Ottawa
3 min

Art, politics & the law

Did IFCO cave to political pressure and funding threats?

GAG ORDER. Panelists Ken Takahashi (right) and IFCO executive director Sheila Pokiak (left) consider their words carefully. IFCO refused funding for Takahashi's film exploring man-boy relationships. Credit: Rob Thomas

Local artists are wondering whether an Ottawa film co-operative caved in to political pressure from the media and city council.



Hot-button headlines, local politicians and concerns over whether the federal government’s proposed kiddie porn legislation would lead to art censorship were all topics at a panel discussion, titled Gag Order, at Saw Galley on Apr 28.



“[Gag Order] was organized directly in response to the controversy around Ken Takahashi’s new film project that city councillors and the media blasted publicly,” explains Saw Gallery co-artistic director Stefan St-Laurent.



Takahashi’s film project Last Night With Jesse, which explores man-boy relationships, has been panned publicly by Ottawa city councillor Jan Harder. Dramatic headlines – courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen and other media outlets – have also attacked the project. Takahashi’s film is currently in pre-production.



In late March controversy swirled over whether the flick would receive a $1,000 grant from the Independent Filmmakers Co-operative of Ottawa (IFCO). It didn’t, despite IFCO jury approval of the project. IFCO cited fears over the federal government’s proposed kiddie porn bill, C-12 (which, though now dead, may be revived by a new parliament). This left many wondering whether the media frenzy and threats from council influenced IFCO’s decision – considering it receives 26 percent of its funds from the city.



Takahashi, writer and Capital Xtra columnist Suki Lee and IFCO executive director Sheila Pokiak were among six panelists who hashed out their thoughts on censorship, law and the roles of media and government. Other panelist included CBC journalist Andy Clarke, Donna Balkan of the Canada Council for the Arts and James Missen, policy intern for the Canadian Conference of the Arts.



“First, I think I should be clear that my film is not pornographic. It doesn’t depict any sexually explicit materials,” Takahashi opened. “I’m not sure that if you really read the script or really read the movie, whether it would really violate anything regarding the new bill or within the existing law on child pornography.”



He went on to note the irony of artists criticizing media coverage while defending their own right to free expression and yet often refusing to take a stand for or against Bill C-12.



“I think what we should be looking at as artists – as people – is that there is no legal guarantee,” says Takahashi. In his mind, artists looking for a legal stamp of approval might start to censor themselves.



Lee said government had no place in regulating art.



“I’m against Bill C-12 as it stands. There are many reasons for this, the primary one being that artistic integrity and practice should not be meddled with by the state,” she said.



Bill C-12 would have replaced the so-called “artistic merit” defense, placing the onus on artists to ensure their work served a “public good” – though the definition of public good remains unclear.



“Homophobic people will not hesitate to label art by LGBT artists as obscene material when the sheer fact of being gay and lesbian is viewed by them as being obscene,” Lee added. “Indeed Bill C-12 calls for gay and lesbian artists to return to the closet.”



Although Bill C-12 automatically died when Parliament prorogued for the federal election, it is unlikely that the matter is closed. Critics fear a new government will reintroduce similar legislation.



“I was surprised how quickly the Filmmakers Co-operative backed away from supporting Ken,” said Clarke, noting that it might be easier to back away from “unpopular” political issues in this day and age.



“Are we in the media partially to blame for that? Quite likely. I see the whole controversy as a cautionary tale.”



“I really hope that we didn’t put the wrong message out there as far as IFCO pulling away,” countered Pokiak. “I don’t really see it as IFCO pulling away from Ken, we still very much value him as an IFCO member and we really want him to stay living here in Ottawa. We don’t want him moving to Toronto or Montreal.”



But Pokiak did not directly comment on Takahashi’s film or Bill C-12.