Don't limit Canadian voices

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 4, 2008 Ed Cartoon

The Harper government’s recent proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act regarding films deemed inappropriate is troubling.

The proposal gives the Heritage Minister the power to deny tax credits for films and television shows he or she finds inappropriate or offensive.

Canadian filmmakers have been especially vocal in their opposition to this amendment. While it is clear there wouldn’t be a film or television industry in Canada without government support, this move is also an attempt to legislate morality.

Canada is known for its arthouse films and programming. As a country that lacks the industry able to output the volume of commercially viable films like the U.S., Canadian filmmakers rely on the public purse to make their visions a reality. The existence of the US entertainment juggernaut has also had a profound effect on our cultural psyche, giving birth to a film and television culture that often explores issues on the fringe of mainstream entertainment.

The films independent Canadian artists create do much to dispel the common misconceptions of Canada as a country of hockey and igloos, and this could not be done through the market alone. Government funds provide the means by which these fringe voices can communicate their visions, all of which goes towards building the pluralistic society Canadians value.

However, the ubiquitous claim that this amendment is an attempt at censorship is false. The supporters of this amendment aren’t stopping artists outright from creating their films, but merely saying films deemed inappropriate should not be funded by the public.

Of course, it is unclear who determines the appropriateness of a film or program’s content. When a closed-door committee " in this case, composed of representatives from the Heritage and Justice departments " decide what is appropriate for free-thinking adults to see, and therefore worthy of its funds, it becomes a question of precedent. After all, everyone’s criteria for what is offensive differs. There is no clear means of qualifying a piece of art’s merit without calling existing works into question, and this could mean a tightening of criteria over time.

Still, for now the government is not stopping productions from finding funding elsewhere. Canadian artists will retain the right to free expression, but the criteria for what is morally acceptable within that expression has become more stringent. It does, however, discourage artists from making potentially groundbreaking films when it creates further barriers to bringing their visions to life.

This has the potential to become a serious setback to the society Canada has been trying to build since the 60s.

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