Last week, David Scott Hammond and James Cory Hammond, 20-year-old twin brothers from New Glasgow — who were described in court as “fairly introverted” and “most un-streetwise” — were each sentenced to three months in jail for possessing child pornography.

 

What makes their case interesting — and troubling — is that the images the young men were accused of downloading onto their home computers were not photographs but drawings.

 

You can argue that someone who downloads photographic images of children in sexual poses is guilty of possessing child pornography even if that person didn’t actually take the photographs. That’s because it’s clear someone had to have exploited those children in order to produce the photos, and the person possessing the images indirectly contributes to their exploitation simply by creating a market for those peddling them.

 

But drawings don’t involve real children. They are works of imagination.

According to news reports from the trial, the seized images were “drawn in the Japanese style known as anime or manga.” While there are many variants of the style, the most popular highlight “exaggerated physical features such as large eyes, big hair and elongated limbs...”

Such images are not — and are not intended to be — realistic depictions of the human form. We might not like what is going on in the heads of those who create — or view — such images, but is there any evidence any real children were exploited in their production? Or will be as a result of viewing them?

Crown attorney Craig Botterill claimed as much. “Every one of these images involves the victimization of children … The victimization wouldn’t happen in the first place if there weren’t people there to look at this material.”

Plenty of researchers would beg to differ. Dr. Michael C. Seto, for example, a Canadian psychologist who teaches psychiatry at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto, argues convincingly in a 2007 book on the subject that “not all sex offenders who target children are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles commit sexual offences.”

Swiss researchers who studied the criminal records of men charged with viewing child pornography on a U.S. website recently concluded that “the motivation for consuming child pornography (probably) differs from the motivation to physically assault minors.”

Which means we prosecuted these young New Glasgow men not necessarily for what they actually did — even indirectly — but for what they might have been thinking.

And that is a slippery civil liberties slope.

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.