Comptroller of Customs challenged over seizure of adult toys

Comptroller of Customs challenged over seizure of adult toys

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File photo of containers and cranes at the Port of Port of Spain. - Photo by Jeff K Mayers
File photo of containers and cranes at the Port of Port of Spain. – Photo by Jeff K Mayers

AN adult-oriented business has taken the comptroller of customs to court over the seizure of several shipments of adult toys.

Ronna Zamora Rodriguez, the owner of Intimate Affairs, which specialises in the retail sale of adult entertainment toys, says the failure to publish a clear policy on the importation of sex toys is unlawful.

The lawsuit asks for declarations that the comptroller acted unlawfully by seizing several consignments of adult toys; that the continued detention of the items is also unlawful and because of the delay to institute forfeiture proceedings, it can no longer be done.

On Wednesday, Justice Westmin James granted Rodriguez to pursue her judicial review claim.

Rodriguez said shipments of adult toys were seized in April, again in May and two more times in June. And, although her attorneys have written to the comptroller for the return of the items, as directed, they have not been returned.

When the items were seized, Rodriguez was told the goodS were prohibited and deemed indecent or obscene.

Her lawsuit says previously, she had no issue importing this type of adult toy. She said one particular type of adult toy she imports, and sells, is a replica of male genitalia, commonly called a dildo.

“I know from my knowledge of the industry and conversations and interactions with my customers that this item, which is a popularly sold item, is often purchased for therapeutic purposes and oftentimes by married couples to assist in their intimacy and ensure a vibrant sex life which leads to a happier and more fulfilling marriage.”

Rodriguez wants the court to quash the decision by the comptroller to seize the items as well as compel the publishing of a policy on the importation of sex toys.

She also wants compensation for the detention of the items.

The lawsuit contends other adult toy importers have spoken of similar inconsistencies and the arbitrariness of the pattern of seizures by the Customs and Excise Division.

It also said Rodriguez’s business was at risk since she did not know what adult toys would be seized or what criteria would be applied to deem them as obscene, indecent or in contravention of the Customs Act.

Section 45(1)(l) of the act prohibits the importation of indecent or obscene prints, paintings books, and pornographic material and the lawsuit contends that the comptroller has has enforced this prohibition in an arbitrary, haphazard and/or irrational manner.

It said Rodriguez was entitled to a clear and coherent statement and policy on what constituted obscenity about the category of adult toys.

She said she was told that she could not import items which replicated male genitalia, which could not be split, or those which resembled female genitalia and the seizures were particularly in relation to items which resembled or replicated the former.

“I am at the mercy of the arbitrary, subjective, and vague determinations of the intended defendant or the various customs officers who initially inspect these items and if they are deemed to be prohibited, my goods can be seized, and I can face criminal charges. I am of the view that there must be a clear policy or guidelines to follow.”

Since March, she has had four out of nine shipments of mainly dildos cleared while the others were seized and are the subject of the lawsuit.

“I have also looked at the internet and some online stores which advertise these products openly for sale in Trinidad and Tobago. I am therefore confused and bewildered how and/or why these products can in any way be deemed obscene and/or indecent.”

Rodriguez said she did a survey in April 2020, which showed that more than 75 per cent of participants used adult toys regularly while 42 per cent said it assisted in enhancing their relationships with their partners.

“I interpreted these results as an indicator that there was space in the local, retail, market for such goods and there was no generalised public view of indecency or obscenity surrounding adult items.”

She said unlike other policies on the importation of camouflage material, there are none on the importation of adult toys. Checks were also made and it was noted that no law has been passed which indicates that these items were illegal.

“The seizure of the said items has left me feeling embarrassed. I have also been deprived of the said items for a period exceeding two months and it has negatively impacted the viability of my business.”

Rodriguez is represented by attorneys Kiel Taklalsingh, Naveen Maraj and Stefan Ramkissoon.

The matter comes up for hearing on September 28.

In 2020, a High Court judge ruled that the division’s decision to implement a policy that any sex toy, which closely resembles the male or female genitals, is a prohibited item for being indecent or obscene, was unlawful.

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