Censorship is offensive

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What is this country coming to when censorship, however closeted, is about to become a part of the Canadian landscape? In case the Heritage and Justice Ministers have not been told, this is the year 2008.

Bill C-10 is at its third reading in the Senate and on the brink of becoming a law. It includes a tax amendment that will allow the government to deny tax credits to television and film products deemed offensive or contrary to public policy – even if government agencies have already invested in them.

Denial of certification would effectively kill productions and leave producers on the hook to repay investors, including agencies like Telefilm Canada that only invest in Canadian-certified productions.

But who are “they” to decide what is offensive? The definition of offensive is something contrary to one’s moral sense. This is a highly objective criterion and I am quite sure I do not share a moral sense with Stockwell Day or Rob Nicholson.

Evangelical crusader and president of the Canada Family Action Coalition Charles McVety has claimed credit for the amendment. He said his lobbying, which included discussions with key government officials, has proven successful. McVety believes films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not be funded. Nonetheless, officials say they do not recall discussing the issue with McVety.

Conservative MP Dave Batters recently urged the new president of Telefilm Canada, Michel Roy, to block federal funding for objectionable films: “In my mind, sir, and in the minds of many of my colleagues and many, many Canadians,” said Mr. Batters during a Jan. 31 meeting of the Canadian Heritage committee, “the purpose of Telefilm is to help facilitate the making of films for mainstream Canadian society – films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families in living rooms across this great country.”

Since when are mainstream and family-friendly one and the same?

The Canadian film and television industry’s products are scarcely seen in our own country; nevertheless, films gaining global attention and critical acclaim have often featured controversial subject matter. But post-Bill C-10, films such as Lynne Stopkewich's necrophilia film Kissed, Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies, and Martin Gero’s Young People Fucking would almost definitely lose the right to a tax credit.

Arts groups vow to fight the change, calling it a violation of the Charter of Rights and an affront to freedom of expression. Director David Cronenberg has been very vocal on the issue, stating “The platform they're suggesting is akin to a Communist Chinese panel of unknown people, who, behind closed doors, will make a second ruling after bodies like Telefilm Canada have already invested.” He added, “The irony is that it is the Canadian films that have given us an international reputation [that] would be most at risk because they are the edgy, relatively low-budget films made by people like me and others that will be targeted by this panel.”

Between 1930 and 1968, filmmaking in the United States was governed by a set of guidelines known as the Production Code. It was an industry censorship that restricted film content to morally acceptable subject matter. The code was eventually deemed outdated and abandoned. Forty years later, Canadian bureaucrats want to reintroduce similar controls.

Government officials claim what they propose is not censorship because films that do not pass their discretion can still be made, just not with government funds. However, funding options in Canada are already limited and rely heavily on government assistance. If qualification for tax credits will not be known until after a film’s completion, filmmakers may consider self-censorship to ensure approval. Furthermore, agencies like Telefilm may begin to re-evaluate the types of films in which they choose to invest.

There are unaffordable uncertain times ahead for the Canadian film and television industry.

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