Saturday, April 5, 2008

R. v. Ramsingh et al.

While reading the famous obscenity case R. v. Butler, I took a detour into some stare decisis, and wound up at R. v. Ramsingh (1984) from Manitoba. Ramsingh concerns a dealer of skin flicks, who had his stock raided by the police and was brought up on criminal charges. Section 163 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to distribute or to possess for the purposes of distribution any obscene film, picture, or publication. The definition of an 'obscene' publication is provided as "any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty, and violence."

At issue in Ramsingh were some pornographic movies the Winnipeg Vice Squad had gotten their hands on by way of an elaborate sting investigation (an undercover cop approached Mr. Ramsingh at his newsstand and asked for some "good stuff"). The Crown presented seven movies in total as evidence. Counsel for the defence submitted another three films that had been previously examined by the Court and found to be acceptable, for the sake of comparison.The task of the trial judge, Ferg J., was to determine whether the content of the films contravened s. 163 by coming within the Code's definition of obscenity.

Ferg J. gave a generally unfavourable appraisal of the films' artistic merit.
The plots in most are thin in the extreme, the acting is third grade, if not totally amateurish. There is no character development, no artistic merit, no redeeming qualities (except in two video cassettes which I will cover later) in any of the films. The scenes are disjointed, difficult to follow at times, and the dialogue is, for the most part, insipid, mundane and simple-minded in the extreme. The quality of the filming, the colour, and camera work for the cassettes, at least, is generally good.

The two films that most resonated with the judge (or, that possessed "redeeming qualities") were 'Bordello' and 'Deep Throat.' But for those of you keeping score at home, that is a pan for 'Swedish Erotica,' 'Caught in the Act,' and 'California Gigolo.' Well, at least the lighting technicians can still hold their heads up high. At any rate, the judge found that some of the videos could be described as 'obscene,' while others could not. It mattered little to the Defendant, who was convicted on all counts: possession, circulation, and possession for the purpose of circulation (had the defence lawyer never heard of Kienapple?).

What really struck me about this case was not the legal reasoning. The BCCA criticized his reasons in R. v. Pereira Vasquez, while the Supreme Court obviously approved - he was quoted in both the majority and the dissent in Butler. No, what I found really interesting about the case was this: there were seven movies placed in evidence by the Crown, and three from the defence. Without knowing how long they all are, I would have to guess that is at least nine or ten hours of film. Does anyone else find it just a little absurd that we paid a highly trained legal mind to sit in the courtroom for ten hours and watch pornography? Include lunch and cigarette breaks, and that would take up the better part of two working days. Is that really what we want our judges occupied with?

While we're at it, I think there might be more useful ways for those Vice Squad cops to spend their time, too.