Since they first opened in February, Red Hot Video outlets have been the source of a raging controversy in British Columbia. The stores, which specialize in the sale of sexually explicit videotapes, have been repeatedly condemned by women’s groups and they have been the subject of a running political battle. But last week the campaign to have the stores shut down took its ugliest turn so far. In rapid succession, arsonists set two of the Vancouver-area video shops ablaze, dousing them with gasoline before torching them. Within
minutes of the first attack, a group calling itself the Wimmin’s Fire Brigade claimed credit for the attacks. Declared the brigade: “Red Hot Video sells tapes that show wimmin [a spelling favored by radical feminists who wish to avoid any reference to men] and children being tortured, raped and humiliated.” The attacks appear to be part of a larger pattern of Canadian outrage against the proliferation of pornography. The fight has, at times, made for increasingly strange ideological bedfellows. In B.C., for instance, right-wing groups have found themselves in an uneasy alliance with radical feminists to stem the pornographic tide.
The B.C. Federation of Women, representing a wide political spectrum of 36 groups in the province, stopped short of condoning the arson but it was clearly sympathetic with its goal. Said the federation: “While we did not participate in the fire-bombings... we are in agreement with the frustration and anger of the women who did.”
Pornographic videotapes have been available for years in British Columbia, but the increased use of home tape players, the ease with which tapes smuggled across the border from the United States can be dubbed and sold and the rapid expansion of the Red Hot outlets have produced a furious reaction. Thirteen of the stores have opened across the province in the past 10 months, and women’s groups have been pressuring Attorney General Allan Williams to act against them for almost as long. The North Shore Women’s Centre, for one, wants Williams to enforce his own guidelines for Criminal Code
prosecutions, rules that forbid the sale of material depicting violent sex, bestiality or child pornography. Donna Stewart, the centre’s co-ordinator, said they have assembled 90 minutes of film clips—all from tapes rented from Red Hot—that violate the guidelines. But police have done little other than tell store operators to pull a few of the more objectionable tapes from their shelves.
For his part, Williams plans to make the tapes subject to the same standards required of films shown publicly in theatres and he is even considering making their censoring a source of part-time work for the handicapped and people confined to their homes. But Williams will not be able to introduce any new control measures until the legislature sits again next year, a delay that is trying the patience of the antipornography groups. Meanwhile, the B.C. bombings may well lead to sharply increased pressure on governments in other parts of Canada to take steps to curb the rising tide of video pornography.
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