Canada vs. U.S.: is it legal to sell mature-rated video games to minors?

by Bryce Tarling

video games violent sex obsene minorsThe U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a California law that would make it illegal to sell obscene video games to minors. The ruling was based on the decision that video games communicate ideas -- just like any other form of media like books or film -- and that refusing the sale to minors would go against the First Amendment and be a restriction on free speech.

This decision did not come without controversy and its own sense of confusion. If the ruling decided that it's not illegal to sell obscene video games to minors, just like any other book or film, then does that mean that it's also not illegal to sell obscene books and films to minors?

The answer is yes. It's not illegal to sell obscene materials to minors in the U.S.

But this doesn't mean that there aren't restrictions in selling obscene materials to minors in the United States; most theatre companies and retail stores enforce their own regulations based on the different rating systems. The California law that was struck down would have made it criminally illegal to sell obscene materials to minors and subject to a $1000 fine. With the new ruling, it's been decided that the courts don't have the authority to penalize businesses for selling obscene material to minors.

The situation is different in Canada however. The laws around selling mature-related materials are a provincial responsibility and most provinces have laws in place that restrict sales to those under the age of 17.

Ontario's Film Classification Act states:

Where a classification indicates a restriction on the distribution or exhibition of a film, no person shall distribute or exhibit a film of that classification except in accordance with the restriction unless an exemption under the regulations applies.

On either side of the border, there seems to be consensus that some materials need regulation; the question comes down to where should these responsibilities reside? Government or business?

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Bryce Tarling

Bryce Tarling

Bryce is currently studying in the Douglas College Print Futures Program in pursuit of a career in writing and editing. He has worked as an English teacher both in the Lower Mainland and in Japan. He has also served brief stints in the restaurant industry. In his free time he enjoys photography, consuming media in the form of books, film, and music, and finding delectable places for trying... more

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