Film Censorship

Film censorship has existed in Canada for almost as long as films have been shown. CENSORSHIP takes a variety of forms: customs officials may forbid entry to pornographic films, cities may ban films within their municipal limits and provincial attorneys general may lay criminal charges. Production houses, especially governmental agencies, such as TELEFILM CANADA, CBC/Radio-Canada and SODEC, practise self-censorship. The NATIONAL FILM BOARD has demonstrated this a number of times, most notably in 1972 when on political grounds the presiding government film commissioner banned several Québec films made by the French unit.

Censorship is a provincial responsibility. With the exception of PEI and Newfoundland, each province has its own censorship, supervisory or classification board. Between 1911 and 1913, 5 provinces passed censorship laws and then established boards to apply them. In Québec, where censorship was seen as an extension of family rights and responsibilities, the emphasis was placed on protecting children from corruption. Western provinces took the same approach and added an element of anti-Americanism.

For about 50 years, censorship boards have had almost unchallenged control over the fate of films. Reasons for banning a film or demanding certain cuts are extremely diverse and vary from province to province. In the post-WWII years, censorship was justified on the grounds of protecting the public interest against outrages to morality. In Québec everything that ran counter to church teaching and morality was forbidden; but this censorship began to be criticized and, paradoxically, Québec became the most liberal province. In 1963, following a commission of inquiry, Québec established a classification policy, and in 1967 the censorship board became the supervisory board. The following year, Manitoba substituted classification for censorship. In 1976, the Superior Court of Nova Scotia ruled that censorship was not under provincial jurisdiction. Five provinces appealed this ruling and won reversal of this in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Their powers reaffirmed, the provinces continue to impose 10 different sets of cinematic standards. A modest form of liberalization has triumphed lately - except in Ontario which, since 1975, has become the stronghold of conservatism and the object of protests and anticensorship movements. Canadian censorship, subject to institutional, political, police and religious interference, as well as the influence of "political correctness," remains a matter of provincial control and continuing controversy.