American Faces Prison For Bringing Manga To Canada On Laptop

If you're travelling to Canada, a country whose customs officials are notorious for playing the role of morality police, you'd better leave your Japanese comics at home - whether they're in print or digital.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced today in a press release that it's forming a coalition to support the defence of an American citizen facing criminal charges for manga discovered on his laptop while crossing from the US into Canada. If convicted, he faces a minimum of one year in prison on charges of child pornography.

To quote from the CBLDF press release:

The facts of the case involve an American citizen, computer programmer, and comic book enthusiast in his mid-twenties who was flying from his home in the United States to Canada to visit a friend. Upon arrival at Canadian Customs a customs officer conducted a search of the American and his personal belongings, including his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. The customs officer discovered manga on the laptop and considered it to be child pornography. The client's name is being withheld on the request of counsel for reasons relating to legal strategy.

The images at issue are all comics in the manga style. No photographic evidence of criminal behaviour is at issue. Nevertheless, a warrant was issued and the laptop was turned over to police. Consequently, the American has been charged with both the possession of child pornography as well as its importation into Canada. As a result, if convicted at trial, the American faces a minimum of one year in prison. This case could have far reaching implications for comic books and manga in North America.

These charges come at a time when sexual material in manga is being challenged both in Japan and abroad. In 2007, Christopher Handley, a manga collector in Iowa, was charged under the PROTECT Act for possession of child pornography when custom officials intercepted and opened a package for Handley from Japan. Police later came to his house with a search warrant and charged him based on several "obscene" manga found in his collection. Despite a vigorous defence by the CBLDF and comic luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and manga expert Matt Thorn, Handley finally pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to six months of prison time.

In 2010, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed Bill 156,an expansion of a dusty 1964 law titled the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths, giving the Tokyo government far-reaching powers over minors' access to the Internet and mobile devices, and criminalising the sale to minors of

any manga, animation, or pictures (but not including real life pictures or footage) that features either sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life, or sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal, where such depictions and / or presentations unjustifiably glorify or exaggerate the activity.

Promoted by its sponsors with "protect the children" style rhetoric, the bill passed despite a petition against it signed by numerous manga artists and a threat by major manga publishers, including Shonen Jump publisher Shueisha, to boycott the 2011 Tokyo International Anime Fair (the boycott threat never materialised, as the fair was cancelled due to the earthquake). The bill goes into full effect on July 1, but already the Tokyo government has released the names of the first six manga targeted under the bill.

Pointedly, unlike America's PROTECT act, Tokyo's Bill 156 does not prevent the sale of graphic adult manga as long as they're labelled "18 and up"; thus, the bill would actually not criminalise the kind of hardcore manga Handley was convicted of possessing, but instead targets borderline titles such as teenage sex comedies, gritty manga involving taboo subjects such as prostitution and incest, and so on.

Efforts at manga regulation in the Japan and the US aren't unrelated; as Japanese pop culture writers including Frederik Schodt and Roland Kelts have pointed out, censors in Japan are invigorated by the efforts of their counterparts in America and Canada. Many of the sponsors of Bill 156 used arguments like "shame on us for permitting stuff that isn't permitted in the West."

As Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, a major sponsor of Bill 156 recently elected to a fourth term after the passage of the bill, said in a press conference in December 2010 (from the blog of manga translator and anti-Bill-156 advocate Dan Kanemitsu):

It's clear there are perverts in this world. Sad people with warped DNA…I don't think Western societies would tolerate such things very much. Japan has become too uninhibited.

Asked for information about what manga attracted the ire of Canadian customs in the current case, CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein said, "My understanding with regard to the material at issue is that it includes fantasy comics drawn in a variety of manga styles. One of the items is believed to be a doujinshi, or fan-made comic, of the mainstream manga series Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Another is believed to be a comic in the original Japanese depicting stick-figure like figures in various sexual positions. In all cases, the authorities are targeting expressive art, and not any photographic evidence of a crime."

Of course, the exact nature of the artwork found on the laptop is irrelevant to the free-speech issues involved. (The art for this article is generic Nanoha artwork.) In Handley's case, some of the public sympathy for Handley evaporated after his conviction when it was found that the titles he was accused of possessing weren't yaoi manga or mildly kinky manga sex comedies, but explicit heterosexual lolicon (Lolita Complex) adult manga.

Other legal travellers who have had comics seized or searched by Canada's infamously zealous customs officials, such as Elizabeth McClung, who was targeted in 2006 for carrying Miki Aihara's YA romance manga Tokyo Boys & Girls (customs officials were suspicious of the word "boys" in the title), have accused Canadian authorities of singling out gay and lesbian materials.

But regardless of the sexual activities depicted, imaginary is imaginary, artwork is artwork, and defending free speech means defending objectionable and offensive speech as well. Handley's guilty plea means that no legal precedent was set in his case, but this chilling new case is another round in the legal battle over protected free speech, and of course a major struggle for the accused, whose life could be ruined if convicted of child pornography.

The CBLDF, together with the Canadian Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, is soliciting funds for the defence, which they estimate will cost $150,000 Canadian. For more information see the CBLDF press release here.

