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. . .In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me. . .
-- Martin Niemoller

The Porn Police

Busting the wrong move

Even as we applaud the Toronto Police Service's Sex Crimes Unit's efforts at investigating the 241 names unearthed as a result of an Internet child porn gateway site bust in Texas (for which one of the operators reportedly got a 1,335-year prison sentence), we are uneasy.

This new unit bears a striking resemblance to an earlier Fantino project from his time as London, Ont.'s chief of police. Then, as now, he made headlines by announcing his plan to fight the epidemic of child pornography. Then, as now, he argued for more resources to help him fight it better. And then, as is likely now, he ended up coming up with some genuine possessors and creators of child pornography.

But Operation Scoop, which later evolved into Project Guardian, was a debacle, even though it did, before the banner headlines retreated to page-eight retractions and reversals in 1994, make Fantino's career. He was a man who cared about our children, the investigation told us, and a man who will get the job done.

The problem with Scoop was that of the roughly 18 men arrested as part of what Fantino and his staff repeatedly called a kiddie porn ring, only two charges ever stuck (one count of possession for one man, one count of making and one of possession for another). The others, it turned out, did nothing wrong.

Like Buryl Wilson, a teacher, from whom the police seized 892 videotapes, which they then piled around themselves at a press conference to announce their major child porn bust, evidence of what a huge, disturbing problem it was (you may even recall the pictures, they made the news everywhere). After the police actually looked at the tapes, however, it became clear that not one of those tapes contained any child pornography, and at least some of them (such as Dolly Parton's 9 to 5) stretched the definition of pornography to the point of absurdity.

Though some may think that two child pornographers caught is a good day's work, this kind of better-safe-than-sorry attitude is incalculably destructive in a society that treats a charge of child porn possession, no matter how reckless, to be tantamount to a guilty verdict.

Paul Gillespie

The law on the books, specifically section 163 of the Criminal Code, defines child pornography in terms of sexually and/or anatomically explicit images of people under the age of 18. But in an interview with eye, Detective-Sergeant Gillespie's assurances that his unit was only going after what's sometimes called the extreme material, despite the possibilty of some overlap with more teen-oriented stuff, are evidence of a distinction many, maybe even most of us, make, but that the law (and in most instances its enforcers) ignores: the basic sex-ed distinction between sexually mature and sexually immature.

The best tool to get more resources is public panic, and the current panic is caused in part by a genuine concern for our children; in part by a law that defines child pornography in such a way as to make it unclear, at the upper age-range (16-17), if what you're looking at is illegal or not; and in part by officials -- like Fantino, or Rocky Delgadillo, the L.A. city attorney who prosecuted Pee Wee Herman for possession of old muscle mags -- looking to hitch their wagons to a sure-fire hot-button issue.

The law as it stands, because of a lack of understanding and a general atmosphere of panic, fails to make the crucial distinction between pedophilia, a sexual attraction to the sexually immature, and hebophilia, an attraction to the young but sexually mature. The first, if fully acted upon, is heinous. The second is a different matter entirely, covering as it does the tens of millions who thought Britney Spears' first video was hot. There may be problems with the sexual material that caters to hebophilia, but whatever they are, they are entirely different from those that stem from pedophilic porn, and we think it's about time that, as far as Fantino is concerned, if not the Criminal Code itself, hebophilic porn be set aside along with the gynophilic and androphilic stuff, so that police resources can be efficiently deployed where it matters most.

The line between legal sex and the exploitation of children has become blurred in the eyes of self-appointed sex police. Some of these are real police -- who provide their own interpretation of the law to enforce a personal agenda of stamping out anything they disapprove of. Sheila Steele, injusticebusters.com


A mind is a terrible place to go

Welcome to Salem

Yesterday, Toronto police held a fraught press conference on their investigation of a child pornography "ring," i.e., people who used credit cards to buy images from a U.S. company. One officer said they have 231 "targets" in Toronto. Ten have been arrested, under the law against possessing child porn. But the anxiety seemed deeper. If people simply possess images but don't abuse kids, how serious is the problem and why were police begging for vast new resources to enforce that law? Well, one said, "our statistics" show 40 per cent of those who collect child porn abuse kids.

This number sounds alarmingly high, though no source was given. It wasn't asked about at the press conference or scrum after. The communications spokesman of the Toronto force says he has "no idea" and "no clue" where it came from and has never heard it before.

But even if it were so, what precisely does the abuse have to do with possessing the images? Did they abuse because they had the images? Or would they have still abused even if they didn't have the images? How about those who abuse kids but don't collect images? And what about people who collect images and because of that, do not abuse kids instead?

You may not like what people like to put in their heads but it's a hell of a place to go and it leads straight to the world of the Thought Police.

The officers yesterday stressed with fervour that these are not just pictures of kids, but of kids being victimized. So is watching pictures of a crime now a crime? There are videos of executions and beheadings that people apparently like to watch. It's revolting but does that make the viewers of those acts responsible for them? The police said that those arrested had purchased "access to some of the most evil images of child abuse you can imagine." I don't doubt it. But it's an image, it's not them doing the thing. Human beings are capable of contemplating, entertaining and being entertained by all kinds of thoughts -- including the police at the conference. Some of those thoughts we are only dimly aware of or try to avoid, with varying success.

In my view, anyone with some wisdom knows that what counts morally is not what you think about, but what you enact of your thoughts. Do you really want someone to go inside your head and charge you on the basis of what they discover there -- the images that you contemplate or try to suppress?

The police said they have already arrested a police officer, a doctor, and a teacher, as if this should shock everyone. Did they think only pimps and drug dealers have such imaginings? They also told reporters to expect that "some high-profile people" would be arrested soon. That's when I heard the voice of the Salem witch trials. We will find out what is in your head and your heart, no matter who you seem to be, and we will make you pay.

From what I saw, the press conference wasn't mainly about enforcing the law on child pornography -- which was barely mentioned; or even child abuse, which came up in an aside. It was mainly about being horrified at what is out there in the world and in people's minds -- one officer talked of how you can't go on the Internet without uncovering mountains of porn -- as if the Internet is a concretization of humanity's terrifying collective unconscious.

The media, faithful reflectors that they are, picked this up. "One of the most disturbing press conferences I have ever witnessed," said Ann Rohmer on CityPulse, though there were actually no specific, disturbing details. I believe she meant the disturbed tone set by the police.

Susan Bonner on Newsworld said, "But to date only 32 arrests have been made," also picking up the tone, as if upset that such heinous impulses have resulted in so little retribution -- thus far.

Let me digress to a CBC news documentary this week on the bitter conflict among students over Israel and Palestine at Concordia University. The story was full of anger, hurt, graffiti, broken windows, arrests. But it had almost nothing on the key moment: when an Israeli politician was stopped from speaking. It seems to me that's an issue both sides could have discussed, yet those interviewed got to say little about it. It's as if the report was so transfixed by how angry people can become, the irrational fury they are capable of, that concrete, potentially resoluble issues faded. As if what's in their heads must preoccupy us, not what they do.

It seems to me you pay a price for this kind of willed naiveté and drop-jaw reaction to the revelation that human nature is murky and full of dark places. Part of the price is the arrival of the Thought Police. And part is missing a chance to actually do something, when action, rather than mere shock or dismay, is possible.