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Book cover of a Canadian Copyright: A Citizen's Guide

 

Canadian Copyright: A Citizen's Guide

 
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Laura Murray is an Associate Professor in the English Department of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and creator of the website www.faircopyright.ca.

 

Samuel Trosow is an Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. He is jointly appointed in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

Recent Decisions


Heritage Minister Responds to Censorship Concerns PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 March 2008


Heritage Ministe Josee Verner has issued a statement in response to the concerns being raised about Bill C-10, assuring that the "Government is deeply committed to freedom of expression..."  But a prominent Film Studies professor argues otherwise.


 Here is the text of Minister Verner's statement released March 3rd:
 

Bill C-10 and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

Recent media coverage has speculated about the Government's intention to police the film industry to prevent the production of movies with provocative titles or themes like those in Eastern Promises, Borderline, or Ma fille, mon ange.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Government is deeply committed to freedom of expression and will continue to support the creation of edgy, entertaining Canadian content.

Under the current rules, the creator of a film that includes content that may be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code could technically still be eligible for a film tax credit under the Income Tax Act. This is a legal absurdity; a loophole that successive governments-first Liberal, then Conservative-have worked to close. This is a matter of good housekeeping, consistent with previous policy and what is done in other cultural sectors.

The amendment contained in Bill C-10 is not a new concept. It was first announced in 2002 by former Liberal Finance Minister John Manley and again in 2003 by former Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. The current government has introduced precisely the same amendment. It was approved by the current House of Commons with all party support on October 29, 2007. Moreover, four out of ten Canadian provinces have precisely the same wording in their film tax credit regimes. Three additional provinces employ very similar concepts.

Bill C-10 has nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with the integrity of the tax system. The goal is to ensure public trust in how tax dollars are spent. The modifications in question will affect a very small number of the over 1000 productions that receive tax credits annually. We will act with great care to ensure there is no adverse effect on film financing practices in the industry.

The movies we go to see at theatres and film festivals will continue to be eligible for tax credits. The measure contained in Bill C-10 addresses only the most extreme and gratuitous material, not mainstream films such as Eastern Promises, Borderline, and Ma fille, mon ange.

It is the role of government to support the efforts of our artists, creators, and key players in our cultural industries. Canadians can be assured that we will continue to do so with passioon, respect and transparency.

 
But in an open letter to Prime Minister Harper and Minister Verner, Michael Zryd (who is the former President of the Film Studies Association of Canada warns that the measure "would enable de facto government censorship of film and television."

 

Zyrd begins by arguing "that attempts at 'content control' by governments rarely work," and he points to similar types of precedents from the past:

 

On one level, Bill C-10 is not overt censorship as it merely proposes to add another set of criteria to judge applications for public funding. However, as a scholar of film history, I can see a very clear precedent in the proposed mechanism for this policy. The review by a panel set up by CAVCO, the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, seems very similar to how the notorious Production Code Administration was run in the United States from the late 1920s until it was overturned in the late 1950s. The PCA was set up by Hollywood to avoid overt state censorship, but had the effect of stifling creative expression in Hollywood and dumbing down filmmaking in name of controlling "content". The PCA rightly earned the ridicule of both the film industry and the public, and this provision in Bill C-10 deserves the same shame. Finally, if the subsequent report in the Globe and Mail that lobbying by an evangelical minister was a factor in this provision in the Bill, the parallel with the PCA is complete, as it was sparked by pressure from the National Legion of Decency in the 1920s. Narrow religious dogma has no place in state policy.

 

Zyrd is referring to a Globe and Mail report that Charles McVety (president of the Canada Family Action Coalition) was instrumental in lobbying for the position. According to the February 28th article, McVety claims to have had meetings and discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and officials in the Prime Minister's Office.  The article attributes McVety as saying thatfilms promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign. On their part, representatives of Ministers Day and Nicholson told the Globe "they did not recall discussing the issue with Mr. McVety."

 

Rather than dwell on who said what to whom, or whether or not the as yet unreleased revised guidelines do or do not constitute censorship, the government could  clear the air on the whole matter by releasing the guidelines that are presumably being drafted.  Rather than issue general pronouncements about the government's committment to intellectual expression, the Minister should make the guidelines available to the public prior to any further action on the Bill. Given the level of interest that this matter has created, and given the likely Charter implications of the revised guidelines, it would be best that they considered by Parliament as part of their consideration of the Bill.

 

The Senate should pass the bill without the disputed measures and the House of Commons should then do the same. At that point, the government can table their new guidelines, along with a justification for why they are necessary, as a separate measure. 

 

 

 

 


Tags:  Bill C-10 Censorship
 

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I am an Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario jointly appointed to the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS).

 

Before coming to Western, I was a law librarian at the Boalt Hall Law Library at the University of California at Berkeley and before that I was in private law practice in California. My doctoral work in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA focused on information policy issues.

 

I am currently a Network Investigator and Theme Leader with the GRAND NCE and also serve on the Librarians Committee of the  Canadian Association of University Teachers.



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