Republished from io9


Comments

    A man might go to prison even though he didn't hurt anyone. It's sad to know that law is aimed to protect a bunch of drawings and fictional characters, rather then the human being. Who knows what might happen to him in prison, especially with a pedophile charge which he didn't commit.

    It may seem trivial, personally I don't think he's done anything wrong. However, when you enter a country you enter on their terms and abide their laws. There are plenty of laws in plenty of countries that people wouldn't believe. Him being a yank has NOTHING to do with this, he has entered Canada, he must respect their laws. As any Canadian must respect US laws.

    This is a misleading title. They just draw the line when it comes to creepy child porny material.

    I doubt you'd get busted for bringing in Pokemon or Naruto comics.

    "sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life"
    ...ah, but is, e.g., tenticle rape of a minor "illegal in real life"? Who would be criminally responsible? The tenticles?

    More seriously, govt's need to publicise that these materials are illegal, both to merchants and consumers. It is not obvious to me that, e.g., a crude cartoon of simpsons characters having sex is "child porn" (or porn at all), yet an Aussie was convicted of possesing child porn for posessing exactly this. I can't imagine he was a pedo -rather I suspect he just had a crude sense of humor. Banning this crap is fine, but citizens need to be informed of the law.

      Yeah that poor bastard is on the sex offenders register. There definitely needs to be more education, it's too easy to get caught out. Besides how do they proove that that chibi girl being fucked by the green demon IS underage. Unless stated in the video they can't.

    I can't put into words my frustration at reading this article. At what point does this obvious abuse of process be noticed and put down by someone with half an iota of power and at least that much of a brain?

    Good job North America!

    Genuinely disgusted, S. M. Oakmore.

    I'm sorry but if these comics would have been refused classification in either the US, Canada, or both, then this material is clearly illicit and would have been illegal to purchase in these countries anyway. Just because "someone" deems it art doesn't make it so.

    Australian here, so I've not very much experience with crossing boarders in a car, but is it common practice for a customs agent to check not only the contents of the car and personal items, but a full search of the contents of someones phone and laptop? I'd have flat out refused to provide a password or the key to my phone.

    Digging around someones laptop looking for customs risks (if thats the correct term) seems a little like grasping at straws to me. It's not custom's job to search peoples PCs. I honestly wonder why he consented to this anyway.

    I hope he gets off scot-free. Regardless of whether it's meant to be a drawn picute of a nude underage girl or a scantily clad version of the same, it's still just a drawing. The whole deal with stopping the trafficing of child pornography is to stop the exploitation of children. To imply that a drawing is child pornography is a waste of everyones time. Idiots.

      The article clearly states that he "flew in" to visit a friend. He definitely didn't drive across.

      Either way, I concur with your sentiment in that he should've refused to give them his password. He shouldn't have had the contents of his equipment searched without reasonable cause (saying this as an Austrlian Armchair observer of North American Security Policies and Procedures).

      I would have refused to comply with the search. Even if they were hunting for illegal substances, gaining access to my computer does not help them in that manner.

    ugh... I wish people wouldn't confuse the issue of restricting content available to children, and child porn.

    also, during the internet filter talk in this country, the government has constantly made (or used to anyway) a clear distinction between child porn, and other RC content.

    child porn is not just about it being against societies standards, as is the case with most RC material, it isn't even about being against material that could be dangerous on a practical level, such as bomb making instructions or other material that promotes or simulates things that would be illegal if done in the real world. the key difference, and extra crime with child pornography, is in supporting the sexual abuse of children, specifically, by watching child porn, you are promoting the creation of child porn, a process which involves the sexual abuse of children, and probably other crimes.

    and there is the KEY difference between photographic child porn, and manga child porn. assuming that no children are actually used in anyway, in the production of the manga, then it does NOT have this same characteristic that elevates child pornography above normal RC content.

    as such, it fits into the same level as many other types RC content. and is DIFFERENT, indeed, NOT AS SERIOUS, as normal child porn.

    obviously, I'm not promoting either.
    all I am saying is, photographic child porn is CLEAR EVIDENCE of a serious crime taking place. and it is easy to see that anyone involved in the chain, including the end user, could be considered an accessory.

    manga - simulated - child porn, on the other hand, is a matter of socialite acceptance, and any practical determent that would come from its consumption (does it create sex offenders etc). and that is for democracy and an expert panel of psychologists to decide. just like other types of X rated porn, extreme violence, and all other things that the classification board deal with.

    well, at least that's how I see the issue. to be convicted of "child pornography" and just thrown into the same bucket as people who consume photographic child porn, without a second thought, is wrong, there is FAR from a negligible difference between the two.

    Oh dear. I just opened this article, and downloaded the above image onto the computer.

    Guess I'd better turn myself in...

    Seriously...
    I was on Jury Duty a few weeks ago, involving a CP case. There were over 600 pictures we had to look through. Real kids. That guy I am glad to say is behind bars and will stay there for a while.
    This case? What a joke. The definition of Child Pornography relies first of all on whether or not the person(s) in the image are or appear to be under 16 years of age. Right there we have a problem in that these DRAWINGS are not PEOPLE.

      Really cheapens the idea of justice that the sicko you mentioned is treated the same as this guy with comics.

      Kinda implies that drawn manga images are the same as the suffering endured by children having horrible things done to them.

      Ridiculous.

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