Passersby could be forgiven for mistaking the zombie bride, the cadaver in a nun's habit, and the butcher with a severed hand tucked in his bloody smock as part of a pre-Halloween stunt.
But in fact, this macabre cast stood in front of the Montreal courthouse along with a dozen others for a reason far more serious. Though little known outside the city, a criminal case is starting to take shape that touches directly and deeply on the idea
of art and freedom of expression.
Last year, Montreal horror film makeup artist Rémy Couture was picked up by police, his house and computer searched, after Interpol levelled a complaint based on a couple of short films he made that can be classified, at the very least, as grotesque.
Entitled Inner Depravity Vol 1 & 2 , they attempt to show the mind of a heinous, drug-taking serial killer. Art to some. Graphic obscenity to the Crown Prosecutors.
Couture made his first appearance in court Wednesday to face charges of producing and disseminating obscene material. Couture on Wednesday pled not guilty and chose to have his trial in front of a jury.
In an interview, he expressed disbelief that he was being pursued by the law, given all the real crimes going on. It's absurd, said Couture: So many people spending so much time on my file and not on real violent crimes.
As he spoke, his zombie supporters milled about behind him, carrying placards such as: Real charges for fake blood! and To be a victim of his talent is completely ridiculous! Karine Fournier, a textile artist dressed as a zombie bride, felt
compelled to support Couture. To lose our freedom of expression, she reasoned, is death.
Couture intends to argue that there are many other gory films in circulation that haven't been targeted as obscenity, and he wants to know why.
Couture's lawyer Dominic Bouchard said the case could have repercussions on horror films generally. We will expose other movies worse than this, he promised. Bouchard said it's the first time obscenity charges have been laid in Canada related to
works from the horror genre.
Though the Montreal police said members of the public complained that the movies showed a child being molested and killed, Bouchard said they are in error; the films only depict an adolescent being killed, not sexually violated.
The 10-minute films were available on Couture's website until his arrest. They are still online on other sites.
Couture returns to court Nov. 1.
Update: Canadian obscenity law
30th October 2010. Based on
What had been a fantasy world for Rémy Couture came crashing into reality last October when an undercover police officer posing as a potential client handcuffed him and placed him under arrest on suspicion of corrupting morals. Police say they
acted on a tip that came through Interpol after someone in Germany became concerned that the films on Couture's web site depicted actual violence.
Police turned his apartment upside down – they were likely intrigued by the full-size coffin that serves as living-room furniture -- but they found no evidence he had caused anyone physical harm. Instead the Crown will try to prove that his work, with
its blend of sex and sadistic violence, is so disturbing that it could provoke anti-social behaviour among people who view it.
Police also appear to have been alarmed by the fact that one film contains photos of a brutally murdered child while the other features a child as an apprentice to the killer. Couture stressed that the child, portrayed in both cases by the 10-year-old
son of one of his friends, is fully clothed and never present during scenes with sexual content. He had a lot of fun making these photos, Couture said. He never saw nudity and didn't see the final result. We're not crazy.
Richard Jochelson, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg and co-author of a forthcoming book on Canadian obscenity law, said the Couture case will be an important legal test. In a 2005 ruling declaring swingers' clubs
legal, the Supreme Court of Canada essentially changed the definition of obscenity. The major change was that the Crown now has to demonstrate evidence that there was some sort of harm as result of the speech, Jochelson said. There has not
really been a high-level case that has looked at this requirement for the Crown to demonstrate a harmful effect.
Since the participants in Couture's films were not hurt, the prosecutor will try to show the material can lead viewers to imitate what they see. It is hard for the Crown to somehow prove that viewing this material makes it more likely that you're
going to hold anti-social attitudes and then act on them. That's basically the standard, Jochelson said. But he noted that Canadian courts tend to be hardest on material combining sex and violence. In Canada, we have a history of really being
worried about the risk of these sorts of images, he said.