Ontario court curbs movie review panel

Time needed to rewrite unconstitutional Theaters Act

TORONTO — A court has stripped the Ontario Film Review Board of its power to stop films entering the province for a year.

The suspension, issued Friday by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, gives the Ontario government time to rewrite the Theaters Act, which has been found to be unconstitutional.

The Ontario Film Review Board has a month to appeal.

The trouble started four years ago when the OFRB learned a gay bookstore in Toronto was selling videos it had not approved. Since its inception, close to 100 years ago, the OFRB has had a system of prior restraint — meaning it has to approve and rate all films exhibited, sold or distributed in Ontario. Glad Day Bookshop owner John Scythes was charged and convicted of distributing an unapproved film under the Theaters Act.

Lawyers for Glad Day and Scythes, with the assistance of the Ontario Civil Liberties Assn., appealed the conviction on constitutional grounds, saying the OFRB’s policy violated the bookstore’s freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights & Freedoms.

“We’re happy that we have a judge that has seen the light and who realizes that there’s a constitution,” Glad Day manager Toshiya Kuwabara told Daily Variety. Kuwabara said the bookstore had spent C$100,000 ($73,000) in legal fees fighting the charges.

Although the OFRB will continue to classify films, the ruling means unclassified films are permitted in the province for the next year.

The court’s ruling technically applies only to Glad Day, but anyone else could use the ruling as a defense in a similar case.