Senate Liberals vow to protect film industry from contentious bill C-10
Senate Liberals are vowing to ensure that a controversial Conservative government bill doesn't wind up becoming a tool to censor Canadian films and television programs.
Celine Hervieux-Payette, Senate Liberal leader, said in Ottawa Wednesday that the upper chamber will scrutinize Bill C-10 and won't hesitate to amend it if necessary to protect artistic freedom.
C-10 is an omnibus bill aimed at making numerous changes to the Income Tax Act. One provision — which escaped the notice of MPs who've already passed the bill — would give the heritage minister the discretion to deny tax credits to any production that is deemed contrary to public policy.
Film producers and actors alike have condemned the provision, fearing it will be used to cut off tax benefits for productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other content the government finds offensive.
But Heritage Minister Josée Verner argued that the bill is not about censorship.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," she told the House of Commons. "Our government continues to passionately defend freedom of expression."
Other Conservatives reiterated that the bill is intended to ensure that taxpayers don't end up subsidizing productions that involve extreme violence or child pornography.
Bill under review
Her fellow Conservatives pointed out that the idea began with the previous Liberal government, which had wanted to limit tax credits for a movie about serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.
But Liberals are now siding with the film industry.
"We are concerned that if Bill C-10 is allowed to pass in its current form, the way will be paved for the use of Canada's tax system as a de facto censor of film and video production in Canada," Hervieux-Payette said.
The bill is under review by the Senate's banking, trade and commerce committee.
Senator Yoine Goldstein, the Liberal vice-chair of the committee, said members will conduct a thorough review of the bill before deciding how best to "remedy the problems which the bill creates for the arts in Canada."
"Censorship is not a suitable solution for Canadians," he added.
MPs missed film provision
Among other witnesses, Liberal heritage critic Mauril Belanger said the committee may want to hear from evangelist Charles McVety, who has taken credit for influencing the government to limit the tax benefits available for offensive films.
The Bloc Québécois used an opposition day Wednesday to present a motion calling on the government to amend C-10 and remove the provision regarding film tax credits.
New Democrats supported the motion but Liberals did not, arguing it will be speedier to let the Senate deal with the problem.
MPs in the House of Commons missed the film provision when they passed the bill, and Goldstein said senators didn't notice it either until the film industry recently drew attention to it.
He blamed the government for deliberately hiding the controversial provision in a 560-page bill of highly complex technical amendments, without mentioning it to anyone.
"Parliament in my view was blindsided by the government. That's not the way to govern the country," Goldstein said.