Who's Classifying? About the Ontario Film Review Board
The province's Film Classification Act, 2005 gives the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB) the authority to review and classify film that is exhibited, rented or sold in Ontario. Several types of films are exempt from the classification requirement. These include films designed to provide information, education or instruction. See Ontario Regulation 452/05 for other exemptions, and further information.
The OFRB consists of individuals (members) who come from a variety of diverse backgrounds, and vary in age, gender, vocation, race, cultural background and sexual orientation.
Throughout its history, the OFRB's policies have been shaped and influenced by external social forces. It continues to adapt and reflect community standards related to age appropriateness of language, nudity, sex, violence, etc.
How the OFRB Classifies
Screening panels of OFRB members review and classify film in accordance with the Act, regulation and guidelines established by the OFRB. These guidelines, which are continually reviewed and updated, allow the OFRB to be objective and consistent, yet flexible. In this way, the OFRB's classification guidelines strive to maintain community standards, while viewing films with an eye for their overall context and social significance.
While viewing the film, each panel member makes extensive notes on all elements that contribute to the film's classification. These elements include coarse language, nudity, violence, sexual activity, and psychological impact. The Classification Categories give a general description of the guidelines associated with each classification and element. After reviewing the film, OFRB members weigh each element based on its content, treatment, and the cumulative effect the film may have on the audience. The cumulative effect can be greatly affected by a number of factors, including style, tone, duration, intensity, frequency, and the amount of visual and/or descriptive detail within each scene. Members must consider all the observed elements within the context of the film in order to arrive at a classification decision.
In addition to the classification, OFRB members may choose to include content advisories, such as Nudity, Coarse Language, or Brutal Violence. These advisories, along with the classification, must appear on all advertising, in order to assist the viewer in making informed choices.
The Chair of the OFRB convenes three types of panels for the purposes of classification. Each serves a different purpose, as follows:
- Normal: This panel consists of OFRB members who classify the film. If members cannot reach a consensus regarding a film's classification, a cumulative panel may be requested.
- Cumulative: A new panel of OFRB members screen the film. The votes of the individual OFRB members from both the normal and cumulative panels are tallied, and the majority determines the classification.
- Appeal: This panel is requested by the applicant who disagrees with the OFRB's classification decision. Appeal panels consist of members who have not yet seen the film in question. The panel's decision is final, subject to the right of the Director (under the Film Classification Act, 2005) to require reconsideration.
- Reconsideration: The Director (under the Film Classification Act, 2005) may require a person who distributes, offers to distribute, exhibits or offers to exhibit a film to submit it to the OFRB for the purpose of reconsidering the classification or approval decision, or to determine if a film is exempt. In such cases, the panel consists of members who have not yet seen the film in question. This panel's decision is final.
History of the OFRB
1911 The original three-member Ontario Censor Board, appointed by the Province in 1911, was given extensive powers of censorship. Scenes of an immoral nature, seduction, infidelity, or the depiction of a crime or a prize fight were just cause to withhold permission for screening a film. There was also a ban on American flag-waving! 1919In 1919, women's groups agitated for more freedom and rights for women. In particular, the Censor Board was criticized for its reluctance to appoint women on a permanent basis. As a result of this pressure, a woman was appointed at year end. 1921By 1921, the first set of written standards was produced in booklet form. It included many of the earlier Board's exclusions, but added cruelty to animals, arson, firearms, violence, crime, insanity, murder and suicide. The American flag-waving ban was extended to all foreign flags. 1930sIn the 1930s, building inspections were initiated and rigidly enforced. It became mandatory for theatre owners to use only fire-resistant building materials, and they were held accountable for building upkeep. Saturday and holiday matinees were introduced, which unsupervised children were allowed to attend, although a matron had to be present in the theatre. The practice of actually classifying films also began in this decade. Each film stood or fell on its own merit, and approved movies fell into one of two classifications - "Suitable For All" or "Suitable For Adult Audiences". This Board of Censors was the first in North America to introduce a classification system. 1940sThe biggest concern of the Board in the 1940s was "propaganda films". Any footage of riots or strikes was immediately excised from newsreels, and no film involving Communist propaganda was ever approved. Other subjects disturbing to the Board included horror, kissing, dancing, and religious propaganda. With the outbreak of World War II, rules became even more restrictive, and no foreign language films (except those from France) were screened. Post-WarIn the post-war years, the government sanctioned outdoor movies, and in August of 1946, the province's first drive-in movie opened in Stoney Creek. The number of rejected films dropped dramatically, and the Board acquired the reputation as one of the most liberal and enlightened in Canada. 1980sReforms in the 1980s introduced the current system of appointing private citizens to a rotating Board, as well as a four-level classification system: Family (F), Parental Guidance (PG), Adult Accompaniment (AA), and Restricted (R). The name was changed to the Ontario Film Review Board; the regulation of videotapes was introduced; and adult sex videos were sanctioned. The mandate of the Board was directed less at censorship and more towards classification. 1990sThe 1990’s saw more changes. Both the Chair and the Board members are appointed for specific terms of office. The Canadian Home Video Rating System was initiated, as was the mandatory placement of stickers on all adult sex videos. 2003In 2003, Ontario introduced a five-level classification system. G - General, PG - Parental Guidance, 14A - Under 14 must be accompanied by an adult, 18A - Under 18 must be accompanied by an adult, R - Restricted to anyone 18 and over. 2005On August 31, 2005, the Film Classification Act, 2005 replaced the Theatres Act, as the legislation that governs the activities of the Board. Under the Film Classification Act, 2005, while the requirement for classification continues, the Board’s authority to refuse to approve films was narrowed to include only adult sex films which contain specified scenes (e.g. explicit sexual activity with violence, etc.) 2015On October 1, 2015, the Ontario Film Authority was established as a delegated administrative authority (DAA), responsible for administering the Film Classification Act, 2005 and associated regulations on behalf of the Ontario government. The OFA assumed responsibility for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services’ former Theatres Regulation Unit and assumed oversight responsibility for the Ontario Film Review Board.
Click on a milestone above to see a brief snapshot of the OFRB at various moments in history.