Harman Patil (Editor)

Censorship in Canada

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Censorship in Canada

In Canada, appeals by the judiciary to community standards and the public interest are the ultimate determinants of which forms of expression may legally be published, broadcast, or otherwise publicly disseminated. Other public organisations with the authority to censor include the Canadian Human Rights Commission, various provincial human rights commissions, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, along with self-policing associations of private corporations such as the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.


Over the 20th century, legal standards for censorship in Canada shifted from a "strong state-centred practice", intended to protect the community from perceived social degradation, to a more decentralised form of censorship often instigated by societal groups invoking state support to restrict the public expression of political and ideological opponents. Canada is believed to have more hate crime legislation than any other country in the world.


The demolition of the Corridart exhibit in Montreal by former mayor Jean Drapeau on the 13 June 1976, two days before the commencement of the Montreal Olympic Games, was considered an act of censorship by the artists involved and resulted in a lengthy court trial wherein the artistic and aesthetic merit of the project was questioned. The collaborative efforts of a significant portion of the Montreal arts community was ordered destroyed by the mayor and was done so by municipal workers with police escort. The 16 main installations and dozens of smaller installations were taken to a municipal impound lot, in some cases left outside to be destroyed by the elements. The actions of the mayor were condemned by the provincial cultural affairs minister, principally because the mayor lacked legal authority over the Olympics as a whole. Corridart was intended to showcase Canadian and Montreal arts to an international audience.

"Will and Representation"

In 2006, Ryan McCourt was the first artist selected to display sculpture for one year outside Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre. McCourt's exhibition, Will and Representation, was an installation of four large sculptures based on Ganesha, a deity from Hindu mythology. Ten months into the exhibition, then-Mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel ordered the works removed after reportedly receiving a 700-name petition complaining of the sculptures' "disrespectful" nudity. When asked for comment, McCourt stated that "Nudity seems like a rather quaint thing to get one's knickers in a bunch over, in the 21st century. Besides, there's lots of art that I don't like, I don't go around gathering signatures of people who agree with me, and try to force the art to come down. That would be truly offensive, especially in a democracy like Canada."

Broadly, the public reaction to Mandel's censorship decree was one of disapproval. In an interview with the Edmonton Journal's Paula Simons, David Goa, religious scholar, cultural anthropologist, and director of the University of Alberta's Ronning Centre for Study of Religion and Public Life, states "In India, Lord Ganesha is on everything — playing cards, advertising signs, lotto tickets, even diapers, I suspect." Within the traditional Thirty-two forms of Ganesha in Hinduism, Ganesha is sometimes presented nude, in both infant (Bala Ganapati) and erotic (Uchchhishta Ganapati) forms. Simons concludes, "In his haste to appease a few protesters, the mayor, usually a champion of the arts, made a serious error in judgment. Instead of giving McCourt's divinely inspired statues the bum's rush, we should be celebrating this Canadian cross-pollination of cultures and aesthetic forms". The Globe and Mail's columnist Margaret Wente agreed with Simons: "The mayor, of course, was quite wrong. Mr. McCourt's sculptures did not insult the Hindu community. They insulted a small but vocal conservative religious group that is about as representative of Hindus as Hassidic Jews are of Jews.... There's a big difference between respecting different cultures and caving in to illiberalism and superstition."

Despite such negative responses in the media to visual art censorship in Canada, in 2014 the Edmonton Arts Council subsequently refused a donation of one of McCourt's sculptures, Destroyer of Obstacles,evidently because the sculpture had genitalia "beneath its clothes". After meeting with seven Hindu community group representative to seek out their opinion of the donation, the Edmonton Arts Council received a response that McCourt's sculpture was "an offense to their religion" and that the ban enacted by Mayor Mandel should remain in place. As a result of this consultation, "the Public Art Committee unanimously voted to decline acceptance of the gift, as the artwork did not meet "community or civic suitability" criteria." In McCourt's view, "It is not the purpose of a city’s public art collection to placate special interests," he says. "I want Edmonton to build the best civic art collection that we can get, never mind the politics, the religion, etc. of the artists making the work."


