Crime Writing in Canada – Legal Issues

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There are Canadian laws that make it tough to publish a crime novel in Canada. I’m not a lawyer, but any time I hear of a law that affects what I’m allowed to write or publish, I make a note of it. This is what I’ve learned so far.

Crime Comics

In Canada, it’s illegal to publish a “crime comic”, which is defined as “any magazine, periodical or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious” (Section 207 of the Canadian Criminal Code). Many kinds of novels include at least one crime. The key word here is pictorially. If there are no pictures, there’s no problem.

The Theme Cannot Be Crime

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was banned from publication in Canada for many decades because of a law that a theme of a novel cannot be crime. This law changed when a judge ruled that the theme of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was not crime. It’s now okay to publish a novel in Canada that has crime as a theme as long as it’s not the main theme.

This is another law that applies to publication only. You can write a novel where the theme is crime and publish it in another country. No problem.

The Definition of Pornography

In Canadian law, pornography is defined as any media (book, film, etc) in which the criminal is not depicted as being punished for their crime. No sex required. Any unpunished crime will do. The clearest resolution is that all criminals are either dead or in prison by the end of the story. The law only takes this as far as what can be published within Canada. I say that because I was able to buy Natural Born Killers and many other movies published outside Canada that ended with the criminal still alive and free.

What about peripheral criminals? If your protagonist walks through a neighborhood where people are doing illegal drugs on the street, do you need to have a scene where the users are all arrested? That could destroy the realism of a novel. In real life, all crimes don’t lead to arrests and convictions. It seems like this rule applies to important characters only, but I don’t know.

Again, this law is about publication. Writing a story about a killer who doesn’t get caught is okay. You just can’t publish it in Canada.

There is one exception to what you can write, even if you don’t publish it anywhere. Child pornography is illegal to write in any context, even if the criminal is tortured to death in a later chapter. Child pornography refers to sex crimes only. Other types of crimes against children can be part of a story. Bullying, for example, is an important social issue.

Hate Literature

Any book that promotes hatred against other groups is illegal to publish in Canada. And it’s illegal in most other countries too.

Within a novel, there may be people who hate other groups. No problem. Some people are like that. The only way it would be a problem is if the character is made into the novel’s hero because of their hatred.

Plagiarism, Trademarks and Libel

These laws apply for every country. Copy someone else’s work verbatim and you’ll be committing plagiarism. Using a company or product name in the wrong context is trademark infringement. Using a company or product name in place of the generic name is trademark dilution. Writing negatively about a product, company, or person can get you sued for libel.

Is That Every Canadian Law on Writing and Publishing?

There may be more laws about what you can write in Canada. I’ve done a few internet searches in the past few months. There seems to be no good summary of this question anywhere. Maybe I’ve written the first.

You can ignore some of these issues by publishing your books outside Canada. The big publishers are in the US. One thing to keep in mind is that US publishers don’t want books set in Canada. The solution is to set them either in the US, another foreign country, or don’t reveal the setting. People will assume the US.

I haven’t studied law. Some of these points could be wrong. Anyone care to disagree?


Article by Ivan Izo.


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