After Labaye: The Harm Test of Obscenity, the New Judicial Vacuum, and the Relevance of Familiar Voices


  • Richard Jochelson



In R. v. Labaye, the Supreme Court of Canada finally retired the community standards of tolerance test of obscenity. The test had been the subject of much academic critique, a matter that reached its zenith in the period following Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice), in which a gay and lesbian bookshop contested the procedures and legislative regime of customs officials in detaining its imports. The engagement in the literature on the efficacy of the community standards test that followed was often heated, always interesting, and ultimately unresolved. To date, we have not seen any clarifying applications of the newly proposed harm test by the Supreme Court, nor have we seen a profound articulation in any lower courts. Subsequently, the academic discussion has slowed to a crawl. In this article, the author reviews four accounts of the community standards test that were prominent following Little Sisters, and asks if the newly proposed Labaye standard meets their concerns. The Labaye case provides much fodder for the previous critics and supporters of a community standards of tolerance approach to analyze. After a critical analysis of the new Labaye test, the author concludes that the concerns have not been muted by the retirement of the community standards test, even if the voices have been. The engaged voices heard in the aftermath of Little Sisters should not hold back and they should not abandon the work to be done in obscenity law and freedom of expression discourse generally.

Author Biography

Richard Jochelson

Department of Criminal Justice, University of Winnipeg. The author would like to thank the Alberta Law Review, its editorial team, the anonymous reviewers who read this piece, Professors Jamie Cameron, Bruce Ryder, Leslie Green, and Richard Moon.





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