The webcomics blog about webcomics

Followups For You

Firstly, let me direct you to yesterday’s post, which has a correction; I carelessly misspelled Larry Holderfield’s name and didn’t notice until he was kind enough to post a comment. Mea culpa.

Secondly, this is making the rounds today, about the Canada Customs manga case from 2010. I last brought up the issue about nine months ago in response to Ryan Sohmer’s take on things. Long story short, the case has been dismissed, the accused is again a free man, albeit some US$45,000 poorer in making his defense.

The real reason I wanted to bring this up is because I didn’t want anybody to think Damn child molestin’ perverts gettin’ off on technicalities. The man at the center of the case, Ryan Matheson, got to tell his side of the story for the first time, and there were things in his statement that stopped me in my tracks:

I was charged with possession and importation of child pornography before I was ever even admitted into Canada. The police and the customs officers at the time didn’t know what the material was and called a police investigator to ask for help. The investigator, without being physically present and having no way of actually seeing the images in question, told the police that they were sure that it was child pornography.

To be detained on the word of somebody who can’t see the material in question? That’s … okay, I am going to be careful with my words as I have in the past traveled to Canada for work, and likely will again in the future, and have some experience with the customs and immigration inspectors. That part of Matheson’s account is entirely believable. I’ve been waved through the border within 45 seconds, and I’ve been held for more than an hour and told I can’t possibly be admitted¹.

In both of these cases, I was going to the same place (my employer’s local office) for the same purpose (teach a class) for the same reason (nobody in Canada qualified to do so, or we’d have saved the expense of shipping my ass up there) with the same credentials (a letter from my employer’s legal department stating the regs under which I was coming to Canada, the text of which had been run past the Canadian Consulate in New York). The only difference was the person I talked to, and how much of a bad day he or she had before I showed up. This is not a good basis for determining who to charge with felonies that carry mandatory imprisonment².

Then we got to this part of Matheson’s story:

I politely asked an officer at the police station if I could speak to the U.S. embassy, but she replied, “Are you serious? I don’t think we have that here,” and walked away. I was never able to talk to the embassy, and even when my brother arrived for my bail, he too was denied from seeing me at all.

Yeah, okay, I get it; thanks to the proliferation of American TV, people all around the world try to exercise Miranda rights, not realizing that’s a US thing. But this wasn’t Miranda, this was Matheson being denies his absolute right to consular access, which is guaranteed by treaty. The (shall we say) capricious nature of Customs Canada is lengthy and well-documented, but I’d have expected the police in the national capital (where, after all, the US Embassy is located) to not have tried this shit.

My bail conditions tightly restricted my use of computers and the Internet. My conditions had even specifically named a single company I could work for³, which prevented me from advancing my professional career.

For the record, the defense spent US$75,000 to get to the point that all criminal charges were dropped, and the one regulatory charge that Matheson plead guilty to was dismissed by the judge. The Crown must have spent much, much more than that, only to finally come to the realization that nothing was done wrong by Mr Matheson, no children were protected, society did not become safer. If I lived in Canada, I’d be outraged that my tax dollars were spent so fruitlessly to give the appearance that something was really being done, you bet.

This is why we need the CBLDF/CLLDF. Without their support, Matheson may well have been forced to plead guilty to criminal charges, been imprisoned, lost his means of support, and been tagged a sexual offender for life in at least one country.

Open question then, for Ryan Sohmer and others who have dismissed the work of the CBLDF on these cases where things are murky: any change in your opinion? Do you feel your children/society are less safe, or was this a waste of effort on the part of the Crown? Do you still believe that [E]ven within the comic book industry, there are plenty of other people who need defending to the exclusion of Mr Matheson? Anything you want to say, I’ll run it here, unchanged. Let’s get a dialogue going.

¹ Which later turned into a a berating lecture on what a huge favor the inspector was doing me by not immediately putting me on a plane back to the States, which eventually turned into Yeah, okay, come on in.

² That would be Matheson’s case again, not mine.

³ What in the actual fuck?

As a Canadian, and someone who has self-published zines and comics and been an APA central mailer and so on for over 20 years, I am disgusted that Customs still gets away with this shit. It doesn’t protect anyone, it doesn’t do anything except make us look like a joke, cause distress or worse to innocent people, and detract from Customs officers turning their attention to actual problems.

I will be writing my MP after posting this comment, I hope my fellow Canadians will do the same.

The issue may look like it is directly the fault of Customs Canada, but in actuality it has WAY more to do with our Federal government.

Since the conservatives took office, PM Harper has voiced a strong opinion on criminal issues like drug trafficking and child pornography. Matheson ended being swept up (like many others) in an attempt to scare out others.

There was a case here in my hometown about a signmaker who was charged with distributing child pornography. After the local media went wild with speculation and assumptions of the guy trading pics of toddlers and elementary school kids, we found out later that the guy was sent a link via email by a spammer. He proceeded to click the link, (which led to a porn site with the offending material) and his machine was infected with a worm that sent out more emails of the same kind to people in his address book.

Someone complained to the police and he was automatically branded a pedophile. Lost his business, was falsely accused, and shamed out of the community – all due to a witch hunt. Scary stuff.

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