CBC Digital Archives

Artist busted for child pornography

In the 1960s, police busted a gallery owner for an installation of nudes. More recently, when an artist filmed a cat being killed and eaten, the artist was locked up. Even if the country's definition of obscenity has transformed over time, for decades the debate has stayed the same: Is art censorship an act thwarting obscenity or an Orwellian control?

media clip
On Dec. 21, 1993, police bust Toronto artist Eli Langer and seize 40 of his works that depict children and adults engaged in anal and oral sex. It's the first time police use the new child pornography law to arrest and censor an artist. One artist, who worries the new law will target gay and lesbian art, defends Langer: "Just as we're breaking the silence...about child abuse, to have this work seized is a very cynical move."

Proponents of the law originally sought to curb a growing ring of child pornography photographs. Now it's up to a higher court to decide if Langer's works can be tried under the new law.
• The banned exhibit appeared at the Mercer Union Gallery. Toronto police charged Langer and gallery director Sharon Brooks under the new child pornography law.
• A court later dropped charges and Langer got back most of his confiscated paintings and drawings.
• In a hearing to decide whether the works were child pornography and should be destroyed, Justice David McCombs ruled in April 1995 that Langer's works were not illegal.

• Even though Langer's trial set a precedent for art expression in Canada, critics found his later works devoid of feeling. In 1999 R.M. Vaughan said his installation in New Work with "its reclining nudes, skeletal heads and spread-eagled nubiles" was a far cry from his Mercer Union exhibit.
Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Dec. 21, 1993
Guest(s): Elaine Carroll, Alison Griffith
Host: Alannah Campbell
Reporter: James Murray
Duration: 2:04

Last updated: January 20, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Artists Busted: Censorship in Canada

In the 1960s, police busted a gallery owner for an installation of nudes. More recently, when ...

The Group of Seven: Painters in the Wildernes...

Around 1912 a loosely knit group of artists began to paint Canada as they saw it. Sketch boxes...

1967: N.S. censors afraid of Virginia Woolf

The Nova Scotia Board of Censors bans the "obscene and blasphemous" film adaptation of Edward ...

1990: Saving Sniffy

As part of a Vancouver performance art piece, a furry brown and white rat named Sniffy faces d...

Stephen Harper's campaign mistake

In the 2004 race, a Conservative Party press release accuses Liberal leader Paul Martin of sup...

What should CBC do with Don Cherry?

After his notorious comment on visors, Canadians chime in on whether Cherry should be censored...