Members of Canada’s arts community are wondering whether Bill C-10 will actually make things any worse for the country’s queer filmmakers.
The bill — which would give the federal heritage minister the power to deny tax credits to films she deems “contrary to public policy” — is currently before a Senate committee. But some say existing legislation already manages to effectively censor queer films.
“It almost can’t get any worse,” says Jason St-Laurent, the programming director at Inside Out, Toronto’s queer film festival. “The fear’s instilled. The second you talk about queer youth sexuality everyone’s eyes open wide. People refuse to believe that youth have sex and it’s inconceivable that children have sex.”
St-Laurent points to the existence of Act C-2, the child pornography legislation passed by Paul Martin’s Liberal government in 2005. The act eliminated the defence of artistic merit to charges of child pornography and requires the accused to prove the work has a “legitimate purpose” and does not harm children.
“I know that people are self-censoring,” says St-Laurent. “When a law like C-2 comes into effect what it does is something very poisonous in the cultural world, making people self-censor.”
Tom Warner, of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), led that organization’s fight against C-2, arguing that it would be used against portrayals of queer youth sexuality. He says Bill C-10 is likely to be used the same way.
“In the case of C-2 virtually any representation or description of a young person under 18 was classified as child porn,” he says. “I think that any kind of material dealing with same-sex portrayals will be scrutinized more closely and dealt with much more severely.”
Heritage Minister Josée Verner told the Senate committee on Apr 2 that the bill “would ensure that the government has the ability, in exceptional circumstances, to exclude from public support certain material — material that is potentially illegal under the Criminal Code, such as indecent material, hate propaganda and child pornography.”
But the ministry has admitted that there has never been a case of a film in violation of the Criminal Code receiving a tax credit.
Keith Kelly, the past director of the Canadian Conference for the Arts, which both opposed C-2 and is campaigning against Bill C-10, says existing legislation already does a very effective job of restricting filmmakers.
“I cannot foresee a contingency that has not been addressed in the Criminal Code,” says Kelly. “The ground has been very well covered. The onus is on the accused to prove the legitimacy of the work. It used to be that the onus was on the government.”
St-Laurent also points to the existence of the Ontario Film Review Board in the province as an existing restraint on film. He says that if Inside Out doesn’t submit its films to the board everything in the festival is automatically slapped with an R rating.
“To me that’s a form of censorship,” he says. “We do feel we’re in a position to make these decisions ourselves. Standards in the queer community can be much more relaxed.”
St-Laurent says that even without Bill C-10 queer filmmakers have a tough time getting funding.
“Queers always get the brunt of it,” he says. “I do think Young People Fucking would have got made. But would Bruce LaBruce be able to get tax credits?”
LaBruce, a Canadian filmmaker who has worked outside the country for years, agrees that even under existing conditions he would have a hard time finding financing, especially with C-2 in place.
“I am planning on making a film in Canada in the near future and I am exactly the sort of target they would be looking at because I make sexually explicit films,” he says. “That’s always the main point of paranoia, the aspect of sexuality they use to supposedly support their cause, which is that it can corrupt minors.”
But other filmmakers say the application of C-2 has been completely haphazard. John Greyson states in an email that he and other directors have continued to make films about youth sexuality, even queer youth.
“I’ve always wanted to do an action where Canadian filmmakers would hand themselves into the police for having violated the kiddie porn law,” he says. “Pretty well the entire Canadian film industry — [Atom] Egoyan (the schoolgirl in Exotica), [Guy] Maddin (those boys in Careful), me with Lilies — it’d be a long lineup waiting to be fingerprinted.”
Marie Nazar, a spokesperson for the children’s film festival Sprockets, says the festival had no problem screening the Swedish film Bitter Sweetheart, about a 15-year-old girl who has sex with a 25-year-old man. The festival showed the film to an all-female audience of high school students.
— with files from Marcus McCann