A Vancouver theatre group plans to go ''all the way'' with a new play that features live sex, an act that exposes the ambiguous nature of Canadian obscenity laws.Public Sex, Art and Democracy, which premieres at Vancouver's Art of Loving erotic art store and gallery on June 26, will include a scene that involves two amateur actors both engaged in oral sex.
The producers say the performance of an explicit, not simulated, sexual act will make Canadian theatrical history.
"To my knowledge this is the first time in Canadian art and Canadian theatre history that [a play]features an explicit act of lovemaking," said John Ince, a Vancouver lawyer and erotic-arts activist who co-owns the store where the play will be presented.
He said the on-stage sexual acts will be "hot and titillating," but not gratuitous.
Sarah Bloor, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, said the production will not be investigated, charged or closed down unless "someone in the audience files a complaint, saying they were offended."
"The sexual performance is an intrinsic part of the message of the play, which is to question why depictions of graphic sexuality, even in a loving context, are so frightening," said Mr. Ince, who co-wrote the two-part play with visual artist Martin Guderna. Tanya Seltenrich, a theatre designer, and Dana Williams, a classically trained chef and self-described "erotic adventurer," are the real-life couple who will perform the sex act.
The performance raises two obvious questions: Is this theatre? And is it legal?
Mr. Ince admits that "agit-prop theatre" might better describe the performance, which will begin with him and Mr. Guderna, as themselves, discussing what they call the "undemocratic" nature of Canadian sex laws.
"Basically, the law states that you can't present an obscene performance and then defines obscene in mumbo-jumbo. My argu-ment is that the law is incoherent."
Mr. Ince said he is prepared to take the play on the road.
"If it works well here, we're going to take it across the country. Even if it does get shut down, I'm prepared to litigate this one all the way, whatever they charge me."
It's an argument that has worked for him before. In 1985, Mr. Ince successfully challenged Canada Customs in the Luscher case, and persuaded the Federal Court of Appeal that provisions allowing agents to seize "immoral and indecent material" were unconstitutionally vague.
Thomas Luscher was charged after he tried to bring into Canada on Jan. 4, 1982, a 40-page magazine that contained sexually explicit scenes involving a man and a woman. Customs officials seized the magazine, saying it contained material "of an immoral or indecent character" and therefore contravened a section of the Canada Customs Tariff Act.
Mr. Ince is currently challenging the B.C. director of film classification, arguing that the bureaucratic system has suppressed sex-education films and that provinces should withdraw from the censorship arena.
When contacted by The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Police Department could not provide a clear answer as to whether the play was legal or not.
"If the play involves violence, it would certainly be a violation of the Criminal Code," Ms. Bloor said. "But is a live sex act obscene? I'm not quite sure. If the audience is paying, that makes it a little different."
Bruce Ryder, a law professor at Osgoode Hall and constitutional expert on issues of sexual censorship, said an act of public sex might contravene the Criminal Code, but added that it would be hard to predict whether the producers of this play could be successfully charged in court.
"To describe our obscenity laws as ambiguous is kind," he said. "I don't know of any case where judges have said live sex acts are illegal, but there have been plenty of successful prosecutions that involved far less explicitness.
"Where this particular performance would fall, I can't say. It's not a situation that has been directly addressed by the precedents. My guess is that most judges would say Canadians are not ready to tolerate live sex acts in front of a paying audience. But it would depend on which judge hears the case."