New law offers more protections for child performers

Child actor. Stock photo by Getty Images
A new piece of legislation will bring “sizeable change” in how the entertainment industry handles child performers, a Toronto lawyer says.

Bill 17, the Protecting Child Performers Act, will come into effect next year with a whole new set of requirements around hiring children for live or recorded entertainment projects.

“The act does impose quite significant obligations and restrictions for producers of these types of entertainment, so it behooves lawyers who are advising these clients to familiarize themselves with the act because it’s quite detailed and quite complicated,” says Dentons Canada LLP entertainment lawyer Bob Tarantino.

The act includes “very odd, sort of persnickety” rules around how many hours children can work without a break and setting aside time for tutoring as well as obligations around parental accompaniment of child performers while travelling to and from the workplace, says Tarantino.

The rules will be more familiar to film and TV producers who hire actors protected by a union.

“Historically, most commercial-grade, high-quality film and television production in Ontario is governed by the actors’ union, which is ACTRA,” says Tarantino, referring to the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists.

“For a film and television producer, they’d look at this and say, ‘I’ve already been doing this historically because ACTRA required me to do it.’”

The act applies ACTRA-like protections to child performers throughout the entertainment industry, Tarantino notes.

“A producer can come to me and say, ‘We’re making a movie and we’re going to do it on a non-union basis. So all of the actors we’re hiring are not members of a union.’ And that was totally fine. Now, even if it’s a non-union shoot and they’re hiring minors, they have to comply with these obligations.”

The new requirements will be especially different for live-performance operators such as circus, opera, and dance shows, according to Tarantino.

One of the most significant aspects of the act is a requirement that the employer deposit 25 per cent of a child’s income, where he or she makes more than $2,000 on a production project, into a trust account.

While that has been a relatively standard practice in the film and TV world, “it’s brand new” for other parts of the entertainment industry, says Tarantino.

The act’s requirements around the working hours of child performers and the breaks they’re to get between work are very specific.

A child less than three years old working in the recording industry can’t be before a recording device for longer than 15 consecutive minutes before getting a break that’s no less than 20 consecutive minutes.

When it comes to children more than three but less than six years of age, they can’t work longer than 30 consecutive minutes before taking a 15-minute break. The act goes on to specify the break requirement for three more age groups.

“It’s a big change,” says Tarantino, noting the act requires that there be a person dedicated to ensuring compliance with the act whenever a production involves child performers.

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