Ontario moves to outsource film classification to B.C. without agreement in place

By Shannon Waters October 2, 2019

With files from Sabrina Nanji

On Tuesday, the Ontario government officially wound down the Ontario Film Authority, the agency responsible for classifying mainstream and adult films distributed in the province.

Instead, Ontario said it plans to rely on B.C.’s classification system, but BC Today has learned the province has not yet come to an agreement with Consumer Protection B.C. (CPBC) to allow it to use B.C.’s ratings.

While CPBC posts all of its film ratings publicly, they are protected by copyright.

A spokesperson for CPBC, the provincial agency responsible for film classification, told BC Today the agency does not yet “know what a potential agreement with the Government of Ontario would look like” and declined to provide further details about a timeline for reaching such an agreement.

Under existing agreements with Saskatchewan and Manitoba, CPBC allows distributors that apply to have their films rated for viewing in B.C. to have them rated for those provinces as well. CPBC charges $440 per classification for Saskatchewan and $2 per minute (with a minimum charge of $220) for Manitoba. The Ontario Film Authority charged distributors $4.20 per minute.

“Ontario is committed to ensuring a smooth transition and is working very closely with Consumer Protection B.C. to finalize an agreement,” a spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson told BC Today in an email Wednesday.

Ontario quietly announced the regulatory change last week, just two business days before shutting down the office.

In a letter to stakeholders, Thompson’s ministry said, “Ontario’s regulation will be amended to enable the ministry to accept classifications from British Columbia under the Motion Picture Act for the purposes of complying with Ontario law.”

The letter does not direct film production companies to CPBC nor explain its copyright policy, but it does say the change will save film distributors between $1.5 and $2 million in annual classification and licensing costs.

There are still unanswered questions about how classification will operate until a formal deal is inked.

CPBC rated 2,170 general audience films in 2018, meaning hundreds of films will require classification before next spring — when Ontario says it will issue a long-term proposal for how it plans to modernize its rating system.

“Ontario will not impose its own fee on film distributors for classifications or approvals conducted by those other jurisdictions,” according to its consumer services ministry, but under their agreements with CPBC, neither do Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Instead, distributors pay their fees directly to CPBC, which sends any resulting revenue to the province for which the film has been classified, minus B.C.’s classification costs.

Ontario said a rating system update is needed because of “significant changes in digital technologies.”

Film industry stakeholders told the provincial government, “It is unfair to require brick and mortar film industry businesses that provide jobs for the local economy to be subject to regulatory requirements when online content providers can self-classify,” according to a consultation document.

Shuttering the office will also save Ontario $2 million per year.

Last year, CPBC raised $1,473,456 from film distributors for classification costs. The agency also reviews pornographic films, but has not received any new submissions since at least 2016.

An earlier version of this story attributed a quote about the brick and mortar film industry to the Province of Ontario. It was actually feedback the province received from stakeholders. The CPBC’s revenue number has also been updated to reflect only the money it receives for classification costs, not including film licensing costs and other fees.