Toronto
2 min

Porn & documentaries the same

Ontario Film Review Board makes gay videos too hard to get

DRAGGING ON. Glad Day Bookshop manager Toshiya Kuwabara says he doesn't know how long the store can last. Credit: Jan Becker

It’s not just gay porn videos that are being blocked by the Ontario Film Review Board – mainstream videos like coming out documentaries can also get caught up in the board’s dragnet.



“What confuses most people is that this isn’t just an issue of adult videos. It’s an issue of all videos,” says Toshiya Kuwabara, manager of Glad Day Bookshop.



The store was back in court again Oct 11 and 12 with its legal battle against the board and the Ontario Theatres Act.



The store was charged in August 2000 for selling the adult sex video, Descent, without the board’s classification sticker. Glad Day is arguing that the board doesn’t have the authority to censor videos and that it violates freedom of expression rights by doing so.



“We could be charged if it was an unclassified video about coming out,” says Kuwabara. “They chose this adult video to make the case an issue of the harmful effects of pornography.”



The Ontario Theatres Act requires all films and videos to be viewed, approved and classified by the board. It charges up to $4.20 a minute for this service. Those who don’t comply face penalties of up to $100,000 and six months in jail.



The board isn’t arguing that the Descent video is necessarily obscene – but that it should have been submitted for review.



But Glad Day says that the cost of submitting any video, adult or not, makes it prohibitively expensive to import material that will only be bought by a small number of people – like the gay and lesbian community.



In its closing arguments, the Crown argued that Glad Day had no grounds for challenging the board and that the OFRB’s power is constitutional.



“They’ve said that this is a legitimate way to regulate the film industry,” says Glad Day’s lawyer, Frank Addario. “But we’re saying that it’s not up to the government to make those kinds of judgments.”



Bob Warren, the board’s chair, testified that in most cases, the board is a film and video classifier, not a censor. But when it comes to adult sex videos, it has guidelines on what type of sexual or violent activity Ontario views can’t see.



Until April 2000, these guidelines were kept secret. Now the adult video industry is permitted to see them – but the public isn’t. Warren says there is a concern that the guidelines could be misconstrued by the public.



Kuwabara’s pessimistic about the store’s situation.



“The one thing that’s been on my mind is the store’s future and its ability to continue,” he says. “As much as I’d like to fight this, if it drags on for years on end, there would be no business left.”



The 14-year legal battle between the Vancouver gay and lesbian book store, Little Sister’s, and Canada Customs cost the store an estimated $100,000 – though when the Supreme Court Of Canada ruled (partly) in the store’s favour Dec 15, 2000, it ordered the government to pay those expenses.



Glad Day has spent $63,000 on legal fees so far on the Descent video case; it’s largest single fundraiser brought in about $1,000. The Crown has taken three more days than expected to make its case, cranking the cost up by as much as $8,000 extra per day.



“But Glad Day isn’t here for purely financial reasons,” says Kuwabara. “If we weren’t here to serve the community, we wouldn’t be here today. Canada Customs just opened a shipment of ours today. No sane business person would look at us and say, ‘This is a way to make a million dollars.'”



After one more day in court in November, Glad Day expects a decision in a month or two.