Is that a secret agenda in your pocket or are you just happy to C-10?

Are you folks following the Canadian tax credit censorship issue? Anyone looking for Harper’s secret agenda need look no further!

Bill C-10, an amendment to the income tax act which runs hundreds of pages long, has 13 words in it that give the government the right to cancel tax credits for film productions unless

“(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.”

In a Conservative majority situation, this could cut out films that depict violence, homosexuality, underage drinking, etc. Are the Conservatives really more interested in protecting Canadian morality than Canadian jobs?

The phrase itself recalls Hays-code puritanism; i.e. if a gay character gets married – fictionally! – that might be “contrary to public policy.” If a teenage drinker doesn’t die or go to jail before the end credits roll, perhaps this is contrary to public policy. Maybe even a bank heist would be “contrary to public policy?” (Here’s the parliamentary web page for the bill, with status updates and full text).

The man taking credit for the new rule is a Christian evangelical who also led a charge against gay marriage when that issue was on the table. Is this the guy writing legislation for Harper? Is this the kind of news Harper needs to secure his coveted majority?

You’ll notice the bill received ZERO (!) days of debate in the house of commons. Talk about sneaking one past us! What are the opposition parties for, again?

In the Senate, Conservative senator Marjorie Lebreton somewhat deviously announced the bill in the following ho-hum manner: “This bill proposes measures regarding the taxation of non-resident trusts and foreign investment entities. It also implements certain amendments to the Income Tax Act that are technical in nature and, for the most part, serve to accomplish a number of housekeeping objectives. Rather than getting into the technical details of Bill C-10, I would like to make a few general remarks about tax fairness…”

Insert Conservative rhetoric here.

The censorship of bill C-10 happens after the film has finished shooting – in other words, after the money has been spent, the producers could find themselves millions of dollars in debt, based on a political reading of their films by a closed-door panel of bureaucratic, Conservative appointees. Obviously, no investor would fund a film under such uncertain conditions. Producers’ only alternative would be to vet scripts politically at each stage of production – before shooting, during the edit, and then before release.

Let me squash the first argument that conservatives will throw up: “Your freedom of speech does NOT extend to the right to receive a cheque from the government.” This is wrong-headed for many reasons. First of all, if the government is handing out cheques, they CANNOT discriminate as to WHO gets money based on the prohibited categories in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I.e. religion, gender, race, ethnicity etc. So, if “promoting homosexuality” is a criteria to refuse tax credits, then of course, that WOULD be a Charter issue, and the government would get their arse handed to them in court.

Think of it this way: imagine if a documentary producer was counting on Tax Credits to repay their production loan! Then, when the film is finished, some conservative flunky decides he doesn’t like their final product. Let’s say Nettie Wilde’s documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, which promoted the debate about a safe-injection site, was considered “contrary to public policy.” What a great tool for the Conservatives to quash hot topics! And this isn’t a free-speech issue? Give me a break.

And to be absolutely clear – the rules apply ONLY, it seems, so Canadian productions. Foreign productions can be as immoral and debaucherous as they want – their tax credits will still flow like sweet wine.

Secondly, this is an industrial issue, as much as a censorship issue. Having some wonky priests declaring certain films immoral behind closed doors is not exactly a solid economic policy. Tax credits are rebates on Canadian labour used in the making of the film. It results in a net gain for the Canadian economy. Get it? It’s NOT a free cheque from the government. It’s a tax credit that stimulates local jobs.

So Conservatives want to RAISE taxes on film production? I thought they hated taxes! Especially corporate taxes!

If you want to pull the rug from under Canadian production companies, then by all means support this legislation.

Moreover, the proposed rules seem MUCH stricter than ratings board criteria; the reason is that ratings boards rate content scene by scene, whereas the new rules seem to be more theme-based, i.e. the film as a whole is judged and so slight edits after rating might not be enough to alter the outcome. For example, Atom Egoyan’s new film Where The Truth Lies has a threesome scene which earned him a killer nc-17 rating. If he wished, he could have removed the scene to lose the rating. But a film like Exotica might be unsalvagable, because the main character is a stripper dressed like a schoolgirl. Certainly schoolgirl strippers are “contrary to public policy!”

The little provision in C-10 was only discovered by the public on 2nd reading in the senate (and we wonder why Harper insists on ramming bills, like the Violent Crime Bill, through the senate without deliberation or committee work).

Hidden Harper agenda?

There’s a facebook group opposing the bill which got 12,000 members in the first weekend.

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