A recent feature in a Toronto gay and lesbian magazine has some people questioning the uneven ways in which obscenity laws are being enforced in Canada.
The August 1 issue of Xtra magazine reported on, and published a reproduction of, “The grand prize winner” of the Tom of Finland Foundation’s “Second Emerging Erotic Artist Contest.” The winning entry, by Garilyn Brune of southern California, depicted a priest performing a homosexual act upon Jesus Christ.
The article noted that judges for the award included Meeka Walsh, editor of the Canadian arts magazine Border Crossings, and Winnipeg gallery director Wayne Baerwaldt. It added that organizers are hoping to publish the piece and other entries in a coffee table book and it a contact address in Los Angeles, Ca. for more information.
The piece follows a controversy earlier this year which erupted over Xtra’s publication of an ad for the “Virgin Mary Immaculate Conception Condom.”
While no official action has yet been taken against the latest piece, its publication falls almost in tandem with criminal charges laid against pro-life protestors Rosemary Connell and Bill Whatcott for picketing outside a Toronto abortion with signs depicting the dismembered head of an unborn baby scalded to death through a saline abortion.
Police officers called to the scene had decided that the signs were obscene and Whatcott was eventually charged with “mischief of enjoyment of property.”
The Xtra piece also comes upon the heels of a continuing controversy over the American novel Foxfire, which is being taught as part of an English program at a public high school in Milton, Ont. Foxfire is rife with vulgar language and tales of sexual assault, violence and rowdy behavior, but despite protest from some parents it persists as part of the curriculum and a justice of the peace recently ruled that obscenity laws cannot be applied against it.
Christian activist and minister Ken Campbell condemned the latest Tom of Finland foundation depiction as a “blasphemous defamation of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” and a “vile and vicious attack upon the sinless Son of God and Christian clergy.”
Campbell said the piece “constitutes a hate crime which violates all rules of decency and civility and which outrages and sensitivities and values of all but a depraved, barbaric, tiny minority of Canadians.”
He wrote a letter to Ontario Attorney General Charles Harnick urging that action be taken under Canada’s hate laws and forwarded copies to Premier Mike Harris, all other Ontario MPP’s, the media and nearly 300 evangelical clergy. No one has yet responded.
“We can’t do anything formally under the hate laws without (Harnick) giving permission,” said Campbell. “It’s the old story of perversity going around the world seven times before truth, justice and goodness get their shoes on.”
“The only thing that seems to be obscene is a public photograph of what goes on inside an abortion facility,” added Campbell, referring to Whatcott and Connell.
Renata Brum, executive secretary of the anti-defamation Catholic Civil League in Toronto, said she “Has been getting a lot of phone calls and faxes from people who are concerned” about the Tom of Finland piece.
She added the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the U.S. is also outraged by the work, but both the Canadian and American organizations are handcuffed in what they can do.
“Obscenity laws are very difficult to get charges on,” said Brum. “Even pornographers are difficult to pin down, and blasphemy laws haven’t been used since the turn of the century.”
Section 163 of the Criminal Code of Canada, in subsection 8, deems obscenity to be “any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects; namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence.”
However, subsection 3 notes that no one is to be convicted of an offence if he establishes that “the public good was served by the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence and that the acts alleged did not extend beyond what served the public good.”
Section 296 of the Criminal Code, meanwhile, provides for “blasphemous libel,” but subsection 3 notes no one can be convicted of this offence if he is “expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.”
Brum said the CCRL has chosen to go route of appealing to Xtra’s advertisers and their boards of directors. It is also considering joining the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in writing a joint letter.
She predicted that the defence of “artistic expression” will be raised in favor of the Tom of Finland piece. “The whole question of art will be brought to the forefront…The definition of art has degenerated to what anyone wants it to be – any kind of personal expression.”
Elinor Brown, managing editor of Xtra, said the magazine received only one letter in protest of the Tom of Finland piece and she defended the decision to publish it on principal.
“To print that someone had won the thing and not given readers an idea of what the piece was, would have been a bad idea.”
‘Does Xtra go out of its way to offend people? No. Whenever we report on winners of awards, we always publish a photo of the winning submissions … I thought long and hard about it. I didn’t want to practice self-censorship on the issue. I’m not particularly a fan of that kind of artwork.”
She said the Tom of Finland Foundation is named after a Finnish artist who drew “pictures of over endowed naked men” and who has become somewhat of an icon in parts of homosexual community.
“The Tom of Finland Foundation does sado-masochism,” said Brown.
“That’s part of their mandate, showing that stuff.”
They’re part of the gay community and it would be wrong to hide them away.