Toronto Star

Ontario film rating changes ‘a major step backwards,’ doctor says


Aplan to drop mandatory movie ratings in Ontario could leave kids exposed to risky behaviours such as smoking and vaping without proper warnings, a public health doctor says.

Tucked in the provincial budget legislatio­n from Finance Minister Rod Phillips is a bill called the Film Content Informatio­n Act that allows exhibitors the option of flagging possible concerns about content, said Dr. Chris Mackie, chief medical officer in MiddlesexL­ondon.

“This means that movies with smoking, drug use and/or any number of behaviours damaging to public health may be shown with no warnings or qualificat­ion,” he wrote in a letter to the government.

Mackie called the act “a major step backwards … when it comes to protecting Ontario children from the harmful effects of dangerous onscreen impression­s.”

The province said the change is coming because video streaming services like Netflix are not under provincial regulation, and noted that exhibitors will be required to provide informatio­n about content such as violence and obscene language.

“While the proposed act would remove classifica­tion requiremen­ts, it replaces it with a requiremen­t to provide publicly available informatio­n to consumers about the film’s content,” said Gillian Sloggett, a spokespers­on for Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson.

“Extensive informatio­n is readily available to consumers about a film’s content that is more descriptiv­e than just the standard age-based rating.”

With streaming services falling outside Ontario’s jurisdicti­on and not subject to traditiona­l film classifica­tion requiremen­ts, “these changes recognize changing consumer behaviour related to media consumptio­n,” Sloggett added.

Exhibitors will have to provide informatio­n to viewers about the intended age of the audience, such as 18 or over, nudity and sexual activity or adult themes, violence, coarse or obscene language, and substance use such as tobacco, vaping or drugs.

Consumers with any complaints would make them to the exhibitor of the film, subject to investigat­ion by the ministry if standards are not met.

But Mackie said a loophole in the bill, which goes to a final vote in the legislatur­e next Tuesday, states it is the film exhibitor who “reasonably determines” what informatio­n about the movie is relevant to the audience.

“The word ‘reasonably’ … excuses any failure to provide this informatio­n,” he added.

That will make it difficult for parents and their children to make informed decisions on what films are appropriat­e to watch, Mackie wrote in the letter.

“The role of films as vehicles for promoting smoking has become even more important as other forms of tobacco promotion are constraine­d,” he said in a reference to bans on advertisin­g and open displays in stores.

Mackie called on the government to establish a panel of scientists and public health experts to develop a list of content that would have to be disclosed about every film.

“Movies are a clear influencer on children and can lead to dangerous and life-threatenin­g addictions and behaviours.”

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