Thursday, March 06, 2008

Censorship through the back door

So the latest flap is that our wonderful Harper government is trying to push through a tax bill that would enable the government to effectively censor art that doesn't conform to its ideas of "public policy" -- even after that work has been publicly supported and produced. You can read more about it here in the Toronto Star. Of course, film and theatre associations are especially up in arms, as the legislation is most directly is aimed at them. But it does effect other arts as well. Here's a letter the president of the League of Canadian Poets composed yesterday; its National Council (including yours truly) approved of it last night; he gave me permission to print it here.

Dear Senator W. David Angus (and other members of the Senate Committee on Bank, Trade and Commerce),

In my capacity as president of the League of Canadian Poets, representing more than 700 members across Canada, I am writing to urge the senate to defeat this bill and return it to the House of Commons where it can be sensibly amended so it does not include section 119 (3) (b). The problem with that section, as has now been widely reported in the media, is the government’s proposal to act as a censor on Canadian films and other works of art by withholding tax credits on works that have already been produced, so that “public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy”. “Public policy” in Canada has never included government’s right to censor works of art that receive or have already received public subsidy. Government policy of this kind is normally associated with dictatorships. Please defeat this bill.

Maurice Mierau
League of Canadian Poets
Sponsors -- whether corporate or government -- are, as Naomi Klein so well put it, the courteous censors of the western world. Already creators have quite burdensome implicit pressures to deal with, with funding and publication bodies and policies as they now stand.

For those (including our government) who are out of touch with artists and with the nature of the creative process, it has to be stressed that having to second guess what "public policy" is puts a serious chill on artistic creation right at its inception.

Ironically, as Peter Darbyshire points out, foreign (i.e. Hollywood) imports wouldn't have to undergo such scrutiny, creating an immediate double standard.

The question of course remains whether this move is a conscious one, part of a very deliberate strategy to curtail freedoms, or some idea a semi-conscious moral-majority (?) government thought would be a good one, without imagining the implications. Considering the controlling and secretive nature of this government, with its close ties to the Bush administration, I frankly wouldn't be surprised if the former was the case. If the latter -- also quite possible --is the case, it sends a strong message of insensitivity, if nothing else.

The Star article suggests the crescendo of protest will likely pressure the government into amending the bill. "Of course, the guidelines don't exist. So there's nothing to worry about. Isn't it silly the way arts folk get into a flap about nothing?" is the article's blithe conclusion. Well, if we didn't get into such a flap, that nothing could easily turn into quite something. And it could just yet.

Fri. Mar. 7: This post underwent some revision from yesterday. On reflection, I chose to tone down certain wording, but to entertain the possibility of sinister intentions on the part of this gov. more seriously.


R. W. Watkins said...

Ha-ha!--looks like the chickens are coming home to roost, doesn't it....

Brian Campbell said...

Hopefully, cluck cluck. Trouble is, the H of C has already passed the bill, and we need to depend on the sleepy old Senate to wake up and act, something it's not very accustomed to doing.

It's one of the most common tricks in the book, to hide controversial legislation inside an omnibus package and hope it gets passed on the sly.