2.29.2008

christian group claims credit for film tax change

If this is true, it's very bad news.
A well-known 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.

Canadian Heritage officials confirmed yesterday they will be "expanding slightly" the criteria used for denying tax credits to include grounds such as gratuitous violence, significant sexual content that lacks an educational purpose, or denigration of an identifiable group. More details are promised next week.

Arts groups say they will fight the change. Director David Cronenberg and other big industry names warned that the edgy, low-budget films that have garnered Canadians international acclaim will be at risk.

Conservatives deny that the changes are driven by politics or Mr. McVety, noting the previous Liberal government pledged to review the guidelines as far back as 2003.

In September 2006, The Walrus ran a long feature purporting to expose the strong links between the Harper government and the religious right. The story is here, and wmtc's discussion of the issue is here.

If I recall correctly, Canadian readers mostly felt the writer was exaggerating the Christian influence on the Conservatives. Americans in Canada tended to be more worried. That's understandable, since we watched our country taken over by those narrow-minded zealots, and came here partly to escape them.

Changing the film tax credit guidelines to exclude films that a small group of people consider offensive is clearly bad for the film industry, both economically and artistically. But it's bad news for all of us, if we don't want the government meddling in personal morality, or especially, pandering to the warped values of the religious right.

I notice, too, that the story about McVety specifically mentions homosexuality as an exclusion:
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.

As we know, to those people, "films promoting homosexuality" means anything with a queer theme. I haven't seen this in any other story about the tax credit change. If Heritage Canada tries to exclude gay-themed films solely on that basis, they'll have a huge human rights and Charter issue on their hands.

Members of the film industry are already speaking out against the change.
An impending change to federal government guidelines on tax credits for movies and TV shows is a threat to artistic freedom and financial stability, critics say.

A tax bill amendment – now before the Senate and poised to become law – revises criteria to exclude tax breaks for shows that bureaucrats regard as offensive or not in the public interest.

Tax credits – approved by the heritage and justice departments after a film is completed – are a vital part of the production process. They're part of the budget plan producers take to lending institutions for up-front financing before filming begins.

Martin Gero, director of the provocatively titled Young People Fucking, which opens April 18, said virtually every film produced in the country relies on bridge financing from banks – and banks do not like uncertainty.

If Heritage Canada toughens the criteria for tax credits – as a senior official acknowledged yesterday is its intent – Gero said the film industry is in big trouble.

"If it starts to get to where the banks are like, 'Well, that tax credit money isn't for sure,' then they're not going to lend you money. I don't know a production anywhere (in Canada) that would be able to go on without their tax credit money."

Entertainment lawyer Michael Levine, a founding director of the Canadian Film Centre, agreed that film financing is in jeopardy.

"Bankers like predictable and measurable risk. So there is obviously a financial angle," Levine said.

"But there's also the obvious question of who's making the decisions and who's defining the standards. It's quite clear to me that we are getting into the dangerous territory of freedom of expression," Levine said, calling the legislation "very dangerous ... very ill-advised."

Annette Gibbons, a senior official with Heritage Canada, insisted yesterday that "only slight modifications" are being made to existing guidelines to explicitly deny tax credits to films promoting hate, excessive violence and pornography. At present, only pornography is excluded.

Heritage Canada officials will make final decisions, but a "transition" period will be in place, during which filmmakers will be consulted, Gibbons said.

But NDP MP Bill Siksay, the party's heritage critic, said the bill could have "a huge chilling effect" on Canadian film production.

"There hasn't been a problem with the appropriateness of film and video production in Canada. There's been controversy, but controversy isn't necessarily bad when it comes to the cultural life of a country as diverse as ours," he said.
[Emphasis mine.]

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, the actors' union, said the bill will add "a layer of instability and uncertainty to financing, which this industry can ill afford at this time.

"We're concerned about the censorship that would be involved. Clearly, that offends us and offends – I would hope – the Canadian public."

The guild representing Canadian directors also issued a statement yesterday opposing the changes.

I don't like this, but I'm more concerned with what's driving it. With the Liberals handing the Conservatives a de facto majority government, a religious right influence in government is a very dangerous thing.

5 comments:

West End Bob said...

a religious right influence in government is a very dangerous thing.

AMEN ! ! ! !

L-girl said...

Good letter in today's G&M:

For those old enough to remember the bad old days of the Ontario Film Censor Board and other such organizations, your front-page article Tories Plan To Withhold Funding For 'Offensive' Productions (Feb. 28) revives the long-dormant spectre of government censorship in this country. It is a shockingly backward step.

Despite the disingenuous argument that filmmakers who wish to avoid this newly constituted star chamber can fund their productions outside the public system, this is an attempt by the federal Conservatives to chill free expression. There are perfectly adequate laws on the books to deal with obscenity; we do not need Justice Department bureaucrats determining what is acceptable artistic expression.

There has been no public outcry over publicly funded film or TV. In fact, quite the contrary: Cutting edge material such as the Trailer Park Boys or the films of David Cronenberg have raised our filmmakers' profile to international proportions.

This is terrible legislation, motivated by an attempt to appease those who would impose their own morality on all Canadians, and it should be abandoned immediately.

David Weaver, Toronto

skdadl said...

Terrific post, laura.

I certainly remember Mrs Brown (that was her name, yes?) and the Ontario Film Censor Board. The thought of Stockwell Day and his ilk with that sort of power over the arts in Canada makes me ill.

Even in their own terms, how can these people claim to be conservatives? This is the worst of nanny-statism.

ss said...

Americans in Canada tended to be more worried. That's understandable, since we watched our country taken over by those narrow-minded zealots, and came here partly to escape them. .

Exactly! We're moving to Canada, but hearing stuff like this makes me think it's just not far enough away.

L-girl said...

We're moving to Canada, but hearing stuff like this makes me think it's just not far enough away.

We definitely have to guard against this influence in Canada, but we also shouldn't exaggerate what's going on. It's nothing like it is in the US.

I think we have to make a huge outcry at any sign of religious right influence - the old slippery slope. Just like the backdoor anti-choice bill we've all been blogging about. It's so important to nip these things in the bud.

But no country is perfect. You're not going to find a utopia to move to.