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DESCENT. A threat to Canadian values or a victim of petty bureacracy? (photo by Xtra files)  
Video censorship
News / Glad Day goes to court to ‘fight for survival’

story by Nancy Irwin / Xtra! Nov 30 2000

 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).  
How embarrassing are they?
Nancy Irwin

The Ontario Film Review Board has a great amount of power. We’ve collected a short list of what artists and entrepreneurs call the OFRB’s recent SNAFUs.

• Lisa Steele, anti-censorship activist and art teacher at the Ontario College Of Art And Design: “The French film Baise-Moi (Rape Me) was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival but was banned for viewing in Ontario mid-November. It’s the first time in a long time that a full feature film has been banned. Pretty Baby and Tin Drum were banned in the ’70s, which made Ontario the laughing stock of the world. This summer a poster for an Israeli film was banned by the OFRB. They control advertising, posters and
newspaper ads, and because its power is so undefined, they can ban or cut at will.”

Baise-Moi tells the story of two women who were raped... and who take their revenge.

The OFRB also recently banned documentarian Ron Mann’s marijuana film Grass. The decision was eventually reversed.

Says Steele: “The Ontario Censor Board is now called the Ontario Film Review Board for a softer image. It’s power is so undefined, they can ban or cut at will. The queer community bears the brunt of censorship. This is economic interference and discriminates against smaller institutions. I will fight forever to remove the Censor Board from its powers.”

• Derek Vincent, manager of Review Video (on the Danforth): “We were visited recently by the OFRB for showing the poster for Yana’s Friend, an Israeli film. We covered up the poster so that most of it wasn’t showing. They came back a week later to check. Because we don’t sell porn, we don’t normally see them. But the sticker is a red herring, and many stores rent and sell unstickered videos.”

The poster showed a vague image of nudity.

• Sarah Forbes-Roberts, co-owner of the sex shop Come As You Are: “Come As You Are was visited three times by the OFRB in the last year alone. [We] received a fax one week before participating in the Everything To Do With Sex Show [a sex consumer show at the CNE grounds] reminding us about the rules around stickering videos in Ontario, as if we might have forgotten.”

It was the fourth “contact” with the OFRB this year.

• Bob Loblow, employee of Suspect Video: “The OFRB visits once a year or less, and they always look in the porn section. They pick up things without stickers and I explain that it’s soft porn and they put it back down [and don’t charge the store, despite the law]. They told us not to rent The Faces Of Death videos, which are cheesie ’70 real life (supposedly) death scenes. But in recent years there’s much worse stuff released. They have a baffling way of operating. The OFRB is an outdated dinosaur which doesn’t do people any good.”

• Carlyle Jansen, owner of the small book and sex store Good For Her: “Videos made for our community tend to come from small producers and distributors. They show women with different body types and sizes, women of colour, butch or androgenous women, women without silicone implants. The community has had a hard time accessing such material. Mainstream distributors don’t carry marginal videos, and so small businesses must pay for stickers [the OFRB product marker] which makes they system discriminative against the LGBTQ community. There should be equal access to all communities.”

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