Governing Through Harm to Promote Liberal Values: The Canadian Approach to Obscenity and Indecency Following R. v. Labaye


  • Kirsten Kramar University of Winnipeg
  • Richard Jochelson University of Winnipeg



governmentality, harm, obscenity, indecency, norm


This paper traces the history of the Supreme Court of Canada’s construction of harm(s) tests in the context of its obscenity and indecency jurisprudence from Hicklin (1868) through Labaye (2005). At the core of these tests is a functionality linked to presumptive societal norms. The contemporary harm assemblages are risk-based, and concern the maintenance of cohesion, organized in relation to the impact of obscenity or indecency on abstract political values rather than concretized sexual subjects. What is more, the Labaye Court has constituted an expanded harms-based test which reifies risk of harm as tantamount to proven harm while propagating the nimble lie that Courts are required to rely on expert opinion evidence of harm, when the Courts, in fact, rely on their own judgment. Ultimately, the Court is still concerned in the main with the proper functioning of society, targeting those whose conduct is deemed harmful to a particular view of society.

Author Biographies

Kirsten Kramar, University of Winnipeg

Associate Professor Department of Sociology

Richard Jochelson, University of Winnipeg

Associate Professor Department of Criminal Justice