Canadian 'censorship' bill angers artistic community

  • April 14, 2008

{mosimage}OTTAWA - Liberal MP Denis Corderre says the next election will be fought over censorship.

But the newly minted Heritage Critic was not speaking about press freedom in light of hate speech complaints levied against Catholic Insight, Maclean’s and Ezra Levant, the former publisher of the Western Standard.

In fact, Corderre did not even know about them when pressed in a scrum April 1. Instead, he, like many socially progressive MPs, has joined the artistic community in objecting to Bill C-10 and its potential effect on the film industry.

The Act to Amend the Income Tax Act would give the Heritage Minister discretion to yank the tax credits from Canadian feature films that are deemed offensive or contrary to public policy. Heritage Minister Josée Verner has promised industry-wide consultations to develop guidelines. But the artistic community warns Bill C-10 would give too much power to government to make subjective moral judgments about works of art, cause artists to self-censor and force Canadians to move to the United States.

Bill C-10 passed the House of Commons with all-party support because most MPs failed to read the fine print in its 560 pages. The Liberal-dominated Senate has referred the controversial bill to its banking, trade and commerce committee.

Socially conservative voices argue Bill C-10 has nothing to do with censorship, only sound fiscal management.

“This does not interfere with freedom of expression,” REAL Women of Canada’s Diane Watts told the Senate committee April 9, noting that “offensive” films could still find their own funding.

“No films are either banned or films destroyed under this provision,” she said. “Film producers can represent whatever perspective and depictions of violence or sex they wish that are not contrary to the Criminal Code, but not via taxpayers’ money.”

The hearings have drawn some heavy-hitters from Canada’s artistic community, including actress, producer and Academy Award nominee Sarah Polley, who told journalists April 10 that “any whiff of censorship is chilling for us.”

REAL Women objected to the use of tax dollars to produce material that is “offensive to Canadian families.” Watts argued not only against tax credits, but also Heritage Canada grants that, instead of developing a sense of belonging or building national identity have “resulted in works that alienate and offend Canadians.”

As examples, Watts cited the funding of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival that she described as “apparently offensive to even those who have a same-sex attraction since they stay away from the festival in droves.” Some of the titles shown in 2006 were Deconstructing Crack Ho, Dyke after Dyke, I Cum I, Lesbians on Ecstasy and Post-porn and New Technologies of Pleasure, Watts said.

Watts pointed out the provisions in C-10 originated in 2003 under the Liberal government and then Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. She wanted the provision to “distance herself” from a controversial film about convicted serial murderer Paul Bernardo.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association however, argues Bill C-10 is an issue of freedom of expression. The association’s Noa Mendelsohn Aviv described the provisions as “arbitrary and unjustified.” She said the bill gives the government a “blank cheque” that would give them the “power to decide what material they don’t like.”

Aviv said the revocation of a tax credit is a “harsh retroactive measure that should not be in the hands of a minister.”

Industry advocates have argued that the retroactive ability to yank the tax credits could discourage banks from financing films. They fear the whole Canadian film industry could be put at risk.

Mark Leiren-Young, representing the Book and Periodical Council, warned that these measures could also open up other cultural industries — music, theatre, book publishing and periodicals — to interference and abuse based on subjective value judgments.

Rose Anne Dyson of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, however, decried the “wanton pollution of the cultural environment” with extreme violence, pornographic films and video games. She urged that the Canadian government limit itself to funding only those products that could be aired on public television. Her colleague, Eileen Pope Shapiro, said Bill C-10 was only a small step towards reining in the violence and pornography that is “saturating our culture.”

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