Sunday, March 23, 2008

Canadian Tories Under Harper Attempting to Impose Film Censorship Through New Tax Credit Clause

"It means the minister of heritage will have unprecedented powers. Public policy--what is that? It's anything she decides it is. ...The platform they're suggesting is akin to a Communist Chinese panel of unknown people, who, behind closed doors, will make a second ruling after bodies like Telefilm Canada have already invested.''--Canadian movie director, David Cronenberg.

Ottowa/Toronto--If Canadians thought they were going to escape the reach of the Bush era, they were reminded of the impossibility this week by Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed amemendment to Canadian tax credit policy. But did he and his party really author it? No, this is a collective move by both parties and outside elements. Are they the real instigators of this ill-advised legislation? What's the role of Hollywood in all of this?

A 13-word clause buried in a 560-page tax amendment is pitting Canada's film industry against Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The proposal would allow the Canadian government to deny tax breaks to films deemed contrary to "public policy,'' as determined by the Heritage Department, headed by [Harper appointee] Josee Verner. ("Censorship Charges Fly as Canada Moves to Cut Film Tax Credit," Bloomberg, 03.21.2008)
The Bloomberg headline is misleading, which is unsurprising. The Canadian tax credit isn't being cut at all, but films that are deemed to be "against public" policy could have problems crucial getting funding. Without the tax credit, it's unlikely that very many movies would be made in the North American nation by Canadians. Foreign productions--namely Hollywood ones--will be unaffected by this legislative change that's being urged-on by Harper's government and his party. This is what should be setting-off the alarms, and it appears that the Canadian film industry is well aware of the threat posed within these few lines being amended to the existing Telefilm bill. Unsurprisingly, this call for a filtering system in Telefilm isn't exactly new.

Some of this goes back as far the mid-1990s, and the very same measures in exactly the same language were being urged as recently as November 2003, spearheaded by the former Liberal Party Prime Minister Paul Martin and allies in the Canadian Parliament. This was a Liberal Party move, and it failed at the time. The 2003 bill was virtually identical to the "new" C-10.
When Canada's government moved to strip tax credits from film and video productions that are "contrary to public policy," an election was on the horizon, and the public's reaction was swift and unanimous. No one noticed.

That was in November, 2003, when Paul Martin was about to take over from Jean Chretien as Liberal Prime Minister, and tax reform was low on the public priority list. With little fanfare and even less scandal, and after what they described as a long period of industry consultation, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and Minster of Heritage Sheila Copps proposed that Canadian film and video productions will receive tax credits provided that "public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy."

Almost five years later, draft legislation with those exact words made it through the House of Commons with barely a whisper of dissent--Liberal John McCallum called it "sensible"--and is now before the Senate for review. ("Uproar over 'contrary to public policy," The National Post, 03.08.2008)

But what do they want to ban? According to supporters of the changes, we get the usual sweeping-generalities from the 1980s: it would mean films with "gratuitous and extreme" content, namely sex and violence. You know. Sounds like the rhetoric of the extreme right, doesn't it? Why would the Liberal Party support such an obvious rightist agenda? Neither side appears to harbor any sense of nationalism in protecting Canadian media's autonomy, so other forces must be at-play. Business reasons.

And so, the argument is that there is a great concern over the content of Canadian productions, but not foreign ones (primarily American). Yet, there's plenty of gratuitous sex and violence in American productions lensed in Canada, such as the recent "Masters of Horror" series, filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, which featured both extreme horror and even depictions of graphic sexual violence (this isn't an attack on anyone's right to create these productions, incidentally, this writer is a fan of the series). Masters of Horror received a Telefilm credit for each-and-every episode produced in B.C. Under this legislation, there are numerous other productions in Canada right now which would lose funding were they domestic ones. The real hit will come to the Canadian film and media houses, and not to American ones.

This brings us back again to the example of the now-defunct "Masters of Horror" television series. If these provisions pass the Canadian Parliament, such a series could still be produced by a foreign production company, but not a domestic one. Even more shocking, Canadian television productions will also be affected by the amendments to this newest Telefilm tax bill.

To Americans, groups like the Canada Family Action Coalition (http://www.familyaction.org/) ring a very familiar bell. Like the American Focus on the Family, their focus is an extreme form of theocratic and anti-democratic rhetoric, calling for a rollback on basic rights and human services that the majority of Canadians and Americans have been traditionally accustomed to. What they really represent are authoritarian-trends in business and government which are empowering and using such groups as fronts for one legislative push after another. The play-book begins with the United States, and cross border ideological-ties between the extreme religious and political right in both nations stretches back to rightist demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin and the Canadian Nationalist and Fascist parties like Heritage Front, and could also be described as white supremacist and corporatist. Not your friendly neighborhood folks, but at least they have allies in skyscrapers, government ministries, and country clubs, who hold the same opinions.