The main body monitoring and regulating broadcast content in Canada is the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a self-governing association of radio and television broadcasters. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), while also having the power to regulate broadcast content, intervenes only in the most serious and controversial cases.

Many Canadian broadcast stations broadcast sexually explicit or violent programming under certain circumstances, albeit with viewer discretion advisories and at adult-oriented times on the schedule. CTV, for example, has aired controversial series such as The Sopranos, Nip/Tuck and The Osbournes in prime time without editing, and some Canadian television broadcasters, such as Citytv, have aired softcore pornography after 12:00 a.m. EST, which can therefore be viewed as early as 9:00 p.m. in other parts of Canada (i.e., anywhere in the Pacific Time Zone).

The Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters defines the "late viewing period" as the hours from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Outside this period, the Code of Ethics prohibits programming containing sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language. This association also publishes a "Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming".

In enforcing these two Codes, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council permits nudity to be broadcast during the day as long as it is considered non-sexual. For example, the CBSC permitted a 4:00 p.m. broadcast of the movie Wildcats containing male frontal nudity in a locker-room scene and female nudity in a bathtub. The CBSC has also permitted the film Striptease, which contains scenes of bare female breasts, to be shown at 8:00 p.m.

The CBSC summarizes its policy on sexual activity as follows:

Before the Watershed (9:00 pm - 6:00 am), the CBSC considers that it is inappropriate to show sexual activity that is intended for adult eyes and minds. There is, in the pre-Watershed period, a run of 15 hours (a strong majority of the broadcast day and about 90% of our customary waking hours), during which broadcasters offer their audiences a "safe haven", namely, a period in which their television viewing can be free of adult-oriented material, whether sexual or otherwise. There may still, in that time frame, be programming that some parents will not wish their families to see (all adults should make the effort to weigh the appropriateness of all kinds of programming for themselves and their children) but it will not be due to its exclusively adult orientation. And even in the pre-Watershed period, broadcasters advise their audiences of the nature of what is to come.


In the early 1910s, motion pictures were rising in popularity. It was decided nationally that censorship of them was necessary in order to be suitable for a wide, general audience of varying ages, mental, and educational levels. However, since national censorship for such a large and diverse country was unworkable, each province would censor according to their own provincial community standards. However, Ontario would be the "main" censor in that theatrical prints would be censored/edited by the Ontario censors then distributed throughout Ontario and the other provinces. The other provinces would provide additional censorship/editing if it was necessary for their own province. The Ontario board was formed in 1911; other provinces followed shortly thereafter. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland never formed any boards but instead took their advice from the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia boards.

The censors had no strict rules however; they often took advice from the British Board of Film Censors in the early years. In the 1920s, the Ontario censor board objected to content such as:

  • actors pointing guns directly at the camera, or at other actors due to the possible negative effects on children and mentally weaker individuals
  • machine guns
  • scenes with women smoking
  • profanity, vulgarity, and obscenity
  • disrespect for officers of the law
  • depiction and patriotic waving of the American flag, this was so the boards could promote a sense of Canadian nationalism
  • illicit sexual relations
  • nudity
  • cruelty to animals
  • drinking
  • drug use
  • In the 1920s, the Canadian film boards removed American patriotism from imported films, citing their damage to a pro-British sentiment.

    Eventually, six of the provincial censor boards adopted classification in 1953 though films were still censored for certain categories. The idea of classification was first proposed by Ottawa child welfare advocate, and future mayor, Charlotte Whitton in 1920; however, at the time it was criticized with one newspaper editor claiming "A film that's not suitable for a ten-year-old should not be seen at all." It was in the 1950s that the censorship standards became more permissive. For example, A Farewell to Arms contained an intense birth scene, a character yells "Damn!" in Witness for the Prosecution, and Peyton Place contained "pungent language". All of which was passed, in Ontario at least.

    In the 1960s, Manitoba became the first province to fully adopt classification and abandon censorship.

    Most Canadian provinces still have ratings boards that have the power to order cuts to movies and may even ban the showing of films if they violate Canada's Criminal Code sanctions against depicting sexualized violence and sex acts involving people under the age of 18. Movies formerly banned in some Canadian provinces include Deep Throat and Pretty Baby.

