Call it the story of o-words. “offensive,” “odious” and “objectionable” are the adjectives being used to describe those films that might not get the tax-credit green light if the Tories have their way and sneak new guidelines into Bill C-10, an act to reform the Income Tax Act.
The law, giving the heritage minister new powers to nix films that don’t meet new subjective guidelines – vaguely related to concerns about decency and not yet on the books – has reached the Senate committee stage.
So where was the opposition when the bill sailed through two readings in Parliament? You have to wonder whether the Libs and the NDP have been snoozing through this one.
The Globe and Mail was quick to point the finger at the allegedly huge influence of Charles McVety, the outspoken president of Canada Christian College and the Family Action Coalition, on the process.
McVety does have some outrageous views. On one debate spot we did together for CH Television, he opposed a city-sanctioned Pride Day, claiming it was an all-weekend orgy that shed a bad light on Toronto. In another, he opposed Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools because they were really just glorified sex clubs.
Not exactly the kind of person you want exerting undue influence on Canadian culture. But he insists he doesn’t.
“I never took credit for this,” he says in a phone interview, “and we didn’t run a traditional all-out campaign.” He admits that he did talk with the man he cozily calls Stock, Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, as well as Attorney General Robert Nicholson and Treasury Board president Vic Toews.
But he also talked with Liberal MPs Paul Szabo and Dan McTeague. Sure, the Tories may be looking for a cheap way to ingratiate themselves with their right-wing base, but it’s not as if the Liberals weren’t aware that the lobbying was getting hot and heavy.
Liberal culture critic Mauril Bélanger explains that the bill was originally tabled as Bill C-33 in 1998 (before his time as culture critic) and that the call for additional guidelines was buried in a complex, 560-page document 10 years later. Consultation was limited, he says, and there is no mention of the suggested guidelines in the Canadian Gazette, where new regulations are usually available for MPs’ perusal.
“The government has an obligation to explain clearly what the bill is about, and I don’t think it did that,” he says.
Yes, but you’d also think that it’s a culture critic’s job to read the damn thing before it passes.
Bélanger’s NDP counterpart, Bill Siksay, sounds slightly chagrined when I say as much to him. “I don’t want to make excuses. All I can say is that when you’re looking at this kind of legislation, you’re not looking for a censorship mechanism within it, and we’re going to do everything in our power now to oppose it. But you’re right. It is our responsibility.”
He goes on to press all the freedom-of-speech buttons. “It doesn’t surprise me that the the Conservatives have an impetus to censor. It’s not unusual for them to complain about something being objectionable. I don’t think there’s been a problem with tax credits going to inappropriate projects.”
McVety doesn’t agree. He says a film like Young People F-ing (he means Young People Fucking, which he did not see), about what he describes as the sexual escapades of four couples, including orgies, is not something government should be funding.
“A film like Breakfast With Scot, I believe, proseletyzes little boys to become homosexuals. Whole New Thing shows sex in a public place and talks about masturbation. A film like Kissed, about necromancy (sic - he means necrophilia), that’s not appropriate.”
The fact that Whole New Thing came from the imagination of Daniel MacIvor, one of the country’s most celebrated writers and performers, and another, Kissed, is based on a story by Barbara Gowdy, a member of the Order of Canada, doesn’t keep him from insisting that they “do not meet society’s standards.”
He does say he’s interested in an open debate, but when I suggest that he would have been very happy had this bill slipped through Parliament under the radar, without any discussion at all, he says, “No debate? That has nothing to do with me.”
And he has a point.
Mauril Bélanger on Bill C-10's easy passage through Commons:
Charles McVety on tax credits for films:
More McVety arguments: