This looks like it’s going to be hot, literarcy and smut-tastic. Hear local authors read queer erotica and the Little Sister’s staff reading smut that was stopped at the Boarder. Queerotica is part of the Pride in Art Festival.

7:30pm | Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews)

$5 suggested donation

Little Sister’s Bookstore @ BCLA

Thanks to Janine Fuller for agreeing to speak, to Shannon LaBelle for convening this session at the BCLA conference, and to Ashley Dunne for the following session writeup.

Little Sister’s Bookstore: Fighting Censorship in Canada for Over 20 Years

Report by Ashley Dunne, SLAIS student

Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium is celebrating their 25th anniversary. They have been fighting Canada Customs for nearly just as long. This is because most of their books have gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender themes, which Canada Customs often deems “obscene.”

The store’s manager, Janine Fuller, came to the BCLA Conference to speak about how the discriminatory practices of Canada Customs affected Little Sister’s, and the country as a whole.

Since 1985, court battles against Canada Customs have cost Little Sister’s well over a million dollars. Their shipments have been seized, their merchandise incinerated, and their spirits crushed.

One effort to raise funds for the trials resulted in a book called Forbidden Passages. They wanted to have the book distributed from a Canadian distributor (so it would not be seized), but some major distributors refused to touch it for fear of being associated with Little Sister’s and having their other books flagged at the border.

Fuller described how the Canada Customs seizures had a huge impact on censorship in Canada, beyond the direct impact they had on Little Sister’s. Other bookstores stopped carrying Jane Rule and Armistead Maupin because they were afraid that their stores would start to be targeted by Canada Customs.

Even though Jane Rule earned a Governor General Award for The Young In One Another’s Arms in 1976, Canada Customs felt the book was too indecent to allow into the country. Another Jane Rule book, Contract With the World, was seized because the Customs officer thought it was “too political.”

Other materials that were seized in the 1980s included Gay Ideas, an academic book, along with other important information resources on AIDS and safer sex.

Strangely enough, these books were allowed into Canada when their destinations were the Vancouver Public Library and Duthie Books. During the trial, John Sheer, head of the regional office for the Customs post that seized the books, admitted that there was a memo for a “lookout” for Little Sister’s shipments. Customs had previously denied that they had been targeting the bookstore specifically.

Little Sister’s has appeared in the Supreme Court twice-once for their lawsuit against Canada Customs, and once for a plea to get advanced funding for another lawsuit against Customs-and have lost both times. Customs stopped seizing books when they were in court, but they continue to operate as a subjective guardian of Canadian morality.

Canada Customs can’t control the Internet, though. Fuller questions Customs’ insistence on seizing books and burning magazines when so much “indecent material” can be found online. Their attempts at censoring material for our own good is really only affecting the book industry. Even then, it just affects some types of books for some types of book providers.

BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee sponsored the Little Sister’s conference session to inform delegates about the bookstore’s important battles against government censorship. While the Little Sister’s case involved a bookstore and not a library, Fuller reminded those in attendance that Canadians, and particularly librarians, need to be vigilant against all attempts to limit our freedom to read.

Voices Carry: a concert for intellectual freedom

The Vancouver Men’s Chorus is hosting a concert celebrating 25 years of Little Sister’s 25th anniversary and their long fight for intellectual freedom in Canada. The first concert is tonight May 3, 2008 at 8pm at the Commodore Ballroom, 868 Granville Street, Vancouver. They will be taking the show on the road next month with performances in Victoria June 7, Nanaimo June 8 and Kelowna June 28.

If you go to the concert find the little BCLA ad in the program and tell all your concert going friends about librarians, libraries and intellectual freedom.

Janine Fuller at SLAIS

Written by and posted on behalf ofA   Jon Scop

Janine Fuller ended her talk to a group of about thirty librarians and library students today by telling us that we inspired her, but Ià ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢d venture to say that it was Janine who provided a source of great inspiration to us. Janine has been the manager of Little Sisterà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s Book and Art Emporium in Davie Village since 1990, and has been the driving force behind the storeà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s courageous battle with Canada Customs almost continuously since then.

For those new to this struggle as I was, Customs routinely seizes materials shipped to Little Sisterà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s, mostly from the U.S., on the supposed basis that it meets a definition of obscenity that the government has applied much more stringently to gay and lesbian material, and applied vehemently to Little Sisterà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s in particular. Janine has devoted years of her life to a tireless effort to raise national awareness, as well as funds, as the storeà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s lawsuit against governmental censorship wound its way through the courts. The climax of the battle à ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ but certainly not the end à ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ came in 2000, when the Supreme Court of Canada issued a mixed ruling which recognized the unjust targeting of the materials, and put the onus on the government to prove items were obscene, but refused to strike down the laws that allow this censorship to continue. So the struggle goes on.

