Canadian Film Tax Credits Lead to Censorship

May 3, 2008

Whenever government gets its hands on something, it will attempt to control more and more of it, typically with purse strings. A New York Times article today shows how politicians in Canada are trying to use the subsidies of film tax credits to censor film content by giving only certain films the handout. Here’s a clip.

Most Canadian films and non-news television programs apply for a government cash payment, which is described as a tax credit, to offset some of their labor costs. Sandra Cunningham, the president of Strada Films of Toronto and chairwoman of the Canadian producers’ association, said the payments typically cover about 10 to 12 percent of a production’s budget.

To receive that money, filmmakers apply in advance for a certificate declaring their project sufficiently Canadian. The government’s payment, however, does not arrive until the film or television series is completed and it is again reviewed.

It is that second review that the government hopes to expand. The change would allow the minister of Canadian heritage, an elected official, to “also certify that the public funding of the production would not be contrary to public policy.”

That broadness of the extra review is the chief concern of the writers, filmmakers, actors and free-speech groups who have visited the Senate over the past few weeks. They argue that it would allow the government to cut funds and, in effect, censor films that offend any number of moral, religious or political views.

“I have heard it suggested many times in response to our attacks on this bill that we are free to make whatever film we want but with private money,” Ms. Polley told the committee. “It is a suggestion that, unfortunately, has absolutely no basis in reality. Every Canadian television program and film that I and any of us have ever been involved in has involved some public financing. When you tell artists to use private money, it is essentially telling us to leave the country.”

“Sufficiently Canadian” is pretty funny. So if the film features Alex Trebek and a hockey game, it’s alright; but if it shows Pat Sajack and a baseball game, nope?

If this all sounds socialist and totalitarian, that’s because it is. And it’s not likely to stop at the border. States right now are pushing these film tax credits, and don’t be surprised if a state legislator someday puts in a provision that restricts the subsidy from going to a certain type of film (say those rated “R” or those containing nudity). In the end, government will be manipulating the relative price of what it deems to be “clean” movies relative to “dirty” movies. And of course, you the taxpayer will be footing the bill.

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