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During the 1950's there was a social movement against the pornography industry in Canada. Religious and Feminist groups were concerned about the harmful effects regarding the danger and degradation of women. The opposition to this movement was that pornography was a freedom of expression and sexual orientation. This brought about many political debates and controversies about what is ethically right and what is a personal freedom. This created many problems for the Canadian government on how to legislate pornography and up hold the Common Rights of Canada.
First Legislation on Obscenity and Criminal Law
In 1959 the Canadian government passed the first law regarding obscenity after a social movement by feminist groups. The Canadian law stated "For the purpose of the Act, any publication of a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence shall be deemed obscene." The addition of this law did not settle the conflict between Liberals and Conservatives over the value of pornography and sex itself. Everything was based around one question: Were representations of sex socially and morally dangerous or sexually liberating?
During the 1980's another Feminist movement began because they felt the current law didn't do anything to protect women and it didn't criminalize pornography in any way. Feminist groups argued that pornography oppressed women and it would influence men to believe that this degrading behavior portrayed in adult entertainment is acceptable and something must be done to change it. However, not all Feminist believed in this movement. This particular group went under the name Feminist Against Censorship. This special group was opposed to censoring pornography because it would give power to the men in the Canadian government power to control women's rights: it's the epitome of sexism.
Some of the Feminist leaders in North America said that current laws interpret text in such a way that the government ignores the realities of women's lives. In other words, the Feminist group says, the law is too subjective and it must be thrown out and a completely new law be instated that will do away with pornography completely. In order for women to change this law they would have to prove that men who consume pornography also behave in this way by degrading and dehumanizing women. At this point in time there was no evidence supporting that if a man watched pornography that he was going use violence or demeaning behavior towards women.
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Another group that had an opinion on this matter was the conservative religious groups. They argued that pornography was a danger to marriage and good moral values. These religious groups believe that sex is a gift from God and should only be between a man and his wife. However, conservatives did agree with the Feminist Against Censorship on the fact that sex does not degrade or dehumanize women when practiced in the right context. Sex is something that is equally shared between a man and women. The religious groups were fighting to protect what was given as a gift from God and not for it to be abused as entertainment for the public eye.
Mobilization of Science: Fact vs. Morality
Both Feminist and Conservatives joined forces to censor pornography on the basis that it degrades sex and oppresses women. In the late 1980's R.E.A.L Women of Canada stated that "scientific research was now available and that it unequivocally demonstrates the harm and danger that sexually explicit material inflicts on women and society in general." A 1987 study indicated that viewing sexually explicit material causes a loss of respect for women and dehumanizes them in the process In addition the viewing of sexually explicit material leads to an addiction for such material and an increased desire for even stronger material" (R.E.A.L Women of Canada, 1987.5 (1) Reality).
Conservatives also agreed with the Feminist group on scientific evidence. Through the help of scientific research it was proven that men exposed to pornography lack the ability to maintain a committed relationship. This problem stems from the attitude men are dominate and sex is only for pleasure and not an expression of love. Conservative groups felt strongly about this being a health hazard for men addicted to pornography and it is a great danger to family relationships. (R.E.A.L Women of Canada, 1987.5 (1) Reality)
The more a person is constantly exposed to explicit material the more likely this person is to accept premarital and extra material sexual affairs as normal behavior. The idea of having multiple sexual partners rather than being faithful to one decreases their ability to form sound marriage bonds (Interchurch Committee on Pornography, 1987).
The alliance between Feminist and Conservative religious groups shows the true strength of science. Both groups are working for one cause based on solid scientific facts that pornography is degrading to women and society as a whole. These two groups are using this evidence to gain a political view and convince the government to censor pornography in Canada.
Attempts at Creating Conservative Law
Conservative groups in Canada are pushing their beliefs into the political realm. By electing conservative leaders will allow them to push their own agenda for the common good of the country. This agenda the Conservatives are pushing is led by the mission of abolishing pornography in Canada. The surprising thing about this is the fact that Conservatives have joined forces with the Feminist movement to ban pornography backed by scientific research. Both groups want to establish a common good for Canada and propose strong moral values.
