Comic books confiscated at Canadian border on suspicion of obscenity

Marc Weisblott
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

Canadian Border Service Agency concerns over printed material might be viewed as a thing of the past when the same content can be transmitted online.

Concern over the importation of child pornography has kept the agency on alert, though, even if publishers risk having their motivations misinterpreted after random searches.

Pencil sketches that appeared to depict children in sexual content, from the book "Young Lions" by acclaimed Portland artist Blaise Larmee, raised a flag at the border in Buffalo last weekend. The publisher, Dylan Williams of Sparkplug Comic Books, hoped to sell copies at the annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival at the city's downtown reference library.

Williams pointed out to the agent the child-like characters weren't actually kids because a caption showed one of them talking about unemployment cheques, he explained in an interview with book industry trade publication Quill & Quire.

Nonetheless, the seized copies of "Young Lions" were sent to the CBSA's Prohibited Importations Unit in Ottawa to determine whether they can be sold in Canada. Books deemed to be obscene after such inspections are destroyed.

The incident wasn't entirely anticipated among independent publishers: The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund published an advisory in March about the legal hazards of crossing the border with either print or electronic material.

Documents obtained by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association last year confirmed Japanese anime had become a subject of growing concern.

An Edmonton man who pleaded guilty in 2005 to importing comics that depicted illustrated minors in sexual situations was spared jail time, but was barred from using the Internet for 18 months, given 100 hours of community service and fined $150.

"Young Lions" wasn't the only book confiscated from the rental car after the search last weekend, either.

Dylan Williams, who also crossed the border for the Toronto festival, had five copies of a fellow publisher's dark humour anthology "Black Eye" taken away after the agent flipped to a page that contained sexual and violent imagery.

The art teacher behind the project, Ryan Standfest, told Quill & Quire he had no intention to offend or outrage.

Now, based on the buzz about the seizure during the Toronto Comics Art Festival, he hopes to sell a few more copies than previously anticipated.

(Screen shot: blaiselarmee.com/younglions/)