Restricted Entry

Patty Osborne

I got a copy of Restricted Entry, by Janine Fuller and Stuart Blackley (Press Gang) as part of the ticket price for a benefit for Little Sister's Bookstore & Art Emporium. For those two of you who don't already know, Little Sister's has taken the government to court over Canada Customs' harassment of gay and lesbian authors and booksellers. Restricted Entry is an account of that trial. I avoided reading the book, which I assumed would be a dry and ponderous report filled with legalese, until several weeks later when a friend of mine urged me to give it a try. She said it was "a real page-turner." So I picked it out of the pile beside the bed and dove in. My friend was right. This book reads like a courtroom drama—I guess because it is one. The larger issue here is censorship: who is doing it and how? It turns out that Customs officers are doing most of the censoring, and that most of the stuff they are censoring is addressed to gay and lesbian bookstores. In fact, in order to supply government lawyers with examples of banned books, Little Sister's had to ask Duthie Books, a mainstream bookstore, to import the books. When Duthie imports books, nobody cares, but when Little Sister's does, Customs officers get nervous. And when these officers get nervous they can detain a book until the bookstore proves that the publication is not obscene—a lengthy process during which many book shipments get "misplaced." The authors give us excerpts from the testimony of many of the witnesses, both for and against, as well as a glimpse of the lawyers' strategies. Interspersed throughout the book are short personal essays by Janine Fuller (co-author, and manager of Little Sister's). Here Fuller goes even further behind the scenes, describing, among other things, her appearance on "Front Page Challenge" and her dilemma over what to wear to an obscenity trial. Each chapter is divided under subheadings which reflect the wry sense of humour needed during this court case. My favourite is The Umpires of the Senseless. Another book that deals with the Little Sister's trial is a little chapbook called Detained at Customs (Lazara Press) which gives the full testimony of Jane Rule, an important witness for the prosecution. Rule shows us the impossibility of arriving at a definitive decision about whether a book is obscene, as so much depends on the person who is doing the judging. She goes on to speak eloquently about the importance of seeing books within the context of the culture from which they spring—in this case the gay culture. This chapbook is the fourth in the Discussions series, which includes work by Theresa Tait, Leslie Hall Pinder, barbara findlay and Ursula Franklin. These beautifully produced chapbooks can be obtained from Lazara Press, Box 2269, VMPO, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3W2, Phone (64) 872-1134/Fax (64) 874-6661.

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