Toronto
2 min

Video censorship

Glad Day goes to court to 'fight for survival'

DESCENT. A threat to Canadian values or a victim of petty bureacracy? Credit: Xtra files

Glad Day Bookshop got caught refusing to spend the money to get one of its adult videos approved by the Ontario Film Review Board – and is going to court to fight the law.



“This store is fighting for its survival,” says bookstore manager Toshiya Kuwabara.



“We don’t sell dozens of a single title. If I’m only selling a few copies, to break even I’d have to be charging $200 a video – wait, probably even more than that.”



Glad Day bookstore was charged Apr 27 with one count of distributing an unapproved film. That film is Descent, by renowned US director Steven Scarborough. It’s a hard-core gay adult video (with one reviewer calling it “art house porn;” it opens with Gregorian chant).



The provincial Theatres Act requires that each and every video be approved by the OFRB – with scofflaws punished by maximum fine of up to $100,000 for the store and a one year jail sentence for the owner.



Mass market videos handled by large distributors usually reach the retail level already stickered – that is, already classified – by the OFRB because large distributors pay the fees for a master copy, then pass on the cost to their many retailers. Small run independent videos – like lesbian or gay porn – may have to be purchased directly from the US producer. Then the store has to pay the OFRB directly for the screening and the rating.



Many entrepreneurs say the financial strain keeps small stores and shops from stocking the videos legally, and they are at constant risk of being caught.



Canadian-made films are viewed by the OFRB at no charge; foreign films are charged a flat rate of $78.75 – unless they are in English or French, in which case they are charged a viewing rate of $4.20 per minute. For a small bookstore, getting a US film classified could easily cost $378 per 90-minute flick.



Beyond that, one must also pay a fee for the right to sell videos.



“A distributor’s licence costs approximately $575 per year, while a retailer must pay $100 a year to the OFRB,” says Kuwabara. “After competing with superstores and paying $200 to $300 to Canada Customs monthly, [for seized books, inappropriate duty and return shipping], the store cannot afford the OFRB fees.”



Glad Day has been at the forefront of many fights against censorship. It’s fought court battles for the right to sell The Joy of Gay Sex (which was won) and Bad Attitude (which was lost – one issue of the magazine was declared obscene).



Store lawyer Frank Addario says Glad Day will mount a constitutional challenge.



“The store had chosen to challenge the Ontario government and ask the court to take away the power to delay and censor the distribution of video and film in the province.



“The current Theatres Act allows it to censor material that is not obscene. We’ll argue that they’re not entitled to this power. Their use of this is nothing but a tax on free speech. If the Theatres Act laws were applied to books it would be disastrous and would incite a riot.”



OFRB spokesperson Catherine Fraser couldn’t say if the film Descent is available elsewhere in Toronto. “With limited resources, the OFRB

randomly selects stores for inspection.”



Fraser says that more than 2,200 video and book stores across the province are inspected annually and that some 100 adult films are banned every year.



The trial is set for May 29, 2001. Glad Day has fundraisers in the offing and asks that cheques to be made payable to Frank Addario in Trust and sent to the store (598A Yonge St, Toronto M4Y 1Z3).