Pulling Back the Covers
An Online Exhibit
A New Beginning
50 years ago Cinema 2000 opened at 329 Yonge Street to show smut to the public.
Back in 1970, Sex dominated the street, so much so, that people called it the Sin Strip. It was a place of debauchery and immorality; but also a beating organ of urban vitality. Neon signs advertising XXX and Girls! Were both a lure and a warning. Life on the street is both sexy and seedy. This land of leisure was located between Dundas and Gerrard Street.
While Sexual services were illegal, the viewing of sexual bodies was not. One could look at them in still photographs, buy a ticket to a movie, pay to see them undress on a stage or watch them dance bare-breasted.
Cinema 2000 represented a specific, often ignored, moment of Toronto’s history. The city negotiated with sexual explicitness in the downtown community, and erased its presence from the public sphere, marginalizing it and alienating it on grounds of morality. Cinema 2000 defied government control by adapting new technology to maneuver around the Censorship Board of Ontario, who believed that sexually graphic imagery was detrimental to moral health of its citizens. Over the decade it was in operation it was a site of constant clashes between the Metro Toronto Morality Squad, and people who rebelled, subverted and struggled against government censorship.
Morality Law in 1970
Since 1892, the Canadian Criminal Code has included provisions addressing the offense of publishing obscene material that lead to the corruption of morals. The definition of "obscene matter" was not provided until 1959, which stated; "For the purposes of this Act, any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene."
The “undue” in “The undue exploitation of sex” is when the average Canadian would not tolerate other people being exposed to the material in question. So when public consensus says it’s too much, then it is obscene.
The Canadian government worried that minds would be corrupted by exposure to obscene material. The focus of obscenity laws was the public good and not the right of the individual to view sexual material.
The Morality Squad
The Morality Squad was operated as part of the Metropolitan Toronto Police force. It was first created in 1886 by Toronto Mayor William Holmes. They came about at a time of Victorian moral reform focused on curbing vice and upholding social structure that suppressed the lower class.
The Toronto Police were responsible for the licensing and regulation of theaters. They were also responsible for enforcing the censorship of movies. The Morality Squad would raid business’ they deemed immoral and seize equipment and records. This arm of the police force concentrated on enforcing public morality becuase pornography wasn’t just immoral, but dangerous. It was the duty of these policemen to root out offenders for the public's good.