Written by and posted on behalf of Jon Scop
Janine Fuller ended her talk to a group of about thirty librarians and library students today by telling us that we inspired her, but I’d venture to say that it was Janine who provided a source of great inspiration to us. Janine has been the manager of Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium in Davie Village since 1990, and has been the driving force behind the store’s courageous battle with Canada Customs almost continuously since then.
For those new to this struggle as I was, Customs routinely seizes materials shipped to Little Sister’s, mostly from the U.S., on the supposed basis that it meets a definition of obscenity that the government has applied much more stringently to gay and lesbian material, and applied vehemently to Little Sister’s in particular. Janine has devoted years of her life to a tireless effort to raise national awareness, as well as funds, as the store’s lawsuit against governmental censorship wound its way through the courts. The climax of the battle – but certainly not the end – came in 2000, when the Supreme Court of Canada issued a mixed ruling which recognized the unjust targeting of the materials, and put the onus on the government to prove items were obscene, but refused to strike down the laws that allow this censorship to continue. So the struggle goes on.
Despite a lingering cold, Janine led a lively discussion about the legal battles, as well as the importance that free access to queer literature plays in the lives of people from all walks of life. She was not afraid to show us her emotions; she dedicated her talk to Jane Rule, who testified at the hearings, as well as Nancy Fleming, former director of Canada’s Book and Periodical Council and pioneer of the Freedom to Read movement, who she informed us had passed away yesterday. Janine told us about some of Customs’ outrageous actions, such as seizing a book by African-American critic bell hooks because it “might be political.” She spoke of the importance of independent booksellers such as Little Sisters, as domination by the big chains increasingly determines which books are published. And she emphasized the central role of the community, of readers, of librarians, in the sometimes life-saving role of keeping information freely available to all.