Canadians seem like a peaceful, tolerant folk, but they have a record of seizing a lot of material at the border, including, this week, several copies of the comics anthology BLACK EYE. Editor Ryan Standfest has a complete account in the link. Basically cartoonist Tom Neely was carrying five copies of the book across the border, when the books were seized. Neely writes:

They are being sent to officials in Ottawa for “review.” Which probably means they’ll go into some politician’s

personal collection of smut. … they took ‘em. I tried to get them to just ship them back to me at home, but they said they were required to send it to Ottawa for review. If they found the material to be “obscene” they would take “further action.” I asked what “further action” meant and (the customs guard) said they would just destroy them, or that there was a chance they might ship them back to me. It was the page of Onsmith’s gags that they first saw. I tried to tell them that it was “parody” and “humor” and the rest of the book had essays on the history of dark humor… The customs guy was really cool and understanding, but he said he just couldn’t let them through. I just hope “further action” doesn’t involve being arrested the next time I try to cross the border. They went through everything in our car. Opened every suitcase and looked through every book.”

The anthology is described on the website as “A new anthology that collects original narrative comics, art and essays by 41 international artists and writers, all focused on the expression of black, dark or absurdist humor.” with contributions from R. Sikoryak, Ivan Brunetti, Stephané Blanquet and the like, so this was a top notch production.

TCAF seems to have been the “Great Escape” of carrying subversive material over the border into Canada. In a post on the story at The Comics Journal, Standfest notes that Sparkplug’s Dylan Williams also had his copies of Blaise Larmee’s “Young Lions” confiscated due to a misunderstanding over imagery.

While, as noted, Canadians generally seem like a laid-back, tolerant lot, they actually have pretty strict standards for what can be brought into the country, and this isn’t the first incident of this kind. Four years ago, a bunch of gay-themed comics were confiscated by Customs; manga has also routinely been seized.


  1. I think the main focus shouldn’t be trying to go around the law, but changing it. I think it’s a real shame to hear about books being confiscated because they are “obscene” or “inappropriate.”

  2. The car I was riding in on the way to last August’s Fan Expo in Toronto was stopped by Canadian customs. They are VERY thorough. Nothing was seized, but it took them forever and they weren’t particularly pleasant about the whole thing. Although I don’t expect to go back anytime soon (at least not to Fan Expo) and I’m no expert on this stuff, shipping comics seems like a better way to go.

  3. Two things:

    First, no, you can’t just ship them to Canada. Packages sent through the mail go through Customs, too. Mail gets intercepted and opened and checked. That’s why LGBT bookstores have a hard time ordering some of the material they want to stock. There’s a chance that you mail package might not be randomly selected for inspection, but there’s also a chance it would, in which case you’re no better off than if you tried carrying it in with you when crossing the border.

    Second, it’s important to note that none of these books have officially been “banned” from entering in Canada. They’ve been confiscated and will be sent to a review board where they will be evaluated. I check the quarterly list of reviewed material pretty routinely and based on what usually gets approved, I’m going to say the odds are that all of the material mentioned in this post will be cleared.

    The problem is not that our laws are stricter than other countries, it’s that the definition of what is “obscene” is too vague and that some (many?) of the customs agents are either overzealous or stupid or too scared to make a judgement call, so they confiscate anything they have the slightest doubt about.

    I’m not in any way trying to defend this practice. It pisses me off like you can’t imagine and I think the system is terrible and needs to be fixed. I’m just trying to give some information to put it in context. It’s embarrassing that material like this gets confiscated at our border. It reflects poorly on us. But I also don’t want people thinking that these books are banned or considered obscene by Canadian law. Until we get the results of the review, that’s not the case.

  4. Yeah, blame the custom officials rather than Canadians. Just as I wouldn’t jump to blaming Americans for the way TSA officials behave.

    Basque does a good job in explaining the problems and unfortunately there’s yet to be a big enough case to say get the attention of anyone in government to try to fix it. Especially now that Canada has unfortunately elected a Conservative majority at the federal level, I seriously doubt there will be any changes in the next few years. :-(

  5. Pretty much every package I receive here in Canada from US gets opened and inspected. I just expect it. Doesn’t matter what it is, a piece of cabinet hardware or a GN.

    The worst part is sometimes having to go to a courier office in an industrial park and pay customs import duty and handling fees to actually get the package.

  6. I never knew that Canada’s customs were so strict. That whole “obscenity” thing I would expect from an Arabic country, NOT our northern neighbors…

  7. I live in Canada and as @Basque said, the law about obscenity is rather vague and can be interpreted differently the custom staff. They sometimes seize material that we can buy legally in any store within our borders…

    I’m importing “graphic comics” regularly and so far, only packages from Amazon Japan have been opened and they didn’t seize anything.

    They are mostly looking for child abuse (virtual or not), heinous propaganda and “unbearable” sex or violence depiction.

  8. Canada gets a lot of things right, but I wish we were as vigorous as our American cousins are in the defense of free speech. Canadians’ “laid-back” nature too often turns to apathy where this issue is concerned.