An Ontario Court of Appeal on Saturday overturned a lower court ruling banning the nationwide Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s airing of a controversial miniseries about sexual abuse, ruling instead to prohibit broadcast of the program only in the province of Ontario and parts of Quebec, including Montreal.
Late Friday, the lower Ontario court had silently passed an injunction on “The Boys of St. Vincent,” a two-part, four-hour fictional tale based on the true story of young male orphans abused by the Catholic brotherhood in the ’70s.
The injunction was not directed against the series’ co-producers, National Film Board of Canada and Tele-Action, or helmer John Smith. “It was only meant to stop the broadcast,” per an NFB representative, and it was partially successful.
Lawyers for four men who will be tried on criminal charges of physical and sexual abuse in the next six months won the injunction on the grounds that broadcasting the program would inflame public opinion against them and impair their shot at a fair jury trial.
Series was aired Sunday night and last night on prime time national public television. The CBC aired “Justice Denied” in Ontario and Quebec instead.
Yesterday, the NFB issued a news release in which topper Joan Pennefather says: “The NFB firmly believes that films of fiction, dealing with difficult and challenging issues, must be seen by Canadians everywhere; we also believe, more specifically, that the broadcast of (the program) would in no way prejudice the trials about to take place in Eastern and Central Ontario. We stand behind the film and the filmmakers.”
Saturday’s appeals court ruling by Chief Justice Dubin and two other judges sparked the following response from Ivan Fecan, VP of arts and entertainment and English television for the CBC: “The CBC is disappointed that more than 10 million Canadians in Ontario and parts of Quebec at this time will be denied the opportunity to see this excellent four-hour drama on a serious contemporary social issue.”
Both the CBC and NFB are waiting for the Court of Appeals’ written statement before determining a mutual course of action.
“The Boys of St. Vincent” delicately addresses a taboo subject that has been a source of contention for the Canadian public since a real, ongoing scandal surfaced several years ago.
Part one is a disturbing portrait of young boys who were mentally and physically abused by Catholic priests running an orphanage in the province of Newfoundland in the 1970s. Part two picks up the story 15 years later, when a long-awaited inquiry reveals a cover-up by church and government officials.
Both the NFB and the CBC believe the series should be seen.
“It is in our interests and in the interests of Canadians’ freedom of expression that we take the necessary steps to ensure that ‘The Boys of St. Vincent’ is seen by as many people as possible,” per Pennefather.
Meanwhile, the NFB is distributing the production via its own video outlets across the country, including those in Ontario and Quebec.