Saturday, November 21, 2009

Canada Border Services - Arbitrary Censors Gone Wild

Canada Border Services is up to its old nasty tricks again, seizing gay films destined for Ottawa's gay & lesbian Inside Out film festival. All three films have been shown in Canada before, and two of them are rated PG. But CBSA is insisting that it pre-screen all three films, a process they indicate may take up to 4 days - the films were slated to be viewed this weekend.

This sort of arbitrary censorship has been going on at CBSA for decades. Years ago, when I was on the board of the Making Scenes film festival (Ottawa's previous queer film festival), we held a screening of the documentary "Little Sisters, Big Brother", which tracked the decade-long efforts of the Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver to fight against Canada Customs (now CBSA) seizure of its books. The courts sided with the bookstore. Back in the 1970s and early 80s, Canada Customs used to black out information pertaining to safe sex information because it was deemed pornographic - a thoroughly appalling practice in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Gay and lesbian bookstores and festivals face this issue all the time, and have ongoing troubles covering legal costs associated with gaining the release of their materials.

It's ridiculous that bookstores and film festivals are still having to go to court to have these materials released - and doubly so when the materials have already been shown in this country! Small, volunteer-run festivals don't have the resources for legal challenges; they can barely afford to pay for a part-time staff member. When their financial lifeblood - the films they screen - is seized, they risk financial ruin.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that sanity will prevail and that the festival pulls through. But given past experience with CBSA, I'm not counting on it.

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At 12:11 am, Blogger adawn said...

They managed to get a replacement copy of "I Can't Think Straight" by having it shipped to the SAW Gallery, as opposed to the Insideout festival. It arrived half an hour before screening time.

At 5:15 pm, Anonymous Toronto mls said...

I don't get it: what century and society is this? Censor a movie? This sounds more like 70's and 80's practice to me.

No wonder the whole world is making fun of Canadians.. I would laugh too if I wasn't one!


At 3:59 pm, Blogger Norman Farrell said...

Many years ago, I was returning to Vancouver from Seattle, carrying a few Canadian 16mm films that had been shown at an American festival. One, named "Skin Game", attracted attention of the customs officials. In fact, they seemed to grow excited, thinking they had discovered something prohibited amongst a group of amateur and semi-pro films.

Skin Game was a spoof. It started with a beautiful, elegantly dressed person arriving home alone. One piece at a time, off came clothing, jewelry, make-up, wig, teeth and prostheses until nothing was left but a shriveled old person.

Based on the name alone, the customs office at the main Vancouver post office thought they had found contraband. They had no means to project or examine the 16mm film. So that led to about five men unspooling the film, holding it up to the lights, trying to find banned content on individual frames. I pointed out they were damaging the print but they were on a mission.

After about an hour, I was allowed to leave with the film roughly pulled back onto the reel. Those old guys were so disappointed that nothing illegal could be found.


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