Canadian Adult Store Appeals to Supreme Court

Matt O'Conner
VANCOUVER — The Canadian Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal filed by a store seeking to recover legal costs up to $1 million related to its ongoing battle with Canada Customs.

Little Sister’s, which stocks items for gay adults, filed suit against Canada Customs in 2002, after the agency refused to allow certain items it deemed obscene to enter the country.

Specifically, Canada Customs seized 18 copies each of volumes 18 and 24 of the Meatmen comic book series destined for sale at Little Sister's. Meatmen is a series of 24 anthologies that feature the comic artwork of gay male artists, many of which are erotica intended for an adult audience.

Little Sister’s owner Jim Deva said that although the seized volumes contained depictions of sadomasochism, the comics were not obscene, and that by turning away the items, customs officials were practicing illegal censorship. Further, Deva says the government should have to pay the store’s legal fees.

Deva is basing his argument, in part, on another case Little Sister’s had waged against customs dating back to 1985 that was finally settled in Canada’s Supreme Court in 2000.

In that case, the majority found that Little Sister’s had “suffered prejudice and harassment” at the hands of Customs. The court gave Canada Customs 30 days to prove that material was obscene, which they did not. The Court also awarded partial costs to the bookstore, and granted importers the right to sue Customs for costs as well as special and punitive damages caused by incorrect seizures.

The store decided to exercise that right last year in relation to the Meatmen case, and in July 2004, a court in British Columbia ordered the federal government to pay the bookstore's court costs. In February of this year, however, the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed the lower-court ruling because the courts have not decided whether the seizure was legal or not.

The laws regulating importation of adult material had been re-written after Little Sister’s 200 victory to specifically forbid certain types of comic books.

“Suddenly, out of the blue, the licking of boots was not acceptable,” Deva said, citing an example of material now considered obscene. “If they had known more about that fantasy, and about that sexual act, perhaps they wouldn't have thought of it as dehumanizing and degrading.”

When the case goes before the Supreme Court, the Court will decide only whether Little Sister’s is entitled to legal costs, not whether the Meatmen volumes are obscene, which may make any decision extremely complicated. A date for the hearing has not been set.