Would you like to see “Timothy and the Terrorist” in your local public library? Written by John Robin Sharpe, the story deals with young white boys who are sold as sex slaves to an evil sultan, and includes graphic details of man-boy and boy-boy sex acts, beatings, and even a circumcision. Described by Sharpe himself in a letter as “sadomasochisticfaggotkiddie porn,” such stories typically scare the dickens out of parents, yet Justice Duncan Shaw of the B.C. Supreme Court recently decided “Timothy and the Terrorist” and Sharpe’s other fictional stories contained “some artistic merit,” and therefore could not be classified as child pornography.

Justice Shaw’s decision is only a partial help for Sharpe, who was found guilty of possessing 400 photographs of pre-pubescent boys in sexual poses, and could face up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in May. Asked by reporters to describe the contents of his stories, Sharpe refused, and became angry when they asked him if he is a pedophile. Sharpe responded: “Look, you people, oh, I don’t know, you’re sick.”

Justice Shaw claimed that “the scenes portrayed (in Sharpe’s stories) are, by almost any standard, morally repugnant,” but drew a clear distinction between written and photographic materials. Several experts, including three professors of English, examined the stories to determine if they possess a “recognizable literary form.” Lorraine Weir, an English professor at the University of B.C. testified that Sharpe “has a level of expertise in his craftsmanship and in his controlled use of literary forms,” while James Miller of the University of Western Ontario’s English Department compared Sharpe favourably to the Marquis de Sade. On the other hand, Dr. Shaberhan Lobrasbe, a forensic psychiatrist with expertise on pedophiles, testified that child pornography reduces adult inhibitions toward sex with children and can even motivate pedophiles to commit offenses.

Law enforcement officials and pro-family advocates were outraged by the decision, which was released in late March. Detective Noreen Waters of the Vancouver Police said “anyone who looks at this material is going to be horrified,” and called on Parliament to change the child pornography law “in some way to protect children from this type of material.” Indeed, Liberal MP Dan McTeague wrote to the prime minister asking the government to overturn rulings protecting child pornography under the Charter, which he said was “justifiable when those limitations protect the most vulnerable of Canadian society – its children.”

Janet Epp Buckingham, the general legal counsel to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told reporters, “Mr. Justice Shaw says that to be child pornography, a piece of literature must actively tell readers to sexually abuse children, yet evidence shows that portraying such sexual activity in a positive light does encourage pedophiles to abuse children.” In an article for Reality magazine, REAL Women of Canada’s Gwen Landolt wrote that the artistic merit exemption must be eliminated from the existing child pornography law, “otherwise, this ruling will only serve to encourage pedophiles to continue to write and distribute material that encourages the exploitation of children. In this latter regard, it is important to note that once this material – no matter how squalid and disgusting – is found to be ‘artistic,’ there will be no restrictions on its distribution.”

Interestingly, civil libertarians in Canada tend to agree with critics of the ruling that the artistic merit exemption is problematic. National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote that “police argue that even written materials can be used by pedophiles to induce their victims into believing that sex with adults is appropriate. But if that is the case, then it’s hard to see why literary merit should be any excuse. Why prosecute only poorly written filth?” Coyne’s words were echoed in the Toronto Star by Rosie DiManno, who wrote that “a more sensible Criminal Code – as opposed to the vote-desperate child-porn legislation rammed through Parliament by a reeling Mulroney government in 1993 – would steer clear of artistic merit entirely. It requires a completely subjective analysis. Or as was demonstrated in this case, a laughable and clumsy attempt to assess the artistic merit of a written piece.”

Speaking to The Interim, libertarian lawyer Karen Selick said she agrees with Coyne that fictional stories should not be outlawed. “If you can think something and then don’t have the freedom to write it down, how much freedom do you have? If we can’t write things down, we don’t have any freedom of thought,” said Selick.