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At Large - Not in Convenience
by Michael Coren

The article barely made the major daily newspapers. It was tucked away on a deep inside page, taken off the wire from the Canadian Press. "An adult magazine that features explicit nudes photos of teenage girls has been pulled off the shelves of Mac's Milk and Becker convenience stories in Ontario," it read. "The magazine Barely Legal, which features 18-year-old nudes, was criticized this week by a media watch group that said it caters to pedophiles and exploits young women."

You could, as they say, have knocked me down with a feather. Victories against pornography are rare in contemporary Canada, and capitalism is seldom willing to lose out to morality. But then came the sting. Don Hand, vice-president of customer service for Silcorp Ltd., owner of both chains, opined that "we shouldn't be selling it, as far as I'm concerned. We stick more to the core magazines, the Playboy and the Penthouse and so on." Pause. "This one doesn't put us in a good light and it slipped through."

Oh how I love it. Consider the logic. Under a cloud of nonsense no bigger than a Don's Hand, we are told that Playboy, Penthouse, and the rest put Becker's and Mac's Milk in a good light. This is the state of affairs we have reached. A businessman can be proud that in stores where children buy candy there are magazines full of photographs of artificially inflated women pretending to enjoy posing for pathetic voyeurs.

From the other side, the managing editor of Barely Legal was, naturally, angered by the decision to remove his journal from so many Canadian stores. Speaking from Los Angeles, the man described the action as "tragic" and added that "this type of magazine is hot right now and we have a good product."

The adjective "tragic" is usually applied to something like a fatal car crash, the cot death of a baby, or the revelation that a young mother is dying of cancer. Now it applies to the removal of a smutty magazine playing games with the law and with the illegal and immoral tendencies of pedophiles. As to the fact that Barely Legal is "hot" at the moment, I am not at all surprised. The attempts to legitimize pedophilia as "inter-generational sex" by some radical groups and their fellow-travellers in the academy and the media have gained ground. How long, I wonder, until the term "pedophobia" is thrust into our vocabulary to condemn anyone who objects to the rape of children?

I have made the case for a more effective and thorough censorship of pornography in the past and there is not room in this column to reiterate the argument. I will, however, make a few general comments and respond to some of the letters that came to me after last year's column.

The standard defence is to ask who will do the censoring. We might just as well apply such a question to every aspect of the law. Who will do the judging, who will do the arresting, who will frame the laws? Judges, juries, police, legislatures. We could, perhaps, organize committees composed of church leaders, family groups, artists, and community representatives to work in an advisory capacity.

What I find interesting and revealing is that the people who usually ask such a question tend to be the first to call for state control of political opinions, broadcasting, comments regarding sexuality, hiring practices, and the relationship between the genders. I have never understood why so many opponents of the censorship of pornographic magazines also want the CRTC to regulate what we see on our televisions and hear on our radios, particularly when it has a strong conservative or Christian content.

Another argument is the now tired one that pornography does us no physical harm. Neither does the flasher, but he is still a criminal. The man who exposes himself to a passing woman or child breaks the law and will be arrested. He does his victim no physical harm but the damage is nevertheless real and nevertheless punishable. Similarly, emotional abuse and verbal sexual harassment are now considered crimes both under the law and in civil society. Again, there is no direct physical harm.

As to the claim that censorship cannot work, it already does. We have quite stringent censorship in Canada in the shape of our hate laws. When they were introduced, their opponents said that the country's entire way of life would change and that freedom was dead. All that actually happened was that a few fascist groups went out of business and a greater note of empathy and sensitivity was injected into our society.

So there we have it. The magazine is Barely Legal and the arguments for it and its siblings in slime are barely consistent. And when the guy behind the counter asks me if I "want it hot," I'd like to think he was referring to my hamburger.


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