American Faces Prison For Bringing Manga To Canada On Laptop

American Faces Prison For Bringing Manga To Canada On Laptop

If you’re travelling to Canada, a country whose customs officials are notorious for playing the role of morality police, you’d better leave your Japanese comics at home – whether they’re in print or digital.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced today in a press release that it’s forming a coalition to support the defence of an American citizen facing criminal charges for manga discovered on his laptop while crossing from the US into Canada. If convicted, he faces a minimum of one year in prison on charges of child pornography.

To quote from the CBLDF press release:

The facts of the case involve an American citizen, computer programmer, and comic book enthusiast in his mid-twenties who was flying from his home in the United States to Canada to visit a friend. Upon arrival at Canadian Customs a customs officer conducted a search of the American and his personal belongings, including his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. The customs officer discovered manga on the laptop and considered it to be child pornography. The client’s name is being withheld on the request of counsel for reasons relating to legal strategy.

The images at issue are all comics in the manga style. No photographic evidence of criminal behaviour is at issue. Nevertheless, a warrant was issued and the laptop was turned over to police. Consequently, the American has been charged with both the possession of child pornography as well as its importation into Canada. As a result, if convicted at trial, the American faces a minimum of one year in prison. This case could have far reaching implications for comic books and manga in North America.

These charges come at a time when sexual material in manga is being challenged both in Japan and abroad. In 2007, Christopher Handley, a manga collector in Iowa, was charged under the PROTECT Act for possession of child pornography when custom officials intercepted and opened a package for Handley from Japan. Police later came to his house with a search warrant and charged him based on several “obscene” manga found in his collection. Despite a vigorous defence by the CBLDF and comic luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and manga expert Matt Thorn, Handley finally pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to six months of prison time.

In 2010, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed Bill 156,an expansion of a dusty 1964 law titled the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths, giving the Tokyo government far-reaching powers over minors’ access to the Internet and mobile devices, and criminalising the sale to minors of

any manga, animation, or pictures (but not including real life pictures or footage) that features either sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life, or sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal, where such depictions and / or presentations unjustifiably glorify or exaggerate the activity.

Promoted by its sponsors with “protect the children” style rhetoric, the bill passed despite a petition against it signed by numerous manga artists and a threat by major manga publishers, including Shonen Jump publisher Shueisha, to boycott the 2011 Tokyo International Anime Fair (the boycott threat never materialised, as the fair was cancelled due to the earthquake). The bill goes into full effect on July 1, but already the Tokyo government has released the names of the first six manga targeted under the bill.

Pointedly, unlike America’s PROTECT act, Tokyo’s Bill 156 does not prevent the sale of graphic adult manga as long as they’re labelled “18 and up”; thus, the bill would actually not criminalise the kind of hardcore manga Handley was convicted of possessing, but instead targets borderline titles such as teenage sex comedies, gritty manga involving taboo subjects such as prostitution and incest, and so on.

Efforts at manga regulation in the Japan and the US aren’t unrelated; as Japanese pop culture writers including Frederik Schodt and Roland Kelts have pointed out, censors in Japan are invigorated by the efforts of their counterparts in America and Canada. Many of the sponsors of Bill 156 used arguments like “shame on us for permitting stuff that isn’t permitted in the West.”

As Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, a major sponsor of Bill 156 recently elected to a fourth term after the passage of the bill, said in a press conference in December 2010 (from the blog of manga translator and anti-Bill-156 advocate Dan Kanemitsu):

It’s clear there are perverts in this world. Sad people with warped DNA…I don’t think Western societies would tolerate such things very much. Japan has become too uninhibited.

Asked for information about what manga attracted the ire of Canadian customs in the current case, CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein said, “My understanding with regard to the material at issue is that it includes fantasy comics drawn in a variety of manga styles. One of the items is believed to be a doujinshi, or fan-made comic, of the mainstream manga series Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Another is believed to be a comic in the original Japanese depicting stick-figure like figures in various sexual positions. In all cases, the authorities are targeting expressive art, and not any photographic evidence of a crime.”

