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Ontario Film Authority

Film Classifications

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 (such as documentaries or travelogues). Some exemptions do not apply to films that contain coarse language, graphic violence, explicit sexual activity and other types of scenes. (See Ontario Regulation 452/05 for other exemptions, and further information.)

The OFRB is a community Board. OFRB members represent a cross-section of the many diverse communities across Ontario and therefore reflect their current standards. Members vary in age, gender, vocation, cultural background, and sexual orientation.

Members work a seven-hour day, usually four to five times per month, and are paid on a per diem basis.

Throughout its history, the Board's policies have been shaped and influenced by external social forces. It continues to adapt and mirror the tastes and standards of the various societies it serves.

To view a list of current OFRB members and their biographies, click here.

How the OFRB Classifies

The OFRB Board Members, usually in one or two person screening panels 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 yet flexible. In this way, they not only maintain the integrity of community standards, but also appreciate and accommodate the product's artistic merit, or social and documentary significance.

While viewing the film, each panel member makes extensive notes on all elements that contribute to the classification. These elements include coarse language, nudity, violence, sexual activity, and psychological impact. The Classification Categories give a full description of the guidelines associated with each classification and element. Following the screening, panel members use these detailed notes in determining the classification of the film.

Each element is weighed on the basis of content and treatment, and the cumulative effect of those factors on the audience. Members consider style, tone, duration, frequency, and the amount of visual and/or verbal detail. How the elements relate to the narrative also contributes to the OFRB Board's decision.

Besides the classification, the OFRB Board may choose to include information pieces, such as Nudity, Coarse Language, or Brutal Violence. These warnings, along with the classification, must appear on all advertising to help the viewer in making informed choices.

There are three types of panel, and each serves a different purpose as follows:

  • Normal: This panel usually consists of one or two members. Although the members strive to reach a consensus and final decision, a Cumulative Panel may be requested either by a member in a minority position, or by any member wishing to have a wider cross-section of opinion.
  • Cumulative: Three other OFRB Board Members screen the film. The results of both the Normal and Cumulative Panels are tallied, and the majority rules. Since this process is initiated by a Member, there is no cost to the distributor.
  • Appeal: This panel is requested and paid for by a submittor who disagrees with the Board's decision. It consists of a minimum of three members who have not yet seen the film in question. The panel's decision is final, subject to the right of the director to require reconsideration.
  • Reconsideration: The Director under the Film Classification Act, 2005 may submit a film including a video game to the OFRB Board, or require a person who distributes, offers to distribute, exhibits or offers to exhibit a film or video game to submit it to the OFRB Board for the purpose of reconsidering the classification or approval decision, or to determine if a film is exempt. In such cases there is no additional cost to the submittor and the panel consists of a minimum of three members who have not yet seen the film in question. This panel's decision is final.

By the time a film has gone through three panels, up to ten different OFRB Board Members have viewed it.

For classification of films and videos, including all adult sex films, distributors are charged a fee of $4.20 per minute. Most films in a language other than English or French pay a flat fee of $78.75 per title. Most films wholly produced in Canada are exempt from the classification fees.

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!
1919
In 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.
1921
By 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.
1930s
In 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.
1940s
The 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-War
In 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.
1980s
Reforms 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.
1990s
The 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.
2003
In 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.
2005
On 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.)
2015
On 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.