The fallout from the blocking of three gay films at the border has reverberated across Parliament Hill. Queer MPs are universally outraged by what they see as a return to the era of Little Sister’s struggles.
“How long does this battle have to go on?” asks NDP House Leader Libby Davies. “There’s been thousands, maybe millions of dollars spent on litigation [and] court battles by Little Sister’s. Why are they holding up material that is totally acceptable?”
On Nov 20, an official with the Canada Border Services Agency flagged three films destined for Inside Out’s Ottawa screenings — I Can’t See Straight, Clapham Junction and Patrik, Age 1.5. The material was approved after the festival was over, and the delay left organizers scrambling to find replacement copies of the films to screen.
“It just seems so spiteful, so intolerant,” says Davies. “I’m shocked that still, in this day and age, we’re fighting a government who’s determined to censor material for the queer community. What right do they have to do that?”
Fellow New Democrat Bill Siksay agrees.
“Outrageous — especially seizing a PG-rated movie, a movie that was in general release,” says Siksay, the NDP’s critic on queer issues. “There’s no excuse. They could have Googled the titles on the Internet and formed a reasonable opinion from that. There’s no excuse for having delayed those movies.”
Siksay says he has raised the issue with his caucus.
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant sits on the Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee, which oversees CBSA’s actions. Oliphant is concerned that this behaviour has resumed at the border in a post-Little Sister’s era.
“This seems new,” Oliphant says. “What I need to find out is, is there something new? Is there some policy change that they’ve done, because the pattern seems to have stopped and now it seems to be back?”
Public safety minister Peter Van Loan was not available for comment. Both the Liberal and NDP Public Safety critics are travelling on committee business and were unavailable for comment.
Van Loan’s spokesperson offered this statement: “At this time, Public Safety Canada or CBSA does not have any new information to share. All goods entering Canada must be presented to the CBSA and may be subject to a more in-depth examination. There is no record that these goods have been presented, examined or seized by the CBSA. When the CBSA receives goods, then they will be assessed in accordance with Canadian law and the Customs Act. Where items are being held in bond by a shipping company for the importer, the shipping company will arrange for the item to be delivered to the CBSA for examination.”
Liberal MP Scott Brison sees this as part of a larger pattern.
“I’m always leery of government censorship of culture,” Brison says. “It’s difficult to believe the inspection of these films at the border was random, given this Conservative government’s sustained campaign in favour of the Christian right and against the [gay, lesbian, bi and trans] community.
“From denying funding for legitimate [queer] cultural events to their attempts to revoke same-sex marriage rights to their unwillingness to discipline Conservative MPs who make bigoted statements, these Conservatives have been consistent in their narrow-mindedness and intolerance.”
The Green Party is the only federal party whose platform currently contains a pledge to reform CBSA’s actions with respect to queer materials crossing the border. Leader Elizabeth May echoed the shock felt by other MPs over the issue.
“Censorship in any form is completely unacceptable. To refuse to show even PG-rated gay and lesbian films shows the creeping level of intolerance that one feels around this government.”
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