Imagine traveling to another country and having your comic books and electronic devices seized. Then, you’re arrested because of the books you read. This may seem like a horror story, but for one comics reader, it’s come true.
Thus begins the story of one traveler. We make a lot of jokes about the US/Canadian border but as tales of the comics that were seized on the way to TCAF make clear, Canadians take their ideological border security seriously.
And one fan is paying the price. A US man in his mid-20s who was fluing to Canada to visit a friend had his computer searched and manga images on the computer were deemed to be child pornography. The charges against him could result in a year in jail.
While the name of the man and the images in question have not been released, this could be me or you.
In my years as a journalist. I’ve been emailed tons of stuff, found a ton of images on the web and downloaded them. The lines between pornography and a fun story for kids in Japan are poorly drawn, admittedly, and one man’s moë is another man’s filth. These images could be sitting there in some forgotten image folder, waiting to be found. They could be on your cel phone or your iPad, or your laptop, all of which can be searched at a border crossing. While child pornography is to be decried in all its forms, drawings, as repugnant as they may be, do not constitute an actual crime, any more than drawings of a murder constitute a killing.
The CBLDF has agreed to take on the man’s case — the defense is expected to cost $150,000 and has even been joined by the long dormant Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, a Canadian version of the CBLDF.
The story is getting much play on Twitter and blogs and more details are to come. Here’s the beginnings of how you can help. PR below.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund today announces that it is forming a coalition to support the legal defense of an American citizen who is facing criminal charges in Canada that could result in a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison for comics brought into the country on his laptop. This incident is the most serious in a trend the CBLDF has been tracking involving the search and seizure of the print and electronic comic books carried by travelers crossing borders.
CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “Although the CBLDF can’t protect comic fans everywhere in every situation, we want to join this effort to protect an American comic fan being prosecuted literally as he stood on the border of our country for behavior the First Amendment protects here, and its analogues in Canadian law should protect there.”
The CBLDF has agreed to assist in the case by contributing funds towards the defense, which has been estimated to cost $150,000 CDN. The CBLDF will also provide access to experts and assistance on legal strategy. The CBLDF’s efforts are joined by the recently re-formed Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, a Canadian organization that will contribute to the fundraising effort. Please contribute to this endeavor by making a tax deductible contribution here.
The facts of the case involve an American citizen, computer programmer, and comic book enthusiast in his mid-twenties who was flying from his home in the United States to Canada to visit a friend. Upon arrival at Canadian Customs a customs officer conducted a search of the American and his personal belongings, including his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. The customs officer discovered manga on the laptop and considered it to be child pornography. The client’s name is being withheld on the request of counsel for reasons relating to legal strategy.
The images at issue are all comics in the manga style. No photographic evidence of criminal behavior is at issue. Nevertheless, a warrant was issued and the laptop was turned over to police. Consequently, the American has been charged with both the possession of child pornography as well as its importation into Canada. As a result, if convicted at trial, the American faces a minimum of one year in prison. This case could have far reaching implications for comic books and manga in North America.
The CBLDF’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to aid the case by raising funds to contribute to the defense and to help the defense with strategy and expert resources.
Brownstein says, “This is an important case that impacts the rights of everyone who reads, publishes, and makes comics and manga in North America. It underscores the dangers facing everyone traveling with comics, and it can establish important precedents regarding travelers rights. It also relates to the increasingly urgent issue of authorities prosecuting art as child pornography. While this case won’t set a US precedent, it can inform whatever precedent is eventually set. This case is also important with respect to artistic merit in the Canadian courts, and a good decision could bring Canadian law closer to US law in that respect. With the help of our supporters, we hope to raise the funds to wage a fight that yields good decisions and to create tools to help prevent these sorts of cases from continuing to spread.”
Find out more on the case here. To help support the case, you can make a monetary contribution here.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.