Of course, the exact nature of the artwork found on the laptop is irrelevant to the free-speech issues involved. (The art for this article is generic Nanoha artwork.) In Handley’s case, some of the public sympathy for Handley evaporated after his conviction when it was found that the titles he was accused of possessing weren’t yaoi manga or mildly kinky manga sex comedies, but explicit heterosexual lolicon (Lolita Complex) adult manga.

Other legal travellers who have had comics seized or searched by Canada’s infamously zealous customs officials, such as Elizabeth McClung, who was targeted in 2006 for carrying Miki Aihara’s YA romance manga Tokyo Boys & Girls (customs officials were suspicious of the word “boys” in the title), have accused Canadian authorities of singling out gay and lesbian materials.

But regardless of the sexual activities depicted, imaginary is imaginary, artwork is artwork, and defending free speech means defending objectionable and offensive speech as well. Handley’s guilty plea means that no legal precedent was set in his case, but this chilling new case is another round in the legal battle over protected free speech, and of course a major struggle for the accused, whose life could be ruined if convicted of child pornography.

The CBLDF, together with the Canadian Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, is soliciting funds for the defence, which they estimate will cost $150,000 Canadian. For more information see the CBLDF press release here.


  • – Email manga to self
    – Delete from own computer
    – Cross border
    – Redownload on the other side

  • Sucks to be him.

    Honestly though, I know how easy it is to be caught out by manga/anime. One moment you are watching something cool, the next the tentacles come out / go in.

    • Tell me about it. I remember watching an anime, ‘Strike Witches’. I had enjoyed watching a different anime, and someone who wrote a blog about it recommended this one.

      The first ep was a little suspicious, the second had me genuinely regretting ever seeing any of it. I did a little research and confirmed my fears – this stuff was actually DESIGNED to be soft-core pedo-bait.

      In the course of that research I unintentionally learned more than I ever wanted to about a disgusting niche of the internet’s dark underbelly.

      I purged the remaining few episodes I had been given, but my hard-drive still felt dirty.

  • “defending free speech means defending objectionable and offensive speech as well”

    Yeah… sometimes its a bit hard and you feel weird for siding with cases like this, but its the principle. Got to stick to your principles.

    But there’s this book, hmmm, classic literature these days oh what’s it called… Oh right. LOLITA. Its the freakin title, virtually everything that happens in that book ‘would be illegal in real life.’

    What I find so irritating is the phrases like ‘unjustifiably glorify’ etc, which means, if its not spun in a negative light, then its out. Which is just exactly moralizing, its preaching ethics through government mandate. Its not saying that Lolita sex (for example) shouldn’t be viewed, but if its there, we have to be teaching our readers/viewers that its a bad thing. So you can only tell certain kinds of stories, cause we say so!

  • Wow, they can go through your laptop, tablets and phones? Is this unique to Canada or do a lot of coutnries do this. What if you had sensitive business data on your device? Or private (legal) pictures/video?

    • Australian Customs pulled me aside and went through my laptop and camera photos when I came back from from a holiday in 2007, as well as going through my luggage etc. Some of the questions I got from the photos:

      “Who is this person in the photo?”
      “A friend of mine”
      “You said you travelled alone”
      “I did”
      “then how can you have a photo of your friend”
      “He was already there…”
      “But you said you travelled alone”

      “so what did you do over there?”
      “hung out with friends, touristy stuff I guess”
      “did you go out at night? meet any girls?”
      “not really”
      “what, you don’t like girls? are you gay?”

      etc… the questions were rapid-fire badgering designed to ‘catch me in my own lies’ sort of thing, it was absolutely horrible. I’ve never felt so angry or insulted in my life. Brisbane Airport Customs, fuck you.

      • Reality check. Customs of all countries are dicks, it is actually their job to be dicks. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, they cry themselves to sleep. You can get arrested and placed on the Australian sex offenders list for exactly the same thing. Child porn in Australia explicity includes anime.

