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"Obscenity has fallen to the wayside": The decline of the obscenity provisions amongst law enforcement professionals in Canada

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Since the landmark Butler case in 1992, obscenity, or more specifically adult pornography, has "fallen to the wayside," in terms of legal consideration. Recent legal consideration has focused primarily on child pornography, and internet-based pornography, in a post-Butler era. Consequentially, the criminal justice system has experienced a shift in priorities; since Butler, only child-related obscene materials are subjected to criminal justice system scrutiny. This study explores the experiences of criminal justice system personnel to learn about shifts in law enforcement priorities since the enactment of the child pornography provision in 1993 and the role of the internet in this shift in priorities. I conducted 16 qualitative semi-structured interviews with criminal justice system personnel, guided by a feminist lens. Participants included current and retired members of the police (municipal and RCMP), Crown counsel, and defence lawyers; five participants had been involved in major court decisions of obscenity and child pornography (Little Sisters, 2000; R. v. Butler, 1992; R. v. Klassen, 2012; R. v. Neil, 2015; R. v. Sharpe, 2001). Analysis revealed a changing definition of obscenity, that material which historically would not have been tolerated for consumption, was now tolerated by the general community. More importantly, the perception emerged that obscenity was readily accessible via the internet, and no longer viewed as a priority for the criminal justice system. Participants identified the internet as a game changer; the availability and accessibility of child pornography online flooded the criminal justice system with depictions of the sexual abuse of real children that necessitated a priority response. As such, the focus and emphasis from the criminal justice system shifted away from violence against women and children, supported in Butler (1992), to child pornography, particularly that which features the sexual abuse of children. This shift in priorities resulted in a decline in law enforcement focus on obscene material, ultimately letting obscenity fall to the wayside. This research concludes with policy recommendations, including educating parents and children early about the issues with obscenity.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: MacAlister, David
Thesis advisor: Fabian, Sheri
Member of collection
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