Thursday, February 28, 2008

Truly scary: Harper's Conservatives to police "offensive" Canadian films

Wow, this is truly horrifying and provides more disturbing insight into how Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives truly view arts and culture in Canada. Next to the American giant, Canadian production companies rely heavily on public financing to get their projects off the ground. This new rule, which threatens every production possibly deemed "offensive" by the federal Department of Justice, could possibly cripple movie-making in Canada. At best, it will lead to creative second-guessing and sanitizing of productions before they get made out of fear of losing funding at the end of the production schedule.

Harper's Heritage Department confirms that: "Bill C-10, currently at third reading in the Senate, contains an amendment to the Income Tax Act which would allow the Minister of Canadian Heritage to deny eligibility to tax credits of productions determined to be contrary to public policy...The department has recently standardized and updated the list of illegal and other ineligible content.

Toronto lawyer David Zitzerman of Goodmans LLP says the government's plans smack of “closet censorship.”

“Such a provision could potentially lead to the government acting as ‘morality police.' The existing definitions of pornography and obscenity in the Criminal Code should be sufficient for the government's purposes.

“Would this committee put money into "Juno"? It might not want to encourage teen pregnancy. Would the government put money into a film with a dirty title, like "Young People Fucking"? Would they invest in something like "Brokeback Mountain"? They might not want to encourage gay cowboys to have sex together in Alberta.”

Mark Musselman, vice-president of business affairs at Toronto's Serendipity Point Films and Maximum Film Distribution, said Wednesday that the implications are huge, “both from the perspective of freedom of speech and for the Pandora's box of uncertainty this will open up from a business perspective.”

If certification is denied, the producer would be on the hook to repay organizations such as Telefilm, which invests only in Canadian-certified productions, Mr. Musselman added. “This review panel totally fetters the discretion of Telefilm. What will it do, send the panel scripts it is worried might be too racy or offensive?”

He called a review procedure that determines eligibility for Canadian content certification after the completion of a film or TV show production “unworkable in terms of the cold, hard reality of financing these types of things,” adding that “it's entirely possible the whole financing structure could crumble.”

Once again, we are reminded how devious Stephen Harper can be in achieving his public policy objectives. What constitutes "offensive" content, contrary to "public policy"? The implications of this new rule on Canadian artists are truly scary.

God, I hope that Stephane Dion gets better at his game soon and convinces his colleagues it's time to bring down this scary government. I don't think we can take much more of this.


ALW said...

Jesus Matt could you possibly sound more over the top about this?

No one is proposing to censor anything, or ban anything, or pass any law to make anything “offensive” or “distasteful” illegal. What this amounts to is the government suggesting it might stop subsidizing Canadian culture. Only a Liberal could equate this with thought control: after all, if the government doesn’t fund culture, who will!?

The argument that this is the same as censorship is identical to the logically fallacious and totally inspite argument that “freedom of speech” means you are entitled to have your speech printed in a certain newspaper, or that people even have to listen to you for that matter.

KC said...

This sounds like just another step down the slippery slope that you endorse. To my ears denying a tax credit (ie not the same thing as not allowing the production to continue) is a far lesser restriction on free expression as what the HRC's have been pursuing lately.

Matt Guerin said...

Canada doesn't have many private film production financing entities. Filmmakers rely heavily on these tax credits to make ends meet. This rule means the government can decide certain productions deemed "offensive" won't get those tax credits. No tax credits, no funding from Telefilm or other public financing bodies. This is how films and TV shows get made in Canada. Musselman makes a great point: the threat of not receiving tax credits at the end of a production could undermine the entire financing process. It's unworkable. The threat will cast a chill over the entire industry to ensure their films aren't "offensive" - whatever that means...

When will the gov't panel determine if a production is "offensive"? How will it decide what's offensive? I think we have reason to worry. The market and past success decides which films get public financing under the current rules, etc. The current system is working just fine. If a production has adequate Canadian content, it's eligible. But now we have this extra wrinkle seemingly designed to wipe out or clean up risque productions. It is most definitely a way for the government to control what gets made in Canada.

KC said...

So actively suppressing expression is just fine and dandy with you but refusing to lend support for a project that may or may not be feasible without that support is an outrageous instance of censorship? You sound like the Elmo kids who think MacLeans owes them space in their magazine to realize their freedom of expression.

Matt Guerin said...

kc, "hate propaganda" and a film that depicts two gay men getting it on are two different things. The former is illegal, and the latter is merely "offensive" to some. There's no slippery slope here unless you think any and all speech is acceptable, which I don't. The problem here is that the term "offensive" is subjective, while the term "illegal" is not.

KC said...

You're right that the latter is "legal" but under this proposal it would be "legal" for the government to deny tax credits to projects deemed "offensive". Just because something is "legal" doesnt mean we have a right to a tax credit for it. It is "legal" for a business to buy booze, but it is not legal for them to deduct it as a business expense (if I recall correctly). Each of us has the "right" to produce a movie that depicts acts some consider offensive; but we don't have the "right" to financial assistance for that production even if that assistance is necessary for the project to go forward.

The term "exposing to hate" is just as subjective and vulnerable to abuse as "offensive". N'est pas?

I actually dont think this is a very good idea on the part of the Conservatives, but I also don't think there is any sort of "right" to a tax credit. Whats more I think your approach to free expression has a lot more to do with what you do and dont like more than any sort of principle.

Matt Guerin said...

I can tolerate a whole lot in the context of a movie and have done so for years, especially if it's appropriate in the context of a story, as has everyone who's watched anything with a PG or higher rating. So please don't tell me my approach to free expression is only based on what I like or don't like. And no the term "exposing to hate" is not just as subjective as the term "offensive".

No one has a right to a tax credit. I do think the current rules and market restrictions that govern who gets public financing for productions work just fine. Do you know how many features got funding this year? And call me crazy - I think Canada should have a viable film and TV production industry.