MONTREAL – A jury trial kicked off Tuesday for a Quebec special-effects artist whose ability to create gory life-like images has prompted criminal charges against him.
Remy Couture is charged with corrupting morals through the distribution, possession and production of obscene materials in a case that will explore the boundaries of artistic expression.
At issue are nearly 20 photo sets and a pair of short videos that appeared on a website he hosted, dubbed “Inner Depravity.” The violent, sexually explicit, horror-inspired works were based on a serial-killer character he created.
After being arrested and charged, the 35-year-old filmmaker has waited three years to go to trial. He plans to argue that what the Crown calls obscene, he calls art.
The prosecution, however, will stress the risks associated with exposing such material.
“The Crown will show that publishing the material undermines fundamental values of Canadian society as expressed in the Constitution,” said Crown lawyer Michel Pennou.
He said the Crown intends to show that the material could push vulnerable members of society to act out what they see.
A jury began hearing testimony Tuesday and even saw some of the photos on Couture’s site.
The sets viewed in court included titles like “Hook” — which is a series of photos depicting a woman being tortured with hooks by a muscular, tattooed, masked man. Another picture set titled “Burn” involves a woman’s burned body being assaulted and mutilated.
Some of the work portrays scenes of necrophilia, simulated rape and extreme violence.
Couture uses a combination of fake blood, latex and silicone to weave disturbing tales of a serial killer who tortures, sexually assaults and murders his victims.
The court heard today that Interpol was first alerted to the images and videos in 2006 by an Internet user in Austria; the scenes were deemed so realistic that a pathologist in Europe couldn’t rule out that a homicide had actually been committed.
But the case only landed on a Montreal police investigator’s desk three years later.
Det.-Sgt. Christina Vlachos, an investigator with the police’s morality squad, said she got the case in January 2009. She said she never actually mistook the images for real-life slayings.
“I never thought they were real,” Vlachos testified Tuesday.
Vlachos said part of the reason the case moved slowly was that police had never dealt with such a case before.
Meanwhile, a senior detective told the court that police decided to be prudent when arresting Couture shortly before Halloween in 2009, given the contents of his website.
Det.-Sgt. Eric Lavallee testified that police decided to use an elaborate sting operation, with him posing as a client wanting to set up a gory photo shoot with his wife for Halloween. When Couture stepped out of his home, police swept in to arrest him.
“I judged it was necessary — for the security of the officers, it was the best way to do it,” Lavallee said.
Under attack from Couture’s lawyer, Lavallee defended the decision to go with the elaborate arrest tactic. He admitted, though, that police had determined that “(the material) probably wasn’t real.”
The court also heard that, after Interpol became aware of the case, two other police forces in Quebec were alerted: Quebec provincial police and police in Laval, Que., a suburb north of Montreal.
Neither force followed through with charges before the case was picked up by Montreal police.
Couture faces three charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2010 and told reporters that the state had no business defining what was art or infringing on his right to free expression.
At the time, he said that pleading guilty or settling out of court could set a dangerous precedent and raise questions about other kinds of work done by artists.
Two experts, one from the U.S. and one from Ontario, are expected to testify on behalf of the Crown in addition to three police witnesses. The defence has its own experts.
A seven-woman, five-man jury is hearing the case with Quebec Superior Court Justice Claude Champagne presiding.
The trial could last up to two weeks.