    One particularly famous censorship controversy involved the award-winning German film The Tin Drum, which was banned as pornographic by Ontario's film review board in 1980.

    The romantic comedy Young People Fucking prompted the Government of Canada to introduce Bill C-10, to allow revoking government funds from films the government deemed offensive. Strong public backlash led to the bill dying on the order paper.


    In 1937, under Maurice Duplessis, Quebec's Union Nationale government passed the Act to protect the Province Against Communistic Propaganda (commonly known as the "Padlock Law"), which banned the printing, publishing or distributing of "any newspaper, periodical, pamphlet, circular, document or writing, propagating Communism or Bolshevism". The law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in Switzman v. Elbling in 1957.

    In 1949, spearheaded by the campaigning of MP Davie Fulton, crime comics were banned in Canada in Bill 10 of the 21st Canadian Parliament's 1st session (informally known as the Fulton Bill). As of 2013, crime comics are still illegal under the Criminal Code.

    In 1955, the importation of American The Atom Spy Hoax was deemed seditious as it questioned the Canadian government's handling of the Igor Gouzenko affair.

    Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v Canada

    One of the most famous ongoing censorship controversies in Canada has been the dispute between Canada Customs and LGBT retail bookstores such as Little Sister's in Vancouver and Glad Day in Toronto. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, Canada Customs frequently stopped material being shipped to the two stores on the grounds of "obscenity". Both stores frequently had to resort to the legal system to challenge the confiscation of their property.

    In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada Customs did not have the authority to make its own judgments about the permissibility of material being shipped to the stores but was permitted to confiscate only material that had specifically been ruled by the courts to constitute an offence under the Criminal Code.

    In addition a report from 2013, reports that over 100 books, magazine, and other written works were challenged for removal in schools and libraries. Some of these challenges were upheld however some were rejected.


    Internet content is not specifically regulated in Canada, however local laws apply to websites hosted in Canada as well as to residents who host sites on servers in other jurisdictions. A well-known example is the case of Ernst Zündel, who was investigated by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for promoting ethnic hatred via his website.

    In November 2006, Canadian Internet service providers Bell, Bell Aliant, MTS Allstream, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Telus, and Vidéotron announced Project Cleanfeed Canada, a voluntary effort to block websites hosting child pornography. The list of blocked sites is compiled from reports by Internet users and investigated by the independent organization Cybertip.ca. Project Cleanfeed was praised following its founding by Royal Canadian Mounted Police Supt. Earla-Kim McColl (then-head of the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre).

    In October 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that online publications cannot be found liable for linking to defamatory material as long as the linking itself is not defamatory.

    In 2015, the province of Quebec proposed legislation which would require unlicensed online gambling websites, as defined by Loto-Québec, to be blocked by ISPs in defense of the Loto-Québec-operated Espacejeux. The proposal was criticized for the possible precedents that such legislation could set, as it would be the first internet censorship law passed by a Canadian government, as well as the law's intent to maintain a monopoly. Bill 74 was passed by the provincial government in May 2016. It was challenged in the Quebec Superior Court by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, and by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in a complaint to the CRTC. In December 2016, the Commission decided that it would await the outcome of the court case before making a final ruling, but iterated its opinion that under the Telecommunications Act, no ISP may censor websites without its consent, and that "compliance with other legal or juridical requirements – whether municipal, provincial, or foreign – does not in and of itself justify the blocking of specific websites by Canadian carriers, in the absence of commission approval".

    Private sector employees

    Canadians can be disciplined by their employers for writing letters to newspapers. Christine St-Pierre, a television reporter covering federal politics for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was suspended in September 2006 for writing a letter in support of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

    Chris Kempling, a Canadian educator and counsellor, was suspended by the British Columbia College of Teachers and disciplined by the Quesnel School District for anti-gay comments in letters to the editor of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer.

    Canadian courts have upheld professional sanctions against teachers and school counsellors for writing letters to newspapers that are found to be discriminatory, limiting their freedom of expression and religion on the basis of maintaining "a school system that is free from bias, prejudice and intolerance." See Status of religious freedom in Canada

    Public servants

    Canadian public sector employees can be dismissed for criticizing the government.

