Comic books focused on crime fighters such as Superman and Batman have been childhood staples for thousands of Canadians for nearly a century. Today, they inspire massive ComiCons in major cities throughout the world and have become the focus of TV spinoffs and critically acclaimed movies. However despite their wide appeal to those of all age groups, the sale crime focused comic books in Canada is technically illegal. Under section 163 (b) of the Criminal Code, anyone who makes, prints, publishes, distributes, sells or has in his or her possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation a crime comic has committed a criminal offence. Considering the current popular sale of the crime genre of comic books in Canada and the lack of prosecution of such offences over the past five decades, it is obvious that this section of the criminal code does not seem to match social values of Canadians. Then why then is it still in our Criminal Code?
The history of the provision dates back to 1949 when the Canadian Parliament validated the claims of American psychologist Fredric Wertham that crime comics make children more likely to commit crimes. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Government of Canada signed the amendment to the Criminal Code into law. In 1953, a comic book distributor was convicted under section 163 of the Criminal Code of Canada when he sold a Dick Tracy comic book to minors. A similar case in 1954 brought the issue of the publication of crime comics to the Ontario Court of Appeal when the publishing companies Superior Publishers Limited and Zimmerman were convicted of a similar offence. While they won at the Court of Appeal, the reason was not because the law was in any way out of scope or unenforceable, it was found that the specific comic sold could not be defined as a “crime comic”.
Since 1954, no further convictions have been brought against those selling “crime comics”, but in 2013 when the Conservative Government passed their omnibus C-13 amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada, they left the section in despite changing many others. More recent Charter cases regarding the entirely of 163 (b) and any other section of the Criminal Code aimed at preventing the “corruption of morals”, such as R. v. Butler, challenge the modern applicability of those sections. Nonetheless section 163 (b) of the Criminal Code of Canada is an interesting example of an archaic principle based on past Canadian morals that is still codified in law today.
Blog post written by Brock University Co-Op Student Alex Hobbs