2 min

Censored no more

Glad Day decision stands

YOURS TO DISCOVER. Ontario is a little freer than it was last month, thanks to the persistence of Glad Day Bookshop owner John Scythes and manager Toshiya Kuwabara. Credit: Daniel Ehrenworth

The Ontario government has conceded defeat in the case of the tenacious Toronto bookshop that couldn’t be kept down. On Apr 30, Glad Day Bookshop won a landmark legal victory, virtually wiping out Ontario’s archaic censorship laws.

The government was given 30 days to review the decision and respond to the ruling. Just after the deadline, it was announced the government would not be appealing.

“After careful consideration of the judgment in this matter and its potential implications for other areas of law, the government has decided an appeal would not be in the public interest,” says Attorney General spokesperson Brandon Crawley. They now have one year to make the necessary changes.

The case dates back to 2000 when an inspector with the ministry of Consumer And Business Services seized a copy of Descent from the store, a gay porn video that had not been sanctioned by the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB). Glad Day faced a fine of up to $100,000 with owner John Scythes facing the possibility of an additional $25,000 fine.

Justice Russell Juriansz’s decision found that the OFRB had overstepped its bounds and that its practices of censorship violated the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. He also found the province’s mandatory submission rule for films to represent an unfair form of “prior restraint.”

Even though the judgment makes it clear that OFRB’s powers to censor are unconstitutional and unnecessary, Crawley suggests that a new and improved classification system will still function as an effective gatekeeper for Ontario citizens. “We’re confident it will allow us to protect the people of Ontario from obscene material.”

The Ministry Of Business And Consumer Affairs will be responsible for developing an acceptable classification system to replace the current censorship regime. “[The] Theatre Act will be modernized and how the classification system will change is still in the works,” says ministry spokesperson Julia Rosenberg.

Glad Day’s lawyer Frank Addario says an appropriate classification system should be something like reading the ingredients on a soup can. But he’s concerned about the possibility of classifications becoming arbitrary and turning into a “backdoor form of censorship.”

Addario says the whole idea of film censorship is “based on a really antique idea that film and video are some form of insidious art that’s inexplicably more dangerous than paintings, drawings, sculpture, music or drama – and of course it’s not.”

He says he’s pleased with the decision and proud of the perseverance of his clients.

“[They] really had a choice after they lost the first challenge to just give up but they really hung in…. I think these guys are heroes.

“The only problem with it [the case] not going to the Supreme Court is that people in BC are still going to have to put up with the censorship regime out there,” adds Addario.

In his decision, Juriansz compared Ontario to Manitoba, which said good riddance to its own redundant film and video censorship board in 1972. He asked if residents of Manitoba suffer “any negative consequences or exposure to more harmful films and videos than Ontario residents?” Juriansz doesn’t think so.

“There is no evidence that Manitoba society differs in any relevant way from Ontario society because Ontario censors films and videos and Manitoba does not.”

Chair of the OFRB, Bill Moody, doesn’t think that the ruling will change OFRB’s practices very much.

“I have been involved with the board some seven years and in the last few years we have de-emphasized censorship power of the board…. The classification system will stay the same.”