Making “Crime Comics” Legal in Canada Again

Did you know comic books depicting crime are illegal in Canada? Section 163, 1b of the Criminal Code of Canada currently makes it a crime to “possess, print, publish, or sell a crime comic.”

But, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould has proposed in legislative Bill C-51 numerous criminal justice reforms, one of which is to no longer make crime comics illegal. Also repealed is a ban on challenging someone to a duel and fraudulently pretending to practice witchcraft. It’s fitting that this criminal code will be repealed under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who himself is a comic fan and has appeared in comics and whose father has also appeared, most notably in John Byrne’s Alpha Flight run.

What defines a “crime comic?” That’d be any magazine or periodical that depicts the commission of a crime or the events connected with the commission of a crime, before or after. So, pretty much all comics.

The law originated in the 1940s spinning out of the moral panic of the time that comics were corrupting the youth. In the United States we got the Comics Code Authority instead with no real legal implications.

At the time, comics were very popular with kids and in 1948 two boys playing as highway bandits shot and killed a man in British Columbia. It was found out that the two loved comics and from there the movement to legislate the comic book industry took off in Canada. The effort was championed by Davie Fulton, the Member of Parliament for Kamloops, B.C. The eventual legislation banning the sale of crime comics was eventually named “Fulton’s Bill.”

There have been charges levied under the law too. The last time was in 1987 against a Calgary-based comic retailer. Those charges were eventually changed to the “distribution of sexually explicit material.”

Almost 70 years later, the law is finally coming off the books and comic shops and readers can breathe a little easier knowing they aren’t breaking the law.

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