Saturday, I was surrounded by six officers, two watching me as the four others went page by page through my books looking for pornographic images and other evidence I was a sexual predator. How did this happen? I said a word which Canada Customs considers dirty: Manga. As soon as I declared that I had some of the japanese inspired comic books called manga, a Custom’s officer said, “That’s the stuff from Japan; there is some really obscene and filthy stuff.” No, I pointed out, these was printed in America and very mainstream. As more and more officers were called in, the six manga books I had were examined in detail. They were looking, they told me, for pornographic, obscene and adult material. “The age rating is on the back of each book.” (each manga book has ratings like 13+ or 15+ - mine were 13+). I was informed that I could have put different covers on or done anything else I could to get the pornography in and that if I spoke anymore, the books would be seized. So I stood there and watched my previously new books get examined page by page, thumbed through and pressed open because it was assumed if I read manga, that I was a sex offender.
That sounds like a joke doesn’t it. Except the exact same phrase “That stuff from Japan...” was used two weeks earlier on my last trip through Customs and my manga examined for the same reason; because Japanese manga is “really filthy stuff.” The reason I was so heavily raided this time, I found out afterward, was one of the manga titles had the word “boy” in the title, which “alerted” them to pedophile materials. Huh? Can someone please go get my next issue of the romance manga Tokyo Boys and Girls from the US? I’m too scared.
What I did know was that Canada Customs officers have a 20 year history of targeting and labeling “obscene” anything either with gay or lesbian content or simply owned by gays and lesbians. This is because the rules for what is “obscene” are so broad that they can fit almost any preconceived perception of a Canadian Custom’s official (under 1993 bill C-128 which includes not only anything perceived as “sexual” to those 18 or under, including kissing, but anything, including what is NOT in the picture/book, which is considered “harmful” to society: age of sexual consent in Canada is 14) . Canada customs has traditionally removed materials going to gay owners or stores and held them to a personal scrutiny, which is why for 10 years no one really cared if gay or lesbians were having books seized, until one week April 23 in 1993 when the Customs Agents, instead of separating the books to gay stores, went through the entire book stock and suddenly everyone from Christian book stores to Universities found notices that they had books seized for being “obscene”. What? Censorship! Canada briefly became outraged, Customs officials went back to targeting gays and lesbians and the media and outrage abated. Gay activism magazines such as On Our Backs and The Advocate have been seized, also HIV safety information sent up to gay stores during the 80’s along with hundreds of titles including the following classics and books of interest (but only if sent to gay bookstores or owners): Salome by Oscar Wilde, The Satanic Verses, Straight Heart’s Delight by Allen Ginsberg, Naked Lunch by Burroughs, Joy of Gay Sex, Joy of Lesbian Sex, Querella by Jean Genet, Women on Top (listed as Child Pornography also with the RCMP), Discontent: New Gay Writers, Lesbian Erotica, Nikola: Bride of Bigfoot (seized for a “lesbian encounter” description). They also confiscated a box of piercing jewelry that was going to a gay piercing store and the famous work “The History of Underground Comics” for “promoting bestiality” (there is an spoof Mickey Mouse who drinks, smokes and has sex). Amazon.com even has it's own list page: Books seized by Canada Customs
In 2004 a BC judge established that over 70% of all detentions by Canadian Customs are lesbian and gay materials and is “clearly targeting the gay community.” (seizures helped close the only lesbian bookshop in Victoria) The Canada Customs has no independent commission, no self regulation body and no one who oversees it. In 2000 Canada Customs was found to be unfairly targeting gays and lesbians in a systematic and corrupt way, and was given a “stern warning” but was noted in 2003 that so far Canada customs had done “nothing” to correct itself.
I found out about Custom’s non-regulated practices when I earlier witnessed (while waiting to pay GST on books) an older male Canadian Customs official (named Gary), after being informed of the age and mentally challenged status of a 15 year old girl, take her off for personal questioning. He did so after repeatedly refusing her legal guardian to accompany her before beginning to question her about her sexual history and relationships. When I called to report this I found that the person I was to report the behavior to was...Gary, the same guy who initiated it.
What I did not know on Saturday, was the Canada Customs has targeted manga for obscenity and child pornography prosecution, having charged a man in Edmonton six months ago for bringing in lolicon (sexual themed books of adults with young girls). The problem is, that since non of the customs officers I have encounter have any real idea about manga, all have viewed with suspicion, as an international artist found out when they were questioned for having “too many art books.” I also wonder if officials will know the difference between lolicon and Lolita & babywear. One is about sex with underage kids and the other is a style of clothing celebrating Edwardian childrens fashions which started in 2002 in Japan. The lesbian themed classic and multi award winning Kamikaze Girls is about a butch biker girl who falls for and comes to respect a Lolita girl (and yes, I brought that over from the states along with the girl manga magazine Shojo Beat which has advertisements for shops selling Lolita and babywear inside – that, thankfully they did not search page by page).
Linda was convinced the books were not taken away because the people examining them didn’t realize they were all same-sex themed because for those unused to manga, boys and girls often look the same. I buy gender bender/same sex romance manga books for enjoyment (maybe the links to Yuri manga on the side of the blog gave it away). And I am not ashamed of it, no matter how much they want to treat me like a sex offender. I buy them because thanks to the FCC and Canadian puritism I cannot find light reading which reflects the life of me and my friends. A typical alternative romance manga plot goes something like: Boy falls in love with beautiful boy who turns out to be a girl dressed as a boy who is trying to get a different boy (who is also a girl) to fall in love with her. By the time the first boy figures this out, he has fallen in love with another boy and concludes, what’s more important, love or society?
Canada customs rules mean that “Romeo and Juliet” cannot be brought into Canada (sexual themes in under 15 year olds) yet we all know that the heterosexual assumptions in the mind of the customs officials mean that in the same way most people think Pride Parades are about group sex, most officials assume if a lesbian is interested in something with gay/lesbian themes, then it is likely pornographic. DMP, who publishes the gay themed award winning series Antique Bakery won’t sell same-sex themed books or adult comics in Canada because their distributor Diamond, doesn’t want their other shipments of comics and manga seized (including when Canada Customs held a X-men comic shipment on the belief that X-men meant X-rated!). I will continue buying DMP books and I will continue bringing them across the border because I refuse to act as if I am ashamed (oh I feel ashamed and violated when they search me, accuse me of lying, of trying to sneak in pornographic materials, debate if I am a sexual offender and then let me go with the attitude of “we’ll be watching you”), over something I have no need to be ashamed of. The issue is in their head, not mine, and if I won’t give in to the dozens of different groups and societal pressures to try to put me back in the closet then I sure am not going to give in to Canada Customs. Welcome to the Gulag!
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