Understanding Ontario’s Film Classification System

You have probably seen ratings symbols appearing on movie posters and ads in Ontario newspapers, but do you know what they mean? Previously known as the Ontario Censor Board, the Ontario Film Authority was first established in 1920. While the board became rather notorious in the ‘70s and ‘80s for censoring or banning movies that were passed intact in other parts of Canada, the practice of cutting and rejecting movies mainly only happens now with explicit pornography containing violent or degrading sequences.

The OFA’s mission is to serve primarily as an information service. They accomplish this in two ways: classification and information pieces.

In Ontario, movies can receive the following classifications:

Ratings have two important purposes. They provide viewers with an advance idea of the film’s content, which allows them to make an informed choice about the movies they see. Classifications also restrict films with more mature content to viewers the board feels would be old enough to understand what is being shown and not be traumatized by it.

An increasing number of adults favour being allowed to choose what they watch. Rating movies instead of cutting or banning them is a preferable alternative that allows those of legal age to view what they wish in the form the filmmakers intended.

Another aid provided by the OFA is information pieces. These are content warnings included with a film’s advertising alongside the rating. Each classification has set parameters for what is permissible within that rating regarding adult language, sexual content, violence, nudity, and horror. If the film’s content strays beyond those parameters, but not enough to warrant a stricter classification, the warnings provide advance notice of this to patrons. Some of the warnings employed are Coarse Language, Graphic Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity, Frightening Scenes, Gory Scenes, Disturbing Content, Language May Offend, Tobacco Use, Substance Abuse, and Not Suitable for Young Children.

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