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Border agency denies wrongdoing in gay film censorship flap

CBSA says they were "simply unfamiliar" with the films, blames courier for hold-up

SEIZED. Patrik, Age 1.5 is one of three gay films that were seized en route to Ottawa's Inside Out film fest.

A spokesperson for Canada’s border guards says that three gay films were flagged by border officials because of “simple unfamiliarity with the titles.”

On Nov 20, officials from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) refused to let three films into the country that were destined for the Inside Out film festival in Ottawa. The films — Patrik, Age 1.5, Clapham Junction and I Can’t Think Straight — are gay and lesbian titles distributed by a gay entertainment company.

After a film is flagged by border guards, the movie must be diverted from its delivery path and instead sent to the CBSA offices for inspection before it is imported.

The CBSA’s Chris Kealey says that he doesn’t know how many films are flagged for review at Canada’s border or what percentage of films must be reviewed by staff before they are released.

However, Kealey says that the CBSA’s red flag — issued by staff at the Ottawa Air Cargo Centre — didn’t cause the films to be delayed. Rather, he blames a courier company for failing to deliver copies of the film the CBSA on Friday.

The films were flagged earlier that day; CBSA’s offices are open from 8am-4pm, says Kealey. They’re closed on the weekend.

“We received the films at 4:10pm on Monday,” he says.

He refuses to say whether the films have been released.

When Jason St-Laurent, the director of programming for Inside Out, found out that the films had been stopped at the border, he tried frantically to get ahold of staff at the CBSA. No one was able to help him, he says.

“CBSA held three prints at the border, although they don’t call procedures like this seizures,” he says.

He managed to get a shipment of replacements, he says, although barely under the wire. If St-Laurent hadn’t found alternate prints, the festival could have lost up to $12,000.

“At that point, we were ready to reimburse everyone. I’d already gone to the bank,” he says. “I don’t know how to tell you how ecstatic we were when package arrived.”

The second time they sent the films, they arrived without any hassle. That time they were sent it to SAW Gallery in Ottawa, rather than the Inside Out film festival.

The whole ordeal is puzzling to the folks at the New York-based Here Productions, which distributes all three films.

“I don’t understand why they’d be held,” says Josh Rosenzweig, who is in charge of publicity and marketing for Here. “Patrick, Age 1.5 is family movie. There’s nothing really that’s adult content in it. A lot of other gay films haven’t gotten screened out, so I’m not sure why these ones. And why was a PG film about gay adoption stopped?”

Check out a list of material banned by the CBSA in the second quarter of 2009.

— with files from Neil McKinnon