2 min

Taxing thoughts

Tories to censor 'offensive' cultural products

It’s as if the bête noir of free expression in this country, former head of the Ontario Censor Board Mary Brown, had been resurrected as a tax lawyer. Talk about a nightmare.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative government in Ottawa continue their secret rightwing campaign with more stealth legislation, this time a little improvised explosive device buried in reams and reams of proposed changes to the Income Tax Act. Bill C-10 would allow the Minister of Canadian Heritage to deny tax credits to film and TV productions deemed offensive because of explicit sex or excessive violence, among other things, what ministry spokesperson Charles Drouin labelled as anything “contrary to public policy.”

Even after funding agencies like Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fund have agreed to support a particular project — the green light for any production in Canada — if the ministry weighed in and denied tax credits, then funders and producers would have to make up the shortfall. Such insecurity threatens Canada’s entire financing system for film and TV — the whole point of the tax credit system in the first place was to encourage a more stable financing environment. Producers need to know their budgets going into any project — not coming out. Without that security, filmmakers will go elsewhere. By attacking freedom of speech this bill threatens a $4.8-billion industry.

Such a far-reaching change was never discussed before the Canadian public. The relevant clause, running just 13 words in a bill tens of thousands of words long, is more proof that the Tories have a hidden agenda. The government knew those 13 words would have significant impact: guidelines had apparently been drawn up and an infrastructure in place to implement the new policy.

Hiding a censorship program in the Income Tax Act? These Conservatives are not the straight-talking honest brokers that I used to recognize as Tories when I was growing up in western Canada.

No one in Parliament debated Bill C-10’s proposed changes (introduced way back in November 2006 as Bill C-33). I guess our elected MPs were too busy avoiding an election to read the fine print — to be fair, the clause is well and truly hidden. No one noticed it until third reading in the Senate. The Senate!? I guess that’s why they call it “the chamber of sober second thought.” But the Tories feel it’s a chamber of ill-repute. Harper was willing to force an election over the Senate doing its job, reviewing proposed legislation like the government’s omnibus crime bill. That some senator or someone in a Senate committee raised a red flag over C-10 surely must prove to Harper that the Senate, too, is offensive and “contrary to public policy.”

This backdoor censorship gambit follows an increasingly long line of procedural changes initiated by the Tory government and their backroom cronies: killing the Court Challenges program, shifting monies away from AIDS prevention and treatment, refusing organs from gay men for use in transplants.

This government is at war with Canadian culture. There was virtually no mention of the arts sector in the last budget; no mention of the $49 million repeatedly requested by Ontario’s big cultural institutions; nothing coming close to the previous Liberal government’s support, matched by Queens Park, to the tune of $200 million.

And yet this is the same Tory government that thinks you can promote Canadian culture in Afghanistan from the barrel of a gun.

Who and what is offensive in all this?