The Battle over C-10

I've been rather quiet on the remarkable public outcry over Bill C-10, the legislation currently before the Senate that would give the Minister of Canadian Heritage the power to veto tax credits for films or television productions deemed objectionable.  This afternoon I received an email urging me to "write your Government and support restricting or banning funding from the taxpayers for 'pornography'."  Given this nonsense, it is important to urge everyone to lend their voice to this issue by contacting their elected representatives and the Senate Banking committee to ask them not to pass the legislation with the film provision.  Much like the outcry against DMCA-style copyright reform, there has been a huge online protest with a Facebook group now over 21,000 members.

I believe there is a place for government support for culture.  While that support is not unconditional, neither is it appropriate for government to reserve for itself a veto power over content it finds objectionable (the loss of tax credits could effectively kill some film productions).  After the Prime Minister's Office apparently pulled Canadian Heritage Minister Josee Verner away from the media, late last night she issued a press release claiming that the provision is designed to stop tax credits from being issued to films that include content that may be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code.  This raises a couple of issues. 

First, Verner says this will "affect a very small number of the over 1000 productions that receive tax credits annually."  Can she name these productions?  If there really are such films, that would go a long way to providing a better sense of exactly what the government has in mind.  Second, given the growing emphasis on criminalizing copyright infringement, would this include copyright related matters?  Would it include films that focus on civil disobedience?  We don't have these answers and until we do, this legislation should not pass.


  1. Very Appropriate Questions
    I look forward to the answers. And I would hope they’d be more to the point than those given by Pierre Pollievre this morning on _The Current_.

  2. Blown out of proportion
    All this furor begs the question why the government should subsidize the film industry in the first place. But given that it does, why should it not reserve the right to determine what gets funded? There has always been a line whether people admit it or not. So let’s have a debate about where the line should be. But spare me the sanctimony about censorship.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I can’t see anything wrong in denying government funds to films that do infringe copyright

  4. Pluralism
    A government job i s to serve the public. Me and you are the public. Now it happens that me and you have different views (on what it might be considered offensive for example). What is the best way to respect our views? For sure is not to choose only one set (yours or mine), neither to choose our views intersection (since if we have completely opposite views that would result in a complete denial). The only possible way to respect our different views is to do nothing, minimalism. When you think that a movie is offensive based on your restricted point of view you are free to watch it or not. Furthermore a government of a multicultural and multiethnic country has no means to choose on moral basis but only on scientific basis that means when you are qualified for a cut in taxes that’s it: there is no “maybe” nor “it depends”.

  5. David Megginson
    Government subsidies are always soft censorship — there’s no way around it. As long as the Canadian film industry accepts (heck, begs for) government money, it’s censoring itself by designing films around the Cancon grant requirements. C-10 just makes the industry’s hypocritical behaviour a little harder to ignore.

  6. Are we talking about the Canadian Film a
    If yes, then the “write your Government and support restricting or banning funding from the taxpayers for ‘pornography’.” banner is very misleading. From the Heritage Canada website about the credit:

    5. Ineligible genres of production

    The following genres of production are not eligible for the tax credit program:

    1. news, current events or public affairs programming, or a programme that includes weather or market reports;
    2. talk show;
    3. production in respect of a game, questionnaire or contest (other than a production directed primarily at minors);
    4. sports event or activity;
    5. gala presentation or an awards show;
    6. production that solicits funds;
    7. reality television;
    8. pornography;
    9. advertising;
    10. production produced primarily for industrial, corporate or institutional purposes;
    11. production, other than a documentary, all or substantially all of which consists of stock footage; or
    12. production for which public financial support would, in the opinion of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, be contrary to public policy.

    Perhaps they have a different view of what constitutes pornography, say, the women’s underwear section in the Sears or Eaton’s catalog?

  7. Atom Egoyan was speaking at UofT last night. I didn’t get to see him speak, but I’d love to hear his thoughts on the subject. I was watching Exotica a few months ago and it’s a sad thing that a Bill like this could possibly stop a future Canadian award winning film from being made. What really pisses me off is reading about the influence by Charles McVety on the subject.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Couple of thoughts. Either government never hands out money, or it does, and if it does then there do have to be conditions attached. I don’t like this government, I loath people like Charles McVety, but there probably is a point at which most people will say that a given film shouldn’t get a public subsidy. This has nothing to do with censorship because no-one is preventing movie directors from making whatever films they want. Given some of the comments in this blog about how creators and musicians don’t deserve the benefit of levies, I’m a bit surprised at the shift in attitude. Second point – is this blog really the right forum to be discussing this issue?

  9. It’s more complicated than it seems
    The fact is that this WILL prevent directors from making the movies they want – it’s very hard – neigh impossible, to get films made in this country without government handouts. The problem largely stems from our neighbor to the south, and their cultural exportation of their film products.

    Canadian now expect Canadian films/tv shows for the most part to have the same production value as American films and tv shows. That takes money – but Canada has 1/10 th the population and potential for revenue, so we need government money to compete. So with this legislation we now place directors in the position of having to choose: good quality product, dumbed down of all controversy for the masses – or cheap looking piece of garbage that says what they want to say.

    Also, most film financing is in parts – you almost never get all your finding from one source. Obviously, the more committed sources you have, the more likely you can get others to commit (nobody wants to put money into a film if it’s not going to get made). It’s a chicken and egg problem. Where the gap gets filled is from banks, and from the government. you go to the government and apply for tax credits, grants, etc. If you get approved, then you can report to the other people you are trying to get money from and tell them ‘look, the government has committed X dollars…’ and get the ball rolling.

