Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice)

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Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice)
Supreme Court of Canada
Hearing: March 16, 2000
Judgment: December 15, 2000
Full case name

Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium, B.C. Civil Liberties Association,

James Eaton Deva and Guy Allen Bruce Smythe v. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of National Revenue and the Attorney General of British Columbia
Citations

[2000] 2 S.C.R. 1120, 2000 SCC 69 (CanLII)

Parallel citations: (2000), 193 D.L.R. (4th) 193; (2000), [2001] 2 W.W.R. 1; (2000), 150 C.C.C. (3d) 1; (2000), 28 Admin. L.R. (3d) 1; (2000), 28 Admin. L.R. (3e) 1; (2000), 38 C.R. (5th) 209; (2000), 79 C.R.R. (2d) 189; (2000), 83 B.C.L.R. (3d) 1
Prior history Judgment for the Minister of Justice at the British Columbia Court of Appeal
Court Membership
Reasons given
Majority Binnie J. (paras. 1-161), joined by McLachlin C.J. and L'Heureux-Dubé, Gonthier, Major, and Bastarache JJ.
Concur/dissent Iacobucci J. (paras. 162-283), joined by Arbour and LeBel J.


Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice) [2000] 2 S.C.R. 1120, 2000 SCC 69 is a leading Supreme Court of Canada decision on freedom of expression and equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was held that the Customs Act, which gave broad powers to customs inspectors to exclude "obscene" materials, violated the right to freedom of expression under section 2 but was justifiable under section 1.

Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium is a bookstore in Vancouver, BC that sells gay and lesbian-related literature. It imports most of its material from the United States, which has often caused trouble at the border when the material would be refused entry as it was classified as obscene. The bookstore challenged the section of the Customs Act which prohibited the importation of obscene material as well as a section of the Act that put the onus on the importer to disprove obscenity.

At trial, the court found that the customs has targeted shipments to the bookstore and attempted to prevent them from getting in. Consequently, the government was found to have violated section 2 of the Charter. However, the violation was justified under section 1.

In a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the trial judge and found that though the law violated section 2, it was justified under section 1. The law was thus saved. However, they found that the way the law was implemented by customs officials was discriminatory and should be remedied, an opinion they suggested would avail the bookstore in any further legal battles. They also struck down part of the law that put the onus on an importer to prove material was not obscene. The ruling, therefore, upheld the right of Canada Customs to prevent the importation of material that had already been banned as obscene by the courts, but curtailed the agency's right to preemptively or punitively detain material that had not been so adjudicated.

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