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Publicity shot from Swedish film Patrik 1.5
Publicity shot from Swedish film Patrik 1.5

Andrew Steele

Straight to the border Add to ...

Canada enjoys a reputation as a tolerant society, but it is not always earned.

The challenging relationship between the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Canada's gay community continues, despite years of civil torts between importers of gay-themed materials and Canada Customs.

Under the law, the CBSA has broad powers to seize "obscene" materials at the border. However, obscenity remains a difficult concept to define in law. A famous U.S. Supreme Court decision saw Justice Potter Stewart candidly admit that the test basically boils down to " I know it when I see it."

The landmark 2000 Supreme Court ruling in Little Sister Book and Art Emporium v Canada (Minister of Justice) decided that Customs officials were implementing their broad powers in a discriminatory fashion and should be remedied. Basically, it was found that border guards were targeting and harassing materials en route to gay bookstores.

However, the Court upheld the law overall as a reasonable impingement on fundamental rights under Section 1 of the Charter.

Since then, Little Sister lost another decision in 2007, this one on the issue of funding the plaintiff to seek remedy in the courts.

That defeat basically ended the attempts to curb the powers of the border officials by Little Sister and affiliated civil liberties and gay rights organizations for lack of financial resources.

Often, Supreme Court matters seems foreign to the daily lives of Canadians. Matters of rights and obligations are awfully theoretical for people typically more concerned with getting home to put dinner on the table before 6.

But the latest example of CBSA seizures crystallizes the issue like none before.

Three films en route to the Inside Out film festival in Ottawa were held at the border.

One of the three is Patrik 1.5 , a Swedish film about a gay couple trying to adopt a baby. A typographical error lists their adoptive son as "1.5" but he turns out to be a 15-year-old homophobe with a history with the police. Hilarity ensues.

The trailer is available here on Youtube. (It is entirely Safe For Work, although in Swedish.)



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Patrik 1.5 is rated PG and appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008.

Needless to say, it wasn't stopped at the border on its way to TIFF.

I haven't seen the film, but the reviews make it sound like a heart-warming, if formulaic, situation comedy that is likely to offend next to no one .

The other two films - I Can't Think Straight and Clapham Junction - are basically the same: mainstream international films about relationships.

The CBSA provides no reason behind stopping these films. They just do. It's an unfortunate mechanism that allows for discriminatory targeting of people on the basis of Charter-protected identities with no recourse or appeal.

If the CBSA wants to do Canadians a favour, it will leaves this stuff alone and stop any additional prints of 2012 from entering the country. Another banal Roland Emmerich disaster epic poses a far greater threat to my well-being that these films do.

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