    The other part of the financing problem comes with banks – banks provide ‘bridge loans’ to productions, since frequently government money (and many other funding sources) – while promised before production starts, actually only arrives after you’ve finished or released your product. Banks understand that films are very high-risk environments, and as such don’t like to give you a bridge loan unless they can be sure that the money you were promised at the beginning actually comes in at the end to help pay off the loan. This legislation makes it possible for the government to cancel their funding at any time, even if they’ve approved your production and you are in the middle of making it. As a result, under this piece of legislation the banks won’t consider any government tax breaks as a good source of collateral since they can now be withdrawn at a whim. The result will not only keep controversial productions from getting off the ground, but it may keep ‘legitimate’ ones from getting made as well.

    Canada has a long history of making films that make people think. This legislation stands to possibly strangle our already struggling industry.

  10. Thanks, Ben. This is a very helpful explanation.

  11. David Megginson says:

    Not that complicated

    That’s an old excuse — population has nothing to do with it.

    Many Canadian industries compete internationally and produce high-quality products with few or no subsidies — why should films be different? We have not only Canada, but the whole English-speaking (or French-speaking) world as a primary market, including 300M Americans living just south of our border. Americans are even willing to pay to have a film shot in Canada with Canadian stars and a Canadian director, as long as it doesn’t suck — take Juno, for example (which admittedly, probably did receive some subsidies for being filmed in Vancouver).

  12. Interesting tool
    With a good aim, this bill could be used to kill a production company that was “undesirable”. Lure them in…then screw em good.

    Thanks Ben, for the clarification. Some of the comments here seem to come from people who didn’t understand the controversey. I recommend the “Must Read” in the right hand column.

  13. Tim
    “I believe there is a place for government support for culture.”

    I beg to differ on that one with you if by support you mean $$$. The government has no place giving money to “cultural” productions period. If you allow that then you have the government deciding what is and is not culture via funding.

  14. Darryl Moore says:

    David Megginson on 2008-03-05 23:00:44 Said “That’s an old excuse — population has nothing to do with it.”

    Sure David, it is an old excuse, but with regard to cultural activities, I’m afraid population has EVERTHING to do with it. Culture is not a commodity. You can’t make cultural products generic for everybody on the planet.

    Yes, you are right Americans are willing to have films shot here, with Canadian actors, but most of those stories are still American stories. Americans do not want to hear about Canadian stories, but they are happy to have us tell their stories. With 10 times our population, they have 10 times the demand for their stories.

    With bigger budgets for their bigger market they can make flashier shows about themselves. They can pay for it from their domestic market, then dump the shows abroad in anti-competative syndication to keep the local productions from ever getting a leg up.

    Only Canadians will want to tell Canadian stories. The only way Canadians will have financial incentive to do so is to either finance them directly or block the American shows at the border. The alternative is that we continue telling American stories to Americans, but some of us don’t want that!

  15. A Sanitized Culture
    > The government has no place giving money to “cultural” productions period.
    So who should give money to “cultural” productions then? Private subjects are only interested in profit. Britney Spears for example generates lots of revenues but could you call that “culture”? A low budget production usually needs to be a little edgy and controversial in order to generate an audience. Neither the private sector nor the public sector now seem to be interested in that kind of productions. They prefer pretty anesthetized production over awakening ones. “Thinking is wrong. It makes you unhappy.”

  16. Who decides?

    I’m no Britney Spears fan either, but why should I, or the government, be allowed to decide what “culture” is for everyone else? We’ll almost certainly get it wrong.

    Remember that Jane Austen was considered mass-market trash 200 years ago — the Prince Regent (who would have made Britney look classy in comparison) was a fan, but for the university-educated men in government and the church, real culture meant poetry in Latin and Greek or, for less-educated minds (e.g. ladies or Romantics), poetry in French, German, or English. Prose and novels were for the shopkeepers’ wives and intellectual no-wits. It’s a good thing that Austen didn’t depend on a government grant program.

    Love it or hate it, real Canadian culture is bottom-up, not top-down — it’s whatever Canadians actually want to see, hear, and participate in, not what some bureaucrat or self-proclaimed cultural guru decides is good for them. If governments had controlled culture in the U.S., would they ever have allowed jazz/blues or cinema to develop early on (both of which were also initially considered trashy)?

    I might not like real Canadian popular culture, and you might not like it, but it’s not fair for us to inflict our preferences on the majority (and use their tax money to pay for the punishment).

  17. David Megginson says:

    The old excuse

    The rest of the U.S. has about 10x the population of California, but they still happily watch movies made in (and about) California. British movies (which are, admittedly, sometimes subsidized) also do very well in the U.S., even though they’re not about Americans.

    More worringly, you seem to be arguing that most Canadians think the same way or like the same things. As an urban Canadian, I have, in some ways, much more in common with people in New York or Chicago who walk out to do their shopping in an urban core than I do with someone in Brampton or Mississauga who gets into a car to drive to a mall, much less someone who works on a farm in the prairies, fishes off the west coast, or digs in a mine north of the Arctic circle.

    Canadians do share a lot of course (free medicine, the federal government, fewer handguns, more pot, dollar and two-dollar coins, and a tone-deaf national anthem) but over all, the Canada-US border is a pretty silly place to draw a solid culture line. North America and the world have many cultural groupings, and most of them don’t respect borders.

  18. Banking
    The senate banking commitee just sent out a press release this afternoon, and I received it by email. I assume they had my address from when I wrote to them yesterday. Here’s the beginning of the release:

    Ottawa – March 6, 2008 – The Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce will resume its study of Bill C-10, the Income Tax Amendments Act, 2006. The Committee has noted recent public concern about the provisions for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, set forth in Clause 120 of the Bill. The Bill is not law, but has already been passed by the House of Commons with all-Party support.

    I can provide the full pdf is desired.