Photo by sevennine from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
In the 1996 Canadian movie Kissed, a young female mortician discovers the joys of necrophilia. That same year, David Cronenberg made Crash, wherein a group of omnisexual urbanites eroticize car accidents. In Léolo, a 12-year-old boy masturbates with a chunk of liver, later served to his family for dinner. This spring’s Young People Fucking is, well, called Young People Fucking.
Canadians have traditionally been somewhat blasé about graphic content in our films, especially in comparison to our neighbours south of the border. While the FCC is quick to slap a fine on CBS for The Jackson Nipple Scandal, or attempts to penalize NBC for not knowing Bono would swear during a live broadcast, we’re rather used to seeing the occasional bare bum or hearing a salty expletive on network television, choosing to govern ourselves with our remote controls. A two-man threesome portrayed in Atom Egoyan’s Where The Truth Lies damned the film to NC-17 purgatory in the United States (most theatre chains won’t run an NC-17 movie), whereas domestic cinemas barely batted an eyelash. Shockingly, Canadian society has yet to crumble into a mash of debaucherous immorality.
Domestic productions all carry a consistent hallmark—the seemingly endless slates of government and private logos in the closing credit roll. It is virtually impossible to get a homegrown show made in Canada without taking advantage of government grants and tax credits, many of which are handed down by the Department of Canadian Heritage. But a proposed Tory amendment to the Income Tax Act, allegedly spearheaded by a prominent evangelical crusader, could see the Heritage Minister denying tax cuts for films and television shows arbitrarily deemed offensive or immoral.
Additionally, the amendment to Bill C-10 could allow tax credits to be cancelled even if government funding has already been secured, potentially stranding the development of a television show in pre-production or bankrupting a film in mid-production.
A closed-door panel of representatives from both the Heritage and Justice departments would decide what content is too sensitive for freethinking adults to manage their own exposure to. Annette Gibbons, a representative from Heritage Canada, says that the enhanced powers of censorship are merely a minor revision to the existing act, stating, “It’s our responsibility to ensure that public funds are not invested in certain types of material, such as hate propaganda, excessively violent material, or pornography.”
It is even more disturbing to discover that an evangelical activist claims to be behind this new proposal to police the morality of Canadian artists. Well-known partypooper and self-proclaimed Harper pal Charles McVety (right), president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, says that non-right-wing “values” are unwelcome in the Canadian entertainment industry—including sexual content devoid of any educational value, and, unsurprisingly, depictions of homosexuality. McVety boasts that his lobbying of Conservatives like Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day led to the revised draft of Bill C-10.
Director David Cronenberg, who is notorious for pushing the envelope in his films, likens the plan to “something they do in Beijing.” D.B. Scott of the Canadian Magazines blog suggests that the censorship could extend to literature in much the same way. Public consultations are now being held to rejig the funding bodies for Canadian magazines into a single entity, also administrated by Heritage Canada.
The grant and tax credit process in Canada is already complicated and discretionary (and understandably so). Committees can deny funding or tax credits for many reasons, though rejections are primarily due to the viability of the project from start to finish on a technical and creative basis rather than hinging a rejection on the moral character of the story.
In the United States, the ultra-stringent MPAA solicits feedback from two Christian ministers before rendering a classification on an appeal, and some films granted an “R” rating in Ontario are given the NC-17 kiss of death across the border. Generally, profanity and depictions of sexuality are seen as more dangerous to the American moral consciousness than violent bloodshed and horror.
Since pornography and literature deemed obscene is restricted in Canada under section 163 of the Criminal Code, and because film classification and television regulation already exist, the proposed amendment to capriciously deny tax credits based on a morality audit smacks of American-style fundamentalist meddling and political pandering.
Many of Canada’s most successful independent films are known for their willingness to go into some dark places and tackle unpalatable issues. Granting a tiny panel the power to arbitrarily hobble the already-struggling domestic film industry under the guise of morality has no place in contemporary Canadian art.
Film shoot photo by sevennine from the Torontoist Flickr Pool. McVety photo via Canada Christian College.