      • You have got to freaking kidding me, surely there must be a way to fight this kind of stuff? I mean I get it freaking ‘security’ and all that but still.

      • Holy shit. I thought these were just horror stories and urban legends.

        Thankfully I’ve never been harrassed like that (other than ‘randomised’ bomb screens, yeah right). But that’s some intrusive shit.

      • Should have demanded to see his Id, recorded the details, then reported to his employers that he was making offensive homophobic remarks.

      • I got pulled aside because the bomb scanner went off when i went through.

        Forgot i was wearing clothes that i had worn in Woomera while using explosives in the army haha.

        Took awhile to get that point across lol.

      • Next time say: “Hold it, I want my lawyer present before I answer anymore questions”


        “before you go on, can I record this?”

        They usually act a bit nicer after that.

    • or at least rescuing actual human children that are being affected by the trade not a bunch of black and white pictures that could be anything.

      Not to mention that in some manga age’s are never specified. So what to one person is someone underage to another isn’t.

      Be interesting though if they decided that this manga was child porn because by rights that should mean they have to put out standing warrants against anyone associated with it’s production for producing and selling child porn. Which could be an issue for a bunch of people

  • There’s something they’re not telling here. You don’t go to prison for Pokemoon or Naruto. You to prison because your computer is filled with borderline (or outright) depicted child porn.

    That said, the world’s no safer place with this guy behind bars. Yes he’s probably a creepy deviant, but ultimately harmless. And the North American prison system is congested as hell already, where he’ll be thrown in with REAL criminals. This pasty white 20s otaku will probably be living out one of those fantasies, only on the receiving end.

  • i had no idea canada’s government was so invasive, i would flat out refuse some random dude going through my phone and computer, even if it meant getting back on another plane. screw any place like that my own stuff is my own stuff, its ludicrous to send anyone for jail for manga lmao

  • How does one tell the age of an anime character exactly?

    As a fan… they ALL look around 12-16 don’t they?

  • Ummm, I know I have a password on all my hardware. So what would they do then? In the case of traveling I would lock things down doubly so out of principal.

  • If you have pictures of underage kids having sex , be it real pictures or drawing of it , then your a dirty pedo and you deserve to be shot , let alone jailed. Why the f would you want ot look at that stuff in the first place.

  • No, this falls into the same nonsensical stuff that made a cropper of that guy who got done for having Simspsons porn on his PC. As Mr Gaiman noted, as others have, you must defend the indefensible or ‘icky’ or it will be a slippery slope to having to defend those things which you personally have no problem with etc. In the end, it is only black and white drawings, it is in all honesty art whether you approve of it or not. Don’t come crying when someone tries to do this about something you have no issue with but someone else strongly objects to.

    • How you can say kiddie porn is nothing is amazing. Be it a photo or a black and white sketch is irrelevant , the subject matter is still sex with minors and as such not only absolutely down right disgusting , but also illegal.

      • So I guess violence in video games is equivalent to the depiction of actual death and mass murder? The subject matter is still the violent extinguishing of a human life and as such is not only downright disgusting, but illegal!

  • There’s actually a pretty big difference in my eyes and in the eyes of many, most of whom think lolicon is either morally reprehensible or anything else of the like, and actual child abuse images. You will find the point of contention here is that despite the fact that said manga images are not illegal in a global sense, but that it’s all a matter of perspective and personal views. As another commenter elsewhere said ages are generally not even specified, and is just as ridiculous as the stuff that happened with Dead Or Alive Dimensions on the 3DS. And another commenter here says to him most of them look to be within such a widely varying age bracket that you could never be sure this was censorship over something specific. In the end I do not approve of the artwork, but I do believe I should defend free speech for art/literature in all it’s forms, even as Mr Gaiman suggests, the stuff we find ‘icky’. I would suggest a read of his blog for a more eloquently worded response to this issue.

  • Apologies for the poor layout of this previous comment, I am at work and only half paying attention to my own editing of comments.

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