2 min

New film law ignores ruling

Unclassified videos are still bad

The morality police known as the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB) really must like their jobs – even an Ontario Superior Court ruling won’t make them go away.

Critics say the province’s Film Classification Act, introduced in the legislature last week to replace the Theatres Act that was deemed to violate the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, does nothing to stop censorship by the OFRB or address the crucial issue of prior restraint of film and video.

Consumer And Business Services Minister Jim Watson says the new legislation gets the OFRB out of the censorship business. But the Film Classification Act still calls for mandatory submission of films for pre-screening and classification.

This move falls short of addressing the April judgment by Ontario Superior Court Justice Russell Juriansz over an unclassified gay porn video found at Glad Day Bookshop in 2000. In his decision, Juriansz concluded that “mandatory submission of films and videos to the board for its approval… infringe the fundamental freedom of expression guaranteed by section 2(b) of the Charter.”

Toshiya Kuwabara of Glad Day says he’s disappointed the provincial government tabled a bill that doesn’t address the main concerns of the ruling: it still must approve all films and videos in Ontario and still makes distributors pay as much as $4.20 a minute for this approval and a classification category like G, PG, 14A, 18A and R.

“It’s as if nothing has seemed to have changed. It is really, really disappointing. I look at this and wonder, what’s happening?” Kuwabara says.

Ministry spokesperson Julie Rosenberg says the new act “separates the approval and classification powers of the OFRB,” to be in accordance with the Glad Day court decision. But a nonclassified film is ostensibly censored because it will remain illegal to sell, rent or distribute. If board members determine the material could be considered obscene, the board could either ask the distributor to voluntarily remove the offending film segments and resubmit the film, or the board could send the film to the police.

Glad Day’s lawyer Frank Addario says the government had a choice to give up the OFRB’s prior restraint powers but chose not to.

“They’ve taken a very narrow interpretation of what the judge said was wrong and they’ve maintained the powers for themselves that they shouldn’t be exercising.”

The new policy’s emphasis on Criminal Code issues like obscenity and child pornography raises questions of whether OFRB members know enough about the Criminal Code to make good judgments.

“The specialists in determining what’s obscene really should be the police because they’re the ones that enforce the Criminal Code,” Addario says. “The OFRB is not paid to enforce the Criminal Code.”

Another criticism of the new Film Classification Act is that it actually expands the power of the OFRB, since video games have been included in the definition of “film” for the purposes of the act.

The fines will also increase to $50,000 from $25,000 for an individual, and to $250,000 from $100,000 for a corporation.

“You can expect people in the film exhibition, distribution and retail business will challenge this legislation,” Addario says.

Kuwabara just wants film and video to be treated like other expressive arts.

“There is no Ontario book review board. Canadian publishers when they import books don’t have to submit their books to a board and pay, say, $4.20 a page.”