The problem with abolishing pornography is that it may infringe on basic common rights. These common rights include preference of sexual orientation and freedom of ones own physical body. Just because Conservatives want a country with a strong moral compass doesn't allow others to express themselves and their own personal beliefs. That would go against everything democracy stands for. As the fight continued in the late 1980's and into the 1990's civil liberty groups joined Conservatives and Feminist Against Pornography. They agreed on the basis that pornography was harmful and degrading to women. However, they would not help in the fight to criminalize pornography because science didn't prove a significant threat to women and not enough of a threat to block freedom of expression.
On one hand you have one group of feminist fighting against degradation of women and on the other hand you have another group of feminist fighting against sexism and censorship. A feminist against censorship, Lisa Steele, who was an art teacher, was able to demonstrate that pornographic codes were not confined to sexually explicit material or the violent material that the anti-pornography movement defined as pornography. Lisa Steele's analysis on society showed how advertisements, literature, fashion and mainstream films used pornographic ideas in order to make money and entertain. This was no different than what the adult entertainment industry was all about. Feminist Against Censorship groups accused the Anti-Pornography Feminist that they were fighting against sexual explicitness over sexism. Sexism is what Feminist are supposed to fight to eradicate not pornographic material.
In 1986 the Bill C-114 was proposed and it would emphasize child sex abuse and not sex. Most commentators argued that this bill was an example of the "power-hoarding fallacy." This bill could prohibit hugging, kissing, and even hand holding in public. It would also prohibit mainstream films from showing sex between two consenting adults claiming that it is intolerable. This drew major criticism from film makers and various different artists in the entertainment industry.
On the other end of the argument a handful of Anti-Pornography groups complained that the bill didn't go far enough into detail to prohibit harmful and degrading material. They also voiced concerns over leaving the door open for interpretation which would still allow explicit material to be shown. They pressed that the bill would be more detailed and cover more harmful material. In the middle of all of this you have conservative religious groups who were satisfied with the bill. However, Bill C-114 never made it to the house and it died on the order paper in the summer of 1986.
Bill C-54 was proposed that would allow access to erotica only for people 18 years or over. This bill also required that no intercourse could be shown such as oral, vaginal, anal and or menstruation and ejaculation. Also, there is no room for any violent, child, or degrading pornography that would harm any thing or anyone. This received high praise from some groups except from entertainers, gay and lesbian community and artist. They argued that this was being driven by the fear of "kiddy" porn and limited sexual expressions. Another point made was that you can watch a violent movie as long as it didn't have sexual content was unjust.
Bill C-54 came under attack from almost every angle and it created a mixed bag of reactions. The religious groups said it was too liberal and the other side said it would deny personal freedoms. The Canadian government couldn't make anyone happy so the scrapped Bill C-54 in 1987.
In 1992 the Canadian Supreme Court condemned any more legislative attempts at criminalizing pornography. They deemed this necessary because they believed Canada didn't have a problem with pornography. As of now the Canadian government goes by section 163 (8) of the criminal code states "any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitations of sex, or of sex and anyone or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence is obscene."
This attempt at criminalizing pornography is the reason democracy works so well. Each part of society is allowed to voice concern over problems in their country and be able to resort to their elected officials to make sound judgments. The government took into account the obscenity and harm it may cause people and on the other hand understood that their should be freedom of sex. The government made the right decision by allowing pornography based on freedom of expression but drew the line at horrific acts and violence.
Interchurch Committee on Pornography. 1986a. Statement of Principle and
Recommendations in Relation to Pornography: A Response to the Report
of the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution.' March.
R.E.A.L Women of Canada. 1984a. Submission of the R.E.A.L. Women of Canada
to the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution.' 1987.5(1) Reality.