What happens when you put a photo of a naked boy on a magazine cover? The best-known Québec naturist found out.
The cover of Naturisme Québec no. 5 (juin 2004). Petra Scheller, one of the FCN's founders, commented, "This is one of the greatest covers portraying the innocence and fun of being human and healthy that I have ever seen!"
In June, with some difficulty, longtime naturist and founder of the Fédération québécoise de naturisme Michel Vaïs produced issue no. 5 of the excellent Naturisme Québec. It is one of few French-language naturist magazines. Like this issue of GN, that issue focussed on "the effects of social nudity on the bringing up of children." The impetus for that focus was a visit in January to Montréal by a French child psychologist who declared, with no supporting evidence, that "the practice of family naturism goes against nature. One must be prudish with one's genital organs. The best thing is certainly to not expose them to one's child."
NQ printed two responses, one of which (by Mark Storey) we include in this issue of GN. The other was by France Guillain, a noted author of books about naturism, among much else.
One Montréal lawyer said that distribution of the magazine could result in charges under the child pornography sections of the Criminal Code. Another had this to say: "An innocent photo of somebody naked, whether an adult or child, is not in my view obscene. We will have become a completely crazy society if the mere publication of a photo of somebody naked, without a sexual connotation, amounts to child pornography."
Benjamin asked Vaïs to provide a legal opinion on the legality of the cover photo, given Canada's laws against child pornography. That opinion was provided by the well-known lawyer Roland Grand'Maison. After reviewing, among other materials, the relevant sections of the Criminal Code and legal opinions in the main case against John Robin Sharpe, he concluded (in part):
It is clear, to go back to the opinion of the Chief Justice [of the Supreme Court], that a reasonable person looking at the said photograph in an objective manner and in context (here, a magazine about naturism) could not conclude that the dominant characteristic of this photograph is to sexually arouse people to have sexually explicit activities with children.
We are of the opinion that a proper analysis brought about after the lodging of a complaint about the photograph would lead straight to the closing of the investigative file.
It is apparent that the photograph has an educational aim, as regards the concept of naturism, rather than the avowed purpose of distributing infant or child pornography.
It seems to us impossible to imagine that such a photograph can somehow or other meet the necessary tests for illegality according to Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
It doesn't get any clearer than that: the cover is legal. But Benjamin then said its own lawyer recommended against distributing the magazine because it was too "risquée"-which means both racy and risky. What about putting a black band across the cover or putting the magazine in opaque bags? Nope, Benjamin still wasn't interested.
Its director of marketing and sales suggested that Vaïs call its lawyer to get his explanation. But that lawyer refused to speak to Vaïs, on grounds he had no directive (from Benjamin) to say anything.
On the suggestion of several people, Michel Vaïs issued a press release in Québec. He was then interviewed about 30 times over the course of a few days by various French media.
Vaïs and others tried also to distribute the magazine directly to a few regular retailers. Newsstands refused, not wanting to short-circuit Benjamin. One store in a large bookstore chain said it didn't carry magazines "of that kind," meaning porn. Of his conversation with the store's buyer, Vaïs reports:
I told him that he had sold this magazine last year, that it was anti-porn, and that even his saleswoman had congratulated me and said that their customers liked it. But he replied that it was undoubtedly a mistake that NQ had been accepted-and that he must have been on holiday then.
Six Québec naturist centre's took copies of NQ 5 to sell, and three turned it down, one admitting that it was "too controversial." By mid-August, Vaïs had sold about 80% the quantity that usually gets sold, either directly or via naturist centre's in Québec. That was excellent, considering the lack of distribution.
Amongst all the media publicity was one early comment that the genitals of the boy on the cover were "en évidence," which in English means prominent. They aren't. Michel Vaïs made that point in a most interesting exchange in the Journal de Montréal on July 25. He also pointed out that social nudity is not erotic but calming, and dozens of magazines publish photos of the sort he put on the cover of NQ 5. "People aren't upset," he noted, "with the photo on the cover of my magazine. They're not offended, but [they say] their neighbour perhaps would be." No complaintsAnd yet Michel Vaïs received not one complaint about the photo personally or as publisher. Where are all these neighbours? Do we make assumptions about others that are woefully incorrect? Are we imagining legions of people who object to simple nudity in a variety of innocent photos, when there are very few objecting? Might any objectors react as they would to almost any product they didn't want-and simply pass it by?
Vaïs's opponent in the Journal "debate" was the sexologist Michel Campbell. He stated that "exploitation of children is a rather sensitive subject." Indeed, but where's the exploitation here? Perhaps he didn't know that Vaïs has known personally the boy on the cover and his sister, also on the cover.
Vaïs made a minor mistake when he mentioned pornography, but he was surely right to link naturism with lower likelihood of sexual abuse.
Campbell went on to employ the "elephant argument." It's simple: an apartment landlord doesn't allow you to keep a guinea pig, because he'd have to allow the next person a pet pachyderm. Campbell: "If we allow this [the cover in question], we open the door to other kinds of photos and the exploitation of children."Good pointsCampbell did raise a good point: how do children view their earlier nude photos when they become adults? Although there is no easy answer, it seems likely that children brought up not to howl at the naked body—theirs or others'—will accept their past in naturism even if they no longer participate in it.
We are not talking about photos taken surreptitiously or against a child's will; or a child being made fun of by disrespectful parents who misuse nudity or its photographic representation. The assumption of later embarrassment may be partly valid for some of the general population or the people whom Campbell treats, but where is the evidence for it among current or former naturists?
Another good question from Campbell pertains to pedophile crime; but his quoted statistics are misleading or incomplete. There is no evidence that more pictures with nudity mean more sex crimes in the general population—even porn doesn't do that. Should photos of naked children be banned because a small segment of society may be affected adversely by them? Most readers of this magazine know the correct answer, although the several reasons for it will have to wait for another time.
Campbell weakened his argument when he misapplied the judicial notion of threshold of tolerance, and even more when he said, "I don't say all naturists are [exhibitionists, voyeurs, and pedophiles]. But I have clients who are exhibitionist naturists and hide behind trees to masturbate."
Campbell needs to learn what naturism is. Calling a masturbator behind trees a naturist is as valid as calling a guinea pig an elephant.
Translations from French by Paul Rapoport
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The Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) and the Fédération québécoise de naturisme (FQN) share the Canadian membership in the International Naturist Federation (INF), which has its world headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium.