Child porn challenger wins artistic argument; acquitted of distribution

Canadian Press

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

(CP/Chuck Stoody)
John Robin Sharpe, whose case helped shape Canada's child pornography laws, is surrounded by reporters outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Tuesday. (CP/Chuck Stoody)

VANCOUVER (CP) - John Robin Sharpe, whose case has helped shape Canada's child pornography laws, won his argument that his graphic writings, some of them violent, held artistic merit and shouldn't be considered criminal.

"I find there is some objective established artistic value to Boyabuse," Justice Duncan Shaw ruled in a decision Tuesday. During his second trial in January, university professors called to testify by Sharpe's lawyers likened the stories in Sharpe's Boyabuse to literary greats such as Charles Dickens and James Joyce.

But another expert called the writings childish and crude. A psychiatrist who works with sex offenders testified Sharpe's writing was among the most violent he had ever read.

Sharpe has been the pivotal character in Canada's child porn debate.

Shaw heard Sharpe's original trial in 1999 and agreed with Sharpe that Canada's child pornography law contravened freedom-of-speech provisions.

The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that ruling.

The Supreme Court of Canada, however, struck it down and instead upheld Canada's law with two exceptions.

One of them was artistic merit.

The high court ruling last year cleared the way for Sharpe to be tried again on charges of possession of child pornography and distribution of it. But the ruling also opened the door to allow Sharpe to argue his penned works held artistic merit.

Sharpe admitted that some photographs found in his possession in his Vancouver apartment could be considered child pornography. Shaw convicted him on those charges.

But Sharpe was acquitted of the more serious distribution charges relating to his own works.

Besides works with artistic merit, the Supreme Court also exempted material created privately and not for distribution, such as personal journals and drawings.

As well, the high court said people can possess video recordings or photographs of themselves, but they must not depict unlawful sexual activity, must be for private use and be created with the consent of all involved.

In Canada, the age of consent for sex is 14 but one must be at least 18 to lawfully take part in pornography.

Any material that highlights the sexual depiction of genitalia or the anus of someone under the age of 18 would be considered child porn, the court ruled.

© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press

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