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In Canadamarker the principles of community standards and public interests are the primary adjudicants of what may be published or broadcast by the media. In most respects, Canadian law takes a relatively liberal interpretation of community standards, although sometimes the existence of competing interpretations results in controversy.

Over the twentieth century, standards shifted from a "strong state-centred practice" done to protect the community for perceived social degradation, to a more decentralised censorship practiced by societal groups invoking state support to restrict the free speech abilities of political and ideological opponents. Subsequently, Canada is believed to have more hate crime legislation forbidding certain ideas from being promulgated than any other country in the world.


The main body monitoring and regulating broadcast content in Canada is the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the self-governing association of radio and television broadcasters. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), while popularly believed to be the primary enforcer of broadcast standards, in fact intervenes only in the most serious and controversial cases.

For matters involving sex, nudity, and coarse language, Canadian radio and television standards are more lenient than those in the United Statesmarker. Canadian standards regarding violence are similar, but not identical, to those in the United States. 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 Citytvmarker (Baby Blue Movies), have aired softcore pornography after midnight Eastern time. (Canadian subscribers to satellite and cable services located west of Ontario are therefore able to view this pornography as early as 9:00 p.m.)

The Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters defines the "late viewing period" as the hours from 9:00 PM through 6:00 AM. Outside this period (i.e. from 6:00 AM through 9:00 PM), the Code of Ethics prohibits programming containing sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters also has a "Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming".

In enforcing these two Codes, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (a non-governmental industry organization) permits nudity to be broadcast during the day as long as it is considered non-sexual. For example, the CBSC permitted a 4:00 PM broadcast of the movie Wildcats containing male frontal nudity in a locker-room scene and female nudity in a bathtub. The CBSC even permitted the Demi Moore film Strip Tease to be shown at 8:00 PM, with scenes of bare female breasts during strip-tease performances.

The CBSC has summarized 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.

The CBSC considers that the word "fuck" and its derivatives cannot be broadcast in the period from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM. After 9:00 PM the word can be broadcast if there are suitable viewer advisories. Canadian radio hosts are generally not permitted to use swear words on the air. Even the satellite radio network CBC Radio 3, for example, normally refers to the band Holy Fuck on air as "Holy F". Conversely, however, many radio stations do not bleep or edit songs which contain swear words in their lyrics, although such songs are normally restricted to airplay late in the evening.

Similarly, the music video station MuchMusicmarker has banned or declined to play many notable rock and pop videos with content that was deemed disturbing or inappropriate. In the early 1990s, however, the station began to engage the issue of censorship by airing a special series, Too Much 4 Much, which would play the banned videos and then follow up with audience and panel discussions about the issues raised by the clips.

Though Canadians do file complaints with the Broadcast Standards Council over sexuality, language and violence on television programs, it is topics concerning discrimination such as racial and sexual stereotyping in broadcast content which often receives nation-wide coverage. For example, the council received very few complaints about the violence or harsh language in The Sopranos, as it was aired on CTV during the watershed period and had several "viewer discretion advised" warnings. They did however, receive a significant number of complaints about the potential stereotyping of Italiansmarker as being connected to the mafia.

Similarly, after the 2004 Super Bowl, the council received more complaints about an allegedly sexist beer commercial than it did about the controversial halftime show incident involving the uncovering of Janet Jackson's breast. And in one of the most famous recent complaints to the Broadcast Standards Council, the Looney Tunes cartoon Bewitched Bunny featured as part of The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show was criticized—not for its violence, but for a sexist comment made by Bugs Bunny ("Aw, sure, I know! But aren't they all witches inside?").

