This paper describes the 1912–13 case of R. v. St. Clair, which concerned a Congregationalist minister's attempt to regulate the goings-on in a notorious burlesque theatre in Toronto. A “clean stage” was a goal of the moral reform movement of the time, and the criminal justice system was one of the avenues reformers took to attempt to achieve it. However, obscenity and indecency in theatres posed unique challenges. Two of the most important reasons were that under the influence of artistic and philosophical trends in the modern world, obscenity and indecency were becoming unstable concepts, and the nature, purpose and possibilities of art were being contested. The St. Clair case shows Toronto's legal apparatus grappling with these concerns at a time when the authority to judge and to decide what others might and might not view was slipping away from the Protestant churches and toward secular parties, including the courts. Ultimately the case suggests why the difficulties with censorship of verbal and visual representations may be an intractable dimension of our artistic, philosophical and legal position even now.