House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 5th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should introduce, as soon as possible, an amendment to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act, in order to remove the reference to public policy that is added by this bill to subsection 125.4(1) of the Income Tax Act, because this new provision opens the door to unacceptable government censorship of film and video production.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to introduce this motion to counter the Conservative government's desire to censor film productions.

The motion calls on this government to introduce, as soon as possible, an amendment to Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act, with a view to remove the reference to public policy that is added by this bill to subsection 125.4(1) of the act.

We must ask the question: why should the expression “public policy” be removed? Well, this expression is so vague that it is open to interpretation. I will give a few over-the-top examples to demonstrate how it could be interpreted in various ways.

For instance, would a film that shows someone burning the Canadian flag or insulting the Queen conform to public policy? That is one question. What about a film that criticizes the Conservative government or questions our presence in Afghanistan or promotes sovereignty in the middle of or prior to a referendum, for instance? Would such a film conform to public policy? We must ask the question. Thus, the words “public policy” could be taken even further still.

With respect to Bill C-10, what is the Prime Minister telling us through the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, of course?

Here is the first argument they keep repeating endlessly: given that this bill has already been passed by the House, and is presently being studied by the Senate, we should have acted earlier. That is true.

Nobody pointed out this section on criteria for film production credits. This section is buried in a 560-page bill to amend the Income Tax Act.

When I say nobody, I really mean nobody. The three opposition parties did not see it and the Senate did not see it at first or second reading. It is now at third reading stage. We can even assume—and I did say assume—that the Minister of Canadian Heritage did not see it because it was her colleague, the Minister of Finance, who was responsible for this legislation.

We must humbly acknowledge, and simply say, that a mistake was made and that we are prepared to rectify the situation. That is the important point: let us rectify the situation.

Yet we see that the government continues to make these kinds of arguments.

The second, and not the least important, of its arguments is that this government does not view it as a censorship mechanism. It would serve to prevent the state from funding pornographic movies, child pornography, hate propaganda and so forth. It is true that the state should not fund these types of productions.

We heard the Minister of Canadian Heritage blithely repeating in all the media and even in this House that we must not fund such productions and that the purpose of the section was to prevent such horrors.

I realize that the Minister of Canadian Heritage may not be aware that such movies are not funded in Canada or in Quebec. It is true that we do not have to know everything. In fact, either the Minister of Heritage is acting in bad faith or she is not aware that we have a Criminal Code that prohibits such things. Personally, I prefer to think that she just is not aware of it.

For the benefit of the Minister of Heritage, allow me to briefly summarize the offences found in the Criminal Code in this regard.

Section 319 of the Criminal Code includes provisions on hate propaganda and incitement of hatred. The maximum prison sentence is two years. Section 163 of the Criminal Code on offences tending to corrupt morals prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography and obscene publications.

I could cite other provisions. The famous subsection 163(1)(a) states: “—makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution—”. This all has to do with child pornography.

Subsection 163.1(2) addresses the production of child pornography. Production itself is therefore covered. It also provides for maximum sentences of 10 years for the distribution of child pornography. The Criminal Code also covers other offences, such as defamation and slander.

I also want to remind the minister that the criteria for granting film certificates were changed in May 2005. Section VII, newly created by the Regulations Amending the Income Tax Regulations (Film and Video Productions), stipulates that all pornography is excluded. Child pornography is clearly defined in the Criminal Code. Under this new Section VII created by the Regulations Amending the Income Tax Regulations (Film and Video Productions), productions exclude all pornography. In other words, no tax credit is given to that type of film.

What current events have prompted us to amend the legislation in question? Why were these clarifications added? In my opinion, the question must be asked. Does this legislation not include hidden objectives that reflect the government's desire for censorship? I believe that people are inherently good and I can believe that the government is well-meaning. I am simply proposing that this bill be amended. It is not too late.

We all agree on one thing: the state must not provide funding for pornographic films. The state must not provide funding for child pornography or hate propaganda films either. We all agree on that.

I have good news for everyone: my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, has tabled a bill to have the CRTC regulate violence on television. He would like violent programs to be broadcast after 9 p.m. when children are already sleeping. The purpose of his bill is to get the CRTC to do its job as a regulator. Broadcasters are currently required to regulate themselves voluntarily. This bill offers a way to control violence on television without having to censor anything.

I would like to bring up an interesting argument from a press release issued by the minister's office. The press release contains something I found rather unusual and it really left me wondering. So I wanted to take a closer look at it. According to this document, the creator of a film that includes content that may be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code “could technically still be eligible for a film tax credit under the Income Tax Act.” The release goes on to say:

This is a legal absurdity; a loophole that successive governments—first Liberal, then Conservative—have worked to close.

I must admit I am rather surprised that a creator who produces a work that includes content that may be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code could receive a tax credit. That is unthinkable. Let us assume that this creator produces pornographic movies. Child pornography is subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code. We do not pay for these kinds of things.

The creator would not receive a tax credit.

I must admit that I am rather shocked by this argument, which makes no sense, and just goes to show that the government is flailing around and saying any old thing.

I think that the Conservative government—and I am sure many members will agree—is still using the back door to impose its far-right values. The Minister of Canadian Heritage is accusing us of blowing this out of proportion, and is saying that the film industry is panicking for nothing. If that is the case, the Conservatives should reassure us and simply amend the bill. We will have been wrong, we will have blown things out of proportion, and they will have fixed this little problem.

Unfortunately, our Minister of Canadian Heritage is powerless. She does not make the decisions in her department; they are made by her colleague, the Minister of Finance. I think she is so powerless that she is strongly supporting aberrations that are taking us back to the time of censorship. Now that is really something. It is very sad, but I think this is the only concrete action the minister has taken for the film industry, which is an action against the film industry. It is truly sad.

Indeed, this minister's record when it comes to the film industry is absolutely terrible, pathetic even. Let me explain. She is a minister from Quebec and she still refuses to recognize the existence of the Quebec film industry. She is the first minister to have abandoned the International Centre of Films for Children and Young People, whose head office had been in Montreal since 1990, and which had to move to Johannesburg, South Africa.

I would also remind the House that there was absolutely nothing for the film industry in the recent budget. Out of a $240 billion budget, she could not convince her colleague in the finance department to reinvest $50 million in the Feature Film Fund or the Television Fund. Furthermore, she still does not want to establish a $10 million documentary feature film fund, as called for by the film industry. It is so unfortunate and I am very sad to have to tell the cultural community that we have a heritage minister who is merely an extra.

Yes, the cultural community should be worried. As Pierre Even, producer of C.R.A.Z.Y, said, and I quote: “Despite the numerous representations we have made over the past two years to make the government aware of our needs, there was absolutely nothing in this budget for the film industry ... The government understands nothing about culture or how cultural institutions operate”.

This is very sad, indeed.

Here is how CTVM's newsletter summarized the general impression of this community, and I quote: “Our federal minister does not appear to like our movies”. We love movies. Does the minister not like movies? We would have to ask her. What I would say to the film community is that the Minister of Canadian Heritage is not showing any leadership in this file and is merely a powerless representation of a minister in power, even though she has none. She is a powerless minister.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I was rather surprised at the admission of the Bloc member when she said that nobody pointed out the clause in the bill. I have a news flash for her. It is her responsibility to take a look at the legislation and vote accordingly. There is no excuse for that.

The member also said that she was surprised and flummoxed. I am rather surprised and flummoxed at the fact she does not realize that under the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, which presently governs taxpayer funds that are made available to film producers, the so-called offending clause is contained in its regulations. Let me read it, and it is on its website. It is clause 5, section l, which says, “production for which public financial support would, in the opinion of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, be contrary to public policy” would not eligible for the tax credit program. Those are the words in the bill that the member condemns. It simply brings CAVCO regulations into effect on tax exemption.

Maybe then if she does understand that it is already in the regulations, she could tell us one single solitary example in the history of CAVCO where there has been so-called censorship. I defy her because she knows full well that she cannot name one time. She is making an absolute mountain out of a molehill and she is feeding the lack of information, the ignorance of the fact that this clause already exists in public policy.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to figure out what the question is because I did not hear my colleague ask a question. Nevertheless, I will try to answer my colleague, for whom I have great respect.

If there is no problem, why did they put the words “public policy” in the bill? As I said, this kind of thing is already forbidden. Existing exclusion criteria address pornography, as does the Criminal Code. That is the truth. Currently, there is no problem.

However, what I am saying, what we are saying, is that the government is trying to create a problem. Simply put, it is trying to create censorship. But there is no problem. If there were a problem, we would say, yes, it is true, the law should be changed so that we do not fund pornographic films. But that is already the case.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I found the parliamentary secretary's question to the member rather interesting. We all know that if there is any government that ever resided in this town, there is none better than the current one for bringing in what it really wants through backdoor policies. Clearly the backdoor policy in this instance is censorship.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

It was your bill, Wayne. It was a Liberal bill.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

They are yelling and heckling over there. They really hate to hear the facts and the fact is the Conservatives are bringing in censorship by the back door—

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

It's your bill.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. Normally I do not have any problem hearing the hon. member for Malpeque, but there seems to be quite a lot of noise. Perhaps we could tone it down and let him finish. If other members have questions, they will be free to do so.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

I know, Mr. Speaker, that the truth really hurts.

Could the member clearly spell out how this really is a backdoor censorship policy under the guise of a tax policy by the government?

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

When a decision is made to amend a law, it is because something in the law is not working and something needs to be added. When there is nothing to amend, no law or amendment is made. Like it or not, we have to ask ourselves why the government wants to make this amendment if everything is fine? Like it or not, an expression as general as “public policy” can be interpreted in any number of ways.

For example, if two characters in a film have sex and can be seen slightly, is that contrary to public policy? We have to wonder. Would films like Bon Cop, Bad Cop meet the criterion or not?

In my opinion, when no change is needed, then no law or bill should be drafted. There is no need to do anything.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by my colleague, the member for Ahuntsic. As I understand it, the government wants to adopt a bill to amend primarily the Income Tax Act because Canada is already subsidizing regular or child pornography or hate propaganda. That is my understanding. Canada is already financing pornography, and