Amici Curiae: The Gay Marriage, Nudity Law and SOPA Edition

Gay Marriage Blame Game

In a very quick turn of events, the same sex marriage debate closed just about as quickly as it was reopened last week. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a legal argument stating that a lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2004 could not get the divorce they were seeking because they were never technically married. The DOJ argued that because the marriage was not legal in UK and Florida, where the couple is from, the marriage is not valid in Canada.

Same-sex marriages became legal in 2005 under Liberal Prime Minster Paul Martin with the passage of Bill C-38. Since then, thousands of gay tourists have come to Canada to legalize their union. Stirring up a great deal of controversy, this case threatened that all of these unions be rendered invalid.

The Canadian press quickly mobilized, chastizing the Harper Government for re-opening the same-sex marriage debate. Canadian politicians followed suit, using this as a platform for good old-fashioned partisan finger pointing. NDP representative Olivia Chow and Liberal leader Bob Rae were quick to fault Harper for using the common law to invalidate gay marriages. Harper played the role of a deer in headlights, denying knowledge of the case at all. (Though it seems strange that the leader of the government would not be notified of a potential case that may reopen a recently closed Charter issue.)

Within 24 hours, the federal government put a close to the controversy. Justice Minister Nicholson said that the government has  no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage. He then went on to blame the Liberal government for creating the legislative gap. The Harper government is now looking to ease the process so that any marriages performed in Canada that may not be recognized in the couple’s home jurisdiction will be recognized in Canada. There was also some indication that the government plans to remove the one-year residency requirement for divorce proceedings, which would make it easier for all non-resident couples to seek a divorce in Canadian courts.

No Shirt, No Pants: No Good

An Ontario court upheld section 174 of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 [the Code], last Thursday, deciding that Canada’s public nudity laws do not infringe the right to freedom of expression.

Section 174 of the Code states:

174. (1) Every one who, without lawful excuse,

(a) is nude in a public place, or

(b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Subsection 174(2) defines a “nude” person as one “who is so clad as to offend against public decency or order.”

Brian Coldin was charged in incidents of partial nudity at a park and two fast food drive-thrus. He claimed that his nudity was a form of protest against local political corruption, though wasn’t the first to use nudity as a form of political expression: the World Naked Bike Ride advocates cycling as a mode of transportation. The court found that Coldin’s behaviour could be reduced to his desire to bare all.

Douglas J reasoned that nudism can be considered a protected form of expression under certain circumstances, but not without limits. As a general rule, clothing is not optional in public, and offenders are subject to a fine and three years of probation. While this case raises questions on nudity on private property while in the public view, the court did not revisit that issue (cf. R v Clark, [2005] 1 SCR 6).

SOPA: Just A Shouting Match?

For even the most casual Internet user, it was difficult to avoid the message from the freedom of information crowd on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The date served as a designated day of protest online and through rallies in New York and Seattle against two U.S bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives), and PIPA (Protect IP Act in the Senate).

The bills would grant sweeping powers to the US government requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block any website found to be hosting copyrighted content, and websites to take down anything to which they don’t hold rights — or else face enjoinment themselves. If rigorously applied, this would amount to censoring or removing a significant portion of the Internet, neutering YouTube and restricting Google searches to mostly media-free results.

Opponents point out that this could potentially extend to seizing Facebook and Twitter accounts, shutting down online communities, blogs, and comment feeds that discuss movies, music, etc. Many of the highest-volume websites, including WordPress and Craigslist, redirected users to a temporary page explaining their stance against the bills, and what could be done to lobby against them. For the first time, Wikipedia completely blocked access to English pages on its website for the 24-hour period, explaining that “blacking out” in protest was the decision of their users, and that doing so didn’t affect their commitment to neutrality.

Proponents of the bills include, obviously, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who both claim hundreds of millions in losses due to pirated media shared through “cyber-lockers” like the Hong Kong-based Megaupload (shut down Thursday by the US Department of Justice).

At issue is the disconnect between the necessity of legal reforms that protect legitimate intellectual property rights, and widespread social practices that are difficult to monitor and regulate. The bills seem to be dead in the water at the moment, suggesting that the loudest voice in the room – copyrighted or not – got its way. This time.

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