The ratings classification system used by Canadian broadcasters was developed by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT) during the mid-1990s. Canadian French-language broadcasters suggested that they use the ratings of Quebec’s provincial film board, the Régie du cinéma du Québec, because French-Canadian audiences were already familiar with that system. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved that approach in June 1997 and it was implemented by broadcasters in September 1997. As of April 1, 2017, the Régie du cinéma du Québec was abolished and responsibility for film classification became integrated into the activities of Québec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications.
Canadian English-language and third-language conventional and discretionary television services use the ratings system devised by AGVOT. Canadian French-language broadcasters use Québec’s provincial film classification system, but they added one additional category (8+). The ratings reflect the generally-accepted states of child development. Nevertheless, caregivers must make their own decisions about what is appropriate for the individual younger members of their households.
Broadcasters themselves rate their programs based on the descriptions set out for each of the classification categories. Canadian French-language conventional and discretionary broadcasters use the provincial film classification system, but they must still evaluate the programs themselves. They cannot necessarily simply use the Ministry’s classification of a particular film or program because consumption of television content is different from paying to see a film or purchasing a copy of a program. For more information about the Ministry of Culture and Communications, visit its website at www.mcc.gouv.qc.ca.
Even if a Canadian channel is airing a foreign-produced program, it must put a Canadian rating on it. Viewers who feel a program has been rated incorrectly can file a complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC).
Programs exempt from classification.
This classification applies to:
Exempt programming does not require an on-screen classification icon and broadcasters are not required to encode a rating into the broadcast signal.
The program is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages.
A classification of General means that the program is not likely to disturb children. If the program might offend the sensibilities of children under eight years of age, the Ministry adds “Not suitable for young children” to this classification.
Programs rated General can contain some scenes of violence, but these are discreet, occasional and not overly intense. The tone and genre of the program are taken into consideration. Scenes of violence in a comedy or adventure program featuring a hero who is larger than life have a different effect on children than those in a realistic program.
If nudity is present, love scenes remain rather discreet. Depending on the context, some expletives are also tolerated.
These programs are suitable for the general public but could contain mild or occasional violence that may disturb young children. Viewing with adult supervision is therefore recommended for young children (age 8 and under) who are less able to distinguish between real and make-believe programming.
The program may be viewed, purchased or rented only by persons 13 years of age or older. Children under 13 may be admitted only if accompanied by an adult.
The Ministry classifies in this category films that require a certain level of judgement. These programs contain passages or sequences that may offend the sensibilities of younger viewers.
For example, adolescents, aware of cinematic artifice, are psychologically better prepared to view more complex or dramatic programs. Also, violence, eroticism, coarse language or horror may be more developed than in programs rated General. These themes can even figure prominently in the programs in question. The program must, however, clearly demonstrate the reasons for the characters’ actions, since adolescents have not yet reached the level of maturity required to face certain themes (drugs, suicide, troubling situations, etc.). These are, therefore, carefully examined. Moreover, the Ministry encourages parents to keep in mind the notice provided in this classification category.
The program may be viewed, purchased or rented only by persons 16 years of age or older.
At the age of 16, adolescents move from adolescence to adulthood and attain a certain level of psychological maturity.
Programs with this rating present troubling themes, situations or behaviours. They express a more direct point of view about things and may contain scenes where violence, horror and sexuality are more graphic than in programs rated General (with or without the indicator “Not Suitable for Young Children”) or 13+.
The program may be viewed, purchased or rented only by persons 18 years of age or older.
Programs reserved for adults most often deal primarily with the representation of explicit sexual encounters. They may also be extremely violent, showing scenes of hyperrealistic cruelty, torture and horror.
A document was created to assist French-language broadcasters in applying the classification categories to television programming. Click here to access the French Classification & Icon Use Manual (June 1997) (available in French only).
The icons are to be used in the top left-hand corner of the screen, inside the safe zone.
The icons are to be a minimum of 52 scan lines tall. This should be big enough to cover the US rating on any programming which is fed to the Canadian broadcaster with the American icon burned in. However, broadcasters will find there is some degree of inconsistency in the size of US icons. Stations are advised to experiment to ensure their icons are big enough to cover the US rating symbol on shows fed to them from American distributors.
The Canadian icons are to be 100% opaque, in order to fully cover any US rating symbols, therefore they do not require a linear keyer for operational use.
The icons are to be in the colours and style established by the Régie du cinéma du Québec for G, 13+, 16+ and 18+. The 8+ icon is orange and should match the style of the others.
The rating icon is to be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the program. It is expected the Americans will have their ratings up for 15 seconds. For programs which run longer than one hour, the icon is to be repeated at the beginning of the second hour. These are minimal use standards; stations may wish to use the icons more frequently on programs with particularly sensitive content.
It is incumbent on Canadian program services to cover any US rating icons on those program categories which must be classified by Canadian broadcasters. Therefore, it a service receives any children’s programs, drama programs, reality-based drama programs or feature films with the US icons burned in, it is required to superimpose a Canadian classification.
On programs such as talk shows, which carry a US rating but which are not required to be classified under Canadian regulations, no Canadian icon is required.
It is suggested that the icon not appear in any advisory which precedes a program, but rather be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the actual show, following the advisory.
There is no regulatory requirement to report how a show was rated on the program log which is filed with the CRTC. However, a record of how a program was rated should be retained for a minimum of 30 days in the event of a viewer complaint.
Program services are requested to add the classification information to their program schedules that are filed with the various tv listings services. This will allow the ratings to be included in the various TV guides.
Although the above Technical Specifications and Icon Use Protocols were originally set out in a document for English-language broadcasters, in practice they have also been applied to French-language broadcasters.