Perversely, the right in both North American nations are suggesting that they know what everyone's standards are--the ones formulated by shadowy groups like Focus on the Family and the Canada Family Action Coalition. Who pulls their strings? One could expect elements of their membership to be represented in future appointments to the Heritage Department. A well-known Canadian evangelical crusader is claiming credit for the federal government's move to deny tax credits to TV and film productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other offensive content.
Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and "numerous" meetings with officials in the Prime Minister's Office. "We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government." Mr. McVety said films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign. "There are a number of Conservative backbench members that do a lot of this work behind the scenes," he said. Mr. Day and Mr. Nicholson said through officials yesterday they did not recall discussing the issue with Mr. McVety. ("Evangelist takes credit for film crackdown," The Globe and Mail, 02.29.2008)
It's interesting that the Tories want to distance themselves publicly from Mr. McVety, but that's because one could correctly assume that he's that bumbling underling who's said too much. If Mr. McVety's comments are to be taken at-face-value, there's a good deal of impropriety going on in the Prime Minister's office these days regarding this censorship push. This shouldn't be any surprise to even the most casual observer.

When you have someone like Charles McVety getting preferential access to the Prime Minister of Canada, it's not about "public policy"at all, but about a narrow and private agenda (the public-be-damned). If it resembles the rollback of rights in the United States by neoconservatism, it should. These groups and politicians are their allies in Canada. What this most resembles are the "faith-based initiatives" foisted on the American public by the Bush administration and an extremist segment of North American evangelicals.

The ties between the politicized congregations are deeper than one might suspect. In October 2006, San Antonio-based mega-church evangelist John Hagee came to speak at Canada Christian College on recent actions by Israel in the war on terrorism, the "impending threat" of Iran, and the ties-that-bind Canadian and American evangelicals (money and fanaticism). His host? Again, it was Charles McVety.
Hagee’s assessment of Harper isn’t based on news clips alone. His Toronto host, not to mention his longtime Canadian major-domo, was Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, one of the most outspoken players in this country’s religious right wing. During the last election, as head of a handful of pro-family lobbies including the Defend Marriage Coalition, McVety emerged as a power to be reckoned with. He bought up the rights to unclaimed Liberal websites such as josephvolpe.com and stacked a handful of Conservative nomination contests in favour of evangelical candidates adamantly opposed to same-sex matrimony, a campaign he has vowed to repeat. As Harper navigates the tricky waters of minority rule—keeping the lid on any eruptions of rhetorical fervour from the rambunctious theo-cons in his caucus—it is noteworthy that he has continued to cultivate a man regarded as the lightning rod of the Christian right. ("Stephen Harper and the theo-cons," The Walrus, October 2006 issue)
An American could replace the names with the familiar Bible-backed demagogues running amok here in the South--it all sounds the same as the meddling of religion with politics here. Where did this new push all begin?

The answer is very simple: the movie "Karla," about the Homolkas and their saga of rape that culminated in a double-murder of two Canadian school girls during the 1990s. It's possible the couple murdered others, including Homolka's own baby-sister by poisoning. The 2006 film stars Lora Prepon of "That 70s Show" fame. The movie got such an ugly reaction during its 2005 production from canucks that it had to move shooting to the United States.

While the reaction from Canadians was to be expected--Karla Homolka orchestrated the murders, controlling her husband Paul Bernardo, but got-off with a questionable plea deal--it was immediately exploited by both the Liberal and Tory parties. Using the bodies of victims as one's starting-point is both unholy and unethical. One would think the theme of sexual sadism has struck some kind of nerve within the ranks of Canada's political and economic elites, never mind the cultural and religious ones.

Perhaps this pain of recognition was along-the-lines of Pasolini's "Salo "(1975), since power corrupts all who hold it. Sometimes, the truth is a mirror that's too painful to glimpse one's reflection in. Only Hollywood will come out well in this if C-10 passes in the Canadian Senate. Will censoring Canada's films prevent another Karla Homolka? With social policies in North America, and the element of genetics, it's not likely to accomplish anything but censorship. That's exactly what the architects of this legislation want, and not much else.

"Uproar over 'contrary to public policy," The National Post, 03.08.2008:

"Stephen Harper and the theo-cons," The Walrus, June 2006 issue:


"Evangelist takes credit for film crackdown," The Globe and Mail, 02.29.2008:
http://www.friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/articles02290804.asp

"Censorship Charges Fly as Canada Moves to Cut Film Tax Credit," Bloomberg, 03.21.2008:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=aQ473RO0jlU8