section, 162.1, not only denies a patent truth; it would make printing that truth illegal. It appears to have been derived from the Badgley Report's recommendation to close the "loophole" through which this magazine was acquitted of charges laid against it in 1978, after publication of the article "Men Loving Boys Loving Men." Clause 3 of this section retroactively criminalizes possession of photos of nude or partly nude people who are, or appear to be, under the age of 18. A lot of family photo albums are no doubt headed for the fireplace.

Dangerous (and nutty) as these proposals seem, they haven't yet caught the attention of many critics — perhaps because Bill C-114 offers even more absurd targets to its opponents. The bill includes in its definition of pornography the depiction of many specific acts, and ends off with the nebulous catch-all of "other sexual activity." It defines as "degrading pornography" anything that shows bondage, ejaculation, menstruation — or lactation. Breast-feeding advocates had better watch out.

In drafting this bill, the Tories have managed to disregard the diligent (if futile) attempts of some feminists to distinguish between "erotica" ("healthy" depictions of sex) and "pornography" (dangerous dirty pictures). That distinction has always been ambiguous — just as so much of sexuality itself is. Those who have naively assumed it's easy to tell "good" sex from "bad" sex are now dismayed that the government has lumped together "normal" sexuality with "perversity." Not that a lot of other people didn't see that one coming.

No doubt the Tories went as far as they did, sweeping all sexual depictions into potential illegality, to make sure they had a few bargaining chips to sacrifice to the opposition. Many people appalled by the breadth of the definition of pornography in Bill C-114 will be satisfied if they can rescue "normal" sex from the clutches of government censors (if they can ever agree on what "normal" sex is). They may, in the bargain, be willing to let the Tories have their way in other areas, especially those in which defenders of "normality" feel less comfortable. In the end, we could see the feds making a few concessions to reason — in exchange for the legal de-sexualization of adolescence, and the relegation of minority sexuality to the status of state-defined perversion. For some idea of how this might work in practice, we need only look as far as the current application of the Tories' recent Customs guidelines, which anticipate these Criminal Code "reforms," and which are indisputably anti-gay.

If you need any further confirmation of this hypothesis, consider that the organization the Tories are relying on to give credibility to their proposed anti-porn laws — the Interchurch Committee on Pornography — is headed by Hudson Hillsden, the man who is pressuring the Ontario government to drop the amendment to Bill 7 that would include "sexual orientation" in the anti-discrimination provisions on the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Now is the time to let your MP, and the editors and readers of your local newspaper, know what you think of the government's proposals. Anti-censorship and pro-sex forces (where are the sexologists and sex therapists in this debate?) need to join together locally, regionally and nationally in anticipation of the Justice Committee hearings on these bills, likely scheduled for the fall. And they need to analyze and criticize all the repressive aspects of these proposed laws, not just the most obvious absurdities.

– Chris Bearchell,
for the collective