Despite a lingering cold, Janine led a lively discussion about the legal battles, as well as the importance that free access to queer literature plays in the lives of people from all walks of life. She was not afraid to show us her emotions; she dedicated her talk to Jane Rule, who testified at the hearings, as well as Nancy Fleming, former director of Canadaà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s Book and Periodical Council and pioneer of the Freedom to Read movement, who she informed us had passed away yesterday. Janine told us about some of Customsà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢ outrageous actions, such as seizing a book by African-American critic bell hooks because it “might be political.” She spoke of the importance of independent booksellers such as Little Sisters, as domination by the big chains increasingly determines which books are published. And she emphasized the central role of the community, of readers, of librarians, in the sometimes life-saving role of keeping information freely available to all.

Filtering Adult Workstations @ London Public Library

The management team of the London Public Library recommended that adult workstations continue to be filtered with a commercial internet filter (Netsweeper). They had done a pilot project to see what patrons and staff thought of having many adult workstations filtered. Not children’s workstations, but adult ones.

I like that they are transparent in making their reports available on their website (Internet Filtering Report, Appendix A (graph), Appendix B (Proposed revisions to Internet Policy), Appendix C (chart of URLs that were blocked and action taken), Appendix D (letters and feedback from the community) is not available online, Appendix E (titled: Themes (Viewpoints & Perceptions) in contrast to Realities on Filtering and Related Topics), Appendix F (results of staff survey)).

I have many issues with the content of the report.

First, pornography, sexually explicit images and extreme violence are cited as the reasons why filtering adult workstations is acceptable, yet they are not defined. What do they mean by pornography? Is it the same thing as something that is sexually explicit? What exactly is extreme violence? If they cannot define the reasons behind the push to filter it makes it difficult to discuss the issue. Not many people are going to argue that more pornography and extreme violence are a good thing.

Second, the questions for the staff survey are problematic. One of the questions is:

As a library worker, I think that filtering public internet workstations for pornography and extreme violence is ________.

Staff could reply with good, neutral, bad, and/or add comments. About 2/3 of staff answered good. Of course. The question is really flawed.

Third, Themes (Viewpoints & Perceptions) in contrast to Realities on Filtering and Related Topics (Appendix E) is really worth a read. Here’s one of my favourite bits:

Theme: London Public Libraryà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢s internet filtering is censorship.
REALITY: Censorship occurs when expressive materials, like books, magazines, films and videos, music or works of art, are removed or kept from public access because they are considered objectionable.

London Public Library is limiting access to sexually explicit website content by placing filters on the majority of machines in the library, in an effort to mitigate the risk of unintentional exposure by customers to these kinds of images, which are inappropriate in a public setting. Approximately, 20% of the workstations are not filtered. Therefore, unrestricted access is still available on dedicated workstations to all websites and information.

Similarly, London Public Library may only have one copy of a book in our collection and this same copy must be accessed by all cardholders, sometimes resulting in a waiting list.

I detest the idea that is the public library’s job to protect me from unintentionally seeing things that I may find offensive. I doubt that this is actually the intention though. I imagine that it is the the staff who are keeping me from viewing legal material that they find offensive or objectionable.A   I am confused by the illogical inclusion of the holds example.A   How is filtering content for adults similar to people waiting to sign out a book?A   I don’t get it.

I think there are also class politics at play. There is an arbitrary distinction between good (middle class) erotic art and bad (working class) pornography. Middle class people can also look at whatever they want on their home computers. If it’s legal, people who need to/want to use the library’s computers should be able to access it, without the additional layer of an internet filter, or a nosy staff member.

Third, they block the Little Sister’s bookstore’s website (see page 2 of Appendix C). Under the heading background “identified by customer” is listed and it was decided to keep blocking the site because of “pornography”. Part of Little Sister’s website has a gay male pay-per-view porn section, but there’s also information about their court case, and queer literature. While some people may also find the sex toys section offensive, they are not pornographic. There’s also no mention in the report of a heterosexist bias in filtering – filters often block out queer content, even if it isn’t about sex.

Fourth, I find the following statement from their internet policy confusing:

SCOPE: The London Public Library endorses as policy the Statement on Intellectual Freedom of the Canadian Library Association. At the same time, the London Public Library supports and is supported by the Canadian Copyright Act, the Criminal Code of Canada and other legislation governing access to expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity.

The wording of this is very unclear. I’m not sure if they are suggesting that the Statement on Intellectual Freedom is incompatible with Canadian laws.


With this type of unbalanced report, I don’t imagine that the Board would be equipped to decide to not have filters on adult workstations. I’m sure we will learn of their decision in the next couple of days.

no-bake sale



At the BCLA conference this April we ran a no-bake sale with the Information Policy Committee to raise awareness and money for the Little Sister’s Defense Fund. We asked conference participants to make a donation for a brochure that explained the history of the Canadian Boarder Services Agency’s ongoing seizures of books bound for Vancouver’s famous queer book store. This has been going on for over 20 years.

Not only did we have a great time, dressing up in pink wigs and vintage aprons, but we raised $420 in just 2 hours.

We were also successful in passing a motion at the AGM for the BCLA Executive to send letters to the Minister of Justice and opposition party critics to affirm that people need access to legal resources to be able to challenge government policy. Letters will also be sent to the Minister of Public Safety and opposition party critics to request the Minister to instruct Canadian Boarder Services Agency to stop censoring.