One of the most notable broadcast censorship issues in recent years has been the broadcast of Howard Stern's radio show in Canada. The show was first broadcast on CILQ in Torontomarker and CHOMmarker in Montrealmarker in 1997, and complaints were filed with the Broadcast Standards Council—again, these related primarily to the alleged broadcast of ethnic and gender stereotypes. Both stations were forced by the Broadcast Standards Council to monitor the show for offensive content through the use of broadcast delays, and both had cancelled Stern's show by 2001. When Stern subsequently moved to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2005, many Canadians erroneously believed that the CRTC had banned Stern's broadcast on Sirius Canada. In fact, the CRTC made no such ruling—Sirius Canada voluntarily chose not to risk provoking an issue with the broadcast regulator. However, on February 1, 2006, Sirius Canada announced that Stern's show would in fact be made available in Canada as of February 6, 2006.

In another recent controversy, the CRTC revoked the broadcast license of CHOI-FM, a radio station in Quebec Citymarker which had been the subject of 27 listener complaints to the Broadcast Standards Council and the CRTC. The decision was appealed, unsuccessfully. The station currently on the air with CHOI-FM's frequency and callsign is under new ownership and a new license, with significant amounts of the original content removed.

A distinguishing feature of Canadian censorship from that of the United Statesmarker is that superior courts possess a considerable degree of latitude over the mass media, especially when the content in question relates to an ongoing case or inquiry. In Dagenais v. CBC, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned an injunction by the Ontario Court of Appeal that forbade the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from broadcasting a documentary loosely based on an ongoing priestly sexual abuse trial. Nonetheless, the fact that the injunction and many others similar to it point to a court system that invokes a greater degree of protection for the subjects of its trials. However, the controversy over whether bans like the one in Dagenais v. CBC represent undue trammeling of freedom of expression is a hotly debated topic.


In the 1920s, the Canadian film board removed American patriotism from imported films, citing their damage to a pro-British sentiment.

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.


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.

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 Torontomarker. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, Canada Customs frequently stopped material being shipped to the two stores on the grounds of "obscenity"—although in many cases the very same material was not considered obscene when being shipped to a mainstream bookseller such as Coles or Chapters. Both stores frequently had to resort to the legal system to challenge the confiscation of their property.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canadamarker 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 of Canada.

Canadians can be disciplined by their employers for writing letters to newspapers. Christine St-Pierre, a television reporter covering federal politics for Radio-Canada, was suspended in September 2006 for writing a letter in support of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Similarly, the 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 related articles, Chris Kempling and Status of religious freedom in Canada).


Internet content is not specifically regulated in Canada, however local laws do 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 Zundel, 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"; the voluntary blocking of access to hundreds of alleged child pornography sites. The list of blocked sites is compiled from reports by Internet users and investigated by the independent organization "". Although this was a voluntary step with no involvement from the authorities, the Canadian government did express its approval.

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 citizen 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.”

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.

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.

White supremacists James Scott Richardson and Alex Kulbashian, who ran a racist website called "Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team," are currently challenging the constitutionality of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Neo-Nazis such as Marc Lemire and Paul Fromm have also criticised the constitutionality of the CHRC. The CHRC has been instrumental in prosecuting anti-Semitism and racism.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into a complaint against former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant, and the CHRC has launched investigations into complaints against Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine for publishing material deemed offensive by Muslims.

Canadian 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 citizen’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.

See also


  1. Petersen, Klaus & Allan C. Hutchinson. "Interpreting Censorship in Canada", University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  2. Magnet, Joseph. Free Expression, "Hate Propaganda in Canada", p. 229 & 244
  6. CBC Radio | The Current | Whole Show Blow-by-Blow
  7. Dany Bouchard. Christine Saint-Pierre chassée d'Ottawa, Le Journal de Montréal, Sept. 08, 2006
  8. Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 825.
  9. | New initiative will see ISPs block child porn sites
  10. [1]
  11. [2]
  12. [3]
  13. " Kulbashian & Richardson v. CHRC et al.", Federal Court of Canada Docket, March 29, 2006
  14. BC Report Newsmagazine, January 11, 1999
  15. [4]
  16. [5]
  17. [6]
  18. Academics fear speaking freely in Canada URL accessed on April 21 2006

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