    For example, in Fraser v. Public Sector Staff Relations Board, the Supreme Court of Canada stated:

    When one examines the substance of the criticisms (two major government policies and the character and integrity of the Prime Minister and Government), the context of those criticisms (prolonged, virtually full time, in public meetings, on radio, on television, in newspapers, local, national, international), and the form of the criticisms (initially restrained, but increasingly vitriolic and vituperative) the Adjudicator's conclusion that Mr. Fraser's ability to perform his own job and his suitability to remain in the public service were both impaired was a fair conclusion.

    Human rights commissions

    The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) is charged with enforcing the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) which forbids "hate messages". The Canadian Human Rights Commission has its national office in Ottawa, Ontario, with regional offices in Alberta, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Quebec, and Toronto, Ontario.

    In Canada under the CHRA it is illegal for any person to make a statement which "is likely to expose a person or persons to 'hatred or contempt' by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination." The CHRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted. The CHRC has been instrumental in prosecuting anti-Semitism and racism.

    Although the CHRA is a federal law which forbids ‘hate messages’ only on the telephone or the internet, provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta have extended this prohibition to all publications.

    In March 2006 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that James Scott Richardson and Alex Kulbashian, who ran a racist website called "Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team", were running and/or hosting two websites targeting Jews and other ethnic groups, as well as immigrants. Fines totaling $8,000 and a cease and desist order against further posting were issued by the Tribunal. An appeal of the decision challenging the constitutionality of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was filed.

    Some, such as Marc Lemire and Paul Fromm, have also challenged the constitutionality of the CHRA and in September 2009 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Section 13 of the CHRA violated Canadians' charter rights to freedom of expression.

    In 2008 the Alberta Human Rights Commission held hearings on a complaint against former publisher Ezra Levant after the Western Standard published the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons depicting Muhammad. The complaint was ultimately withdrawn, and a complaint filed with Calgary police came to naught. An identical complaint by the Edmonton Muslim Council was dismissed by the Commission in August 2008.

    In 2008 the CHRC heard complaints against Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine for publishing material deemed offensive by Muslims. The complaint against Steyn and Maclean's, which excerpted Steyn's book, America Alone, when it was published in 2006, was heard before three human rights commissions: Ontario's, which declared it lacked jurisdiction; British Columbia's, which dismissed the complaint; and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which dismissed the federal complaint without referring the matter to a tribunal.

    The Steyn / Maclean's case has been cited as a motivating factor in the June 2013 repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, legislation that permitted federal human-rights complaints regarding "the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet".

    Criticism of Canadian censorship

    Canada's 22nd Prime Minister Stephen Harper, prior to becoming Prime Minister, stated "Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society … It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff."

    PEN Canada, an organization which assists writers who are persecuted for peaceful expression, has called on "the federal and provincial governments to change human rights commission legislation to ensure commissions can no longer be used to attempt to restrict freedom of expression in Canada."

    According to Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, "[h]uman rights commissions were never intended to act as a form of thought police, but now they're being used to chill freedom of expression on matters that are well beyond accepted Criminal Code restrictions on free speech."

    Keith Martin, a Liberal Member of Parliament from British Columbia, introduced a motion that called for the deletion of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, arguing that it is in violation of Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees each person’s freedom of expression. Mr. Martin said that hate crimes, slander and libel would still be outlawed under the Criminal Code, while his motion would stop human-rights tribunals imposing restrictions on freedom of speech using taxpayers' money. "We have laws against hate crimes, but nobody has a right not to be offended," he said. "[This provision] is being used in a way that the authors of the Act never envisioned."

    A group of several dozen professors from the 7,000-member American Political Science Association contend that recent free speech precedents in Canada put academics at risk of prosecution. The group includes Robert George and Harvey Mansfield, and they have protested holding the scheduled 2009 APSA annual meeting in Canada for this reason. The leadership of APSA selected Toronto as the meeting location.

    There have been multiple lawsuits claiming that censorship violates multiple basic human rights, such as Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief, and opinion. These accusations have been of the violation of the rights and freedoms through certain types of censorship.


    Censorship in Canada Wikipedia

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