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Banner: Tales From The Vault! Canadian Pulp Fiction 1940-1952
Table of Contents
About Tales From the Vault!
Introduction
Canadian Pulp Industry
English Pulp Collection
French Pulp Collection
Themes
Corrupting Morals
Decline of the Pulps
Effects of the Pulps

Gallery!

Flash Version

Full-Length Magazines
Educational Resources
Letters to the Editor
Credits

Section title: Corrupting Morals

 

"Corrupting Morals"

The Fulton Act and Its Effects on Canadian Pulp Magazines

Cover of pulp magazine, SCOOP DETECTIVE CASES, volume 8, number 1 (April 1950)
Source
 

It was the kind of story a true-crime pulp writer would have loved. It involved a senseless crime that shocked the nation, a remote community, a pair of unlikely criminals, an innocent victim and a moral lesson that would change the Criminal Code of Canada. But it was a story that no pulp writer ever took on, because the real criminals in the piece, at least as far as the public was concerned, were pulp magazines and comic books.

It was November 13, 1948, and two young boys, age 11 and 13, stole a rifle. They set up camp by the side of a road in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. With what could be described as a youthful disregard for consequences, they started trying to flag down cars and fired shots into the air; they later told police they were "playing highwayman." When a couple of cars failed to stop, they fired directly into a vehicle in which James M. Watson, age 62, was a passenger. He was fatally wounded, and died three days later (Wertham 1953, ch. 11) 1.

  Cover of pulp magazine, FACTUAL DETECTIVE STORIES, volume 1, number 12 (September 1942)
Source
 

The case caused a sensation across British Columbia, leading to an investigation by the provincial Department of Health and Social Welfare (Bell, online). Among other facts, it was established that the two boys were avid comic-book fans, each reading dozens of crime comics a week. The correlation between crime and violence in the media and real-life crime and violence is still a matter of debate today, but at the time the debate was foreshortened and a connection was made between the boys' reading habits and their criminal activities.

At their trial, Crown Prosecutor Mr. A.W. McClellan commented, "I cannot say too strongly that I think these two unfortunate boys have been strongly influenced by what they have been reading. I would like to see a concerted effort to wipe out this horrible and weird literature with which children are filling their heads" (cited in Wertham, 1953, ch. 11). Juvenile Court Judge C.S. Kitchen agreed with the Crown Prosecutor, and added, "I am satisfied that a concerted effort should be made to see that this worse-than-rubbish is abolished in some way" (cited in Wertham, 1953, ch. 11).

Cover of pulp magazine, FACTUAL DETECTIVE STORIES and DARING LAFF, volume 4, number 17 (March 1945)   Cover of pulp magazine, FACTUAL DETECTIVE STORIES, volume 4, number 24 (April 1946)  
Source   Source  

The incident became a cause célèbre for people who were already concerned about the impact of comic books and other forms of popular entertainment on Canadian society. Among them was E. Davie Fulton (1916-2000), the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kamloops, British Columbia. Fulton drafted and introduced a private member's bill that proposed outlawing crime comics. The bill deemed obscene "any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence..." (Criminal Code of Canada, online).

It was a definition that targeted the pulps as well as comic books. Despite attempts by members of the comic-book industry to defend their publications, the bill passed the House of Commons unanimously and the Senate with a vote of 92 to 4. The Fulton Act, as it was known, became law on December 10, 1949, a little over a year after the death of James M. Watson (Bell, online). Today, it remains on the books as Part V, Section 163 of the Criminal Code of Canada [http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-46/42053.html#section-163] under the ominous heading, "Corrupting Morals".

Letter from I.D. Carson to E.D. Fulton, February 12, 1949; 2 pages plus THE COMICS CODE   Letter from P.M. Crawford to E.D. Fulton, February 2, 1949; 1 page   Draft of section 207 of the CRIMINAL CODE, dealing with the portrayal of sex and violence in the media; 2 pages
Source
Series of correspondence between I.D. Carson and E.D. Fulton, 1949. Read the four letters
  Source
Series of correspondence between P.M. Crawford and E.D. Fulton, 1949. Read the two letters
  Source
Draft of section 207 of the Criminal Code, on the portrayal of sex and violence in the media. Read the draft

With their main topics suddenly banned, Canadian pulp magazine publishers found it increasingly difficult to produce their books and stay on the right side of the law. Under increased scrutiny, with public tastes changing and new economic realities emerging, the writing was on the wall for the pulps.

 

Note

1. It should be noted that Wertham's book, Seduction of the Innocent, was written with a specific agenda: bolstering the case for the outlawing of comic books.

References

Bell, John. "Crackdown on Comics." ARCHIVED - Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in English Canada and Quebec. Library and Archives Canada. www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8400-e.html (accessed January 11, 2005).

Canada. "Part V Sexual Offences, Public Morals and Disorderly Conduct." Criminal Code of Canada. Department of Justice. http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-46/42053.html (accessed January 11, 2005).

Wertham, Frederick. Seduction of the Innocent: The Influence of Comic Books on Today's Youth. New York: Rinehart, 1953.