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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The St. Clair case and the regulation of the obscene in pre-World War One Ontario Campbell, Lyndsay Mills


In 1912 in Toronto the Congregationalist lay minister, Robert B. St. Clair was arrested and convicted of circulating obscene literature, after he published and distributed an explicit description of a performance called The Darlings of Paris that played at a local burlesque house called the Star Theatre. St. Clair's experiences and its aftermath provide a lens through which to view the problem that the regulation of obscenity posed for moral reformers in Toronto during this period. Adopting a broad understanding of the concept of regulation and paying close attention to the discourses evident in a variety of primary sources, this thesis examines the St. Clair case against its religious, literary, social and legal backdrop. It discusses the origins of Canadian obscenity law and contrasts the regulation of the obscene in Canada during this period with the situation in England and the United States. This thesis shows that the ability of moral reformers in Toronto to regulate obscenity, and the Toronto stage in particular, was on the decline by 1913. Doubt was creeping into legal and extra-legal discourses that the words obscene, indecent and immoral had absolutely certain meanings, but there was still substantial certainty that art was morally uplifting. The sense that art could have immoral, indecent or pornographic aspects, and could therefore be difficult to distinguish from obscenity, had not yet entered Canada's, and particularly Ontario's, legal sensibility, but it was on its way.

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