Some of the biggest guns in Canada's creative community - including Oscar-nominated actor/writer Sarah Polley - are heading to Ottawa tomorrow to protest against a controversial provision on film and TV tax credits now before the Senate banking committee.
The high-profile group of writers, producers, directors and actors say they will take the federal government to task for trying to push through an amendment to the Income Tax Act that could cripple the financial foundation that supports Canadian-made film and television.
"This legislation threatens freedom of expression as well as the very financial foundation upon which this industry was built," Polley said yesterday. "Take that away, and many of us would be hard-pressed to understand the motivation to stay here."
"The main reason that I choose to make films in Canada, and act in Canada, is because public funding allows a level of creative freedom that is simply not possible with private money," Polley added, whose feature-film directorial debut, Away from Her, was nominated this year for two Academy Awards.
The actress's comments come a week after Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner faced an onslaught of questions about why her department should have the power, as a provision proposes, to cut off tax benefits for productions that contain graphic sex, violence or other content that the government finds offensive.
Equally upsetting to Canada's cultural sector is the fact that this so-called "morality hammer" applies only to Canadian TV and film projects. Hollywood and other foreign productions that apply for tax credits get a free pass.
"I can't think of an issue that has galvanized people in the arts community the way this one has," said Polley. And the idea that Bill C-10 applies only to Canadian productions and not to Canadian tax credits subsidizing American productions is "horrific," she added.
"That's one of the more amazing things about this bill. Why should Hollywood studios, who apply for our tax credits, not be subject to the same criteria? The whole thing is sloppy. Of course we shouldn't invest in movies filled with excessive pornography or hate. That makes sense, and there are rules [under the Criminal Code]to prevent that. But there are a lot of things that have not been rigorously thought through."
Actress Wendy Crewson ( ReGenesis, 24, Air Force One), who is travelling to Ottawa tomorrow on behalf of ACTRA, said the amendment affecting film and TV tax credits has to be re-addressed. "Freedom of speech is at stake," she said. "It underlines the kind of dismissive attitude this government has to the cultural sovereignty of this country."
The provision is buried in an omnibus bill that is primarily intended to implement the taxation of non-resident trusts and foreign-investment entities and implement amendments to the Income Tax Act.
Last week, Verner said she would wait a full year to wield new powers to deny film and television producers tax credits - should those powers be granted to her.
Under the amended legislation, the government would be able to pull financial aid for any film or TV show it deems to have crossed a line, even if other government agencies, such as Telefilm Canada, have already invested in them.
Verner told the committee she would allow members of the entertainment industry to draft guidelines to establish what would not qualify for the credits, and how those guidelines should be applied.
But sources in the production, legal and business community say that the proposed guidelines have already been drafted and a copy circulated internally. Verner's office denies those reports.