Friday, July 24, 2009

FOE anniversary noted

I am on the e-mail list for the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee. Every other day or so, I have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the history of free expression in Canada, thanks to the FOEC's intrepid researcher, Franklin Carter. It's a fascinating, sometimes baffling history. Today I received this note from Franklin:

Food for Thought

Fifty years ago, the distinguished lawyer F. R. Scott successfully defended Lady Chatterley's Lover (a novel by D. H. Lawrence) in a Canadian court against a charge of sexual obscenity. Thanks to Scott, Canadians may read this classic of modern literature without suffering any interference from the Canadian state.

Scott even penned a few lines of poetry in 1964 to commemorate the event:

I went to bat for the Lady Chatte
Dressed in my bib and gown.
The judges three glared down at me
The priests patrolled the town.

But this important legal victory is poorly documented by the historians of literary freedom in Canada. I can't find a decent book about it anywhere. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one has noticed the fiftieth anniversary either.

Franklin Carter

A quick search reveals the Supreme Court of Canada did not manage to settle all the various appeals of this case until 1962. Perhaps in 2012 we will all bust out our Lawrence for a celebratory anniversary read.

BTW, the Supreme Court's ruling is some good reading in itself:

Under the definition, there must be a characteristic which is dominant and this dominant characteristic must amount to an exploitation of sex which is undue. The search for such a dominant characteristic involves the reading of the whole book and also involves an inquiry into the purpose of the author. One cannot ascertain a dominant characteristic of a book without an examination of its literary or artistic merit, and this renders admissible the evidence of the author and others on this point. There was real unanimity in the opinions of the witnesses that the book was a true and sincere representation of an aspect of life as it appeared to the author. The phrase "undue exploitation" is aimed at excessive emphasis on the theme of sex for a base purpose. Measured by the internal necessities of the novel, there was no such undue exploitation. There was no more emphasis on the theme of sex than was required in the treatment of such a serious work of fiction. No matter whether "undue exploitation" is to be measured by the internal necessities of the novel itself or by offence against community standards, this novel does not offend.

Imagine a simpler time, when we asked our busiest judges to consider literary interpretation as evidence.

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