Saturday started off on a sobering note for my group. Not due to anything that happened to us personally, but because of the panel we attended.
“The Fight to Defend Manga” was a panel hosted and moderated by Charles Browenstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, that examined the ways in which the medium has come under attack from within our own borders and affected our citizens travelling abroad. Browenstein laid out the highest profile cases that had come to the CBLDF’s attention (though they didn’t get involved in all of them) along with the generally unfavorable outcomes they had faced in each situation. However, the big exception was their most recent case where they defended Ryan Matheson, a computer programmer who was arrested by Canadian customs officials when he arrived there on a trip to visit a friend in 2010.
Matheson was singled out as part of a random search and cooperated with officials when they wanted to check the contents of his laptop. There was no actual pornographic material on his laptop, unless you count a chibi version of the “40 positions,” just a lot of scanned artbooks. However, he was arrested and held for five days in a Canadian prison because “anime” and “manga” are effectively euphemisms for “kiddie porn” as far as Canada is concerned. I wish I was making that last sentence up, but I’m not. Matheson was eventually released on probation on some really bad terms: he was only allowed to use computers or the internet at work, and allowed to work only at one company, where he received as little as ten hours of work a week at a time. His life was effectively frozen for these past two years.
The good news is that after the CBLDF got involved and started planning his defense, the charges against him were eventually dropped earlier this year. However, listening to Matheson talk about his ordeal, the time he spent in prison, and the harassment he suffered at the hands of the guards, it was clear that the effects of this experience will be with him for some time. Brownstein was right about him being incredibly brave to persevere through this ordeal and the man deserves to be commended for sticking up for his belief that his hobby was not a crime.
What can you take away from this? Don’t bring manga or your computer if you do go to Canada. However, if you do bring one or both, be prepared to fight. Don’t immediately do whatever someone in authority asks of you, ask to know your rights first. Ask, or demand, to speak with the American consulate if things look like they’re going to get hairy. If you do get carted off to jail, broadcast the fact that you weren’t arrested for possessing kiddie porn but for drawings of cartoon characters instead. The bottom line is that you can’t let yourself be pigeonholed by the government or other people in authority who want to paint you as the bad guy. It was easy to listen to Matheson speak and think, “Okay, this is what I would do if I was stuck in his situation,” but I can’t be sure that I’d have had the guts. If this does ever happen to me, I can only think of what the alternative is and hope that would be enough.
My friends and I attended several panels after this one, but talking up everything I heard from Image and Robert Kirkman feels a little awkward after writing this. Check back tomorrow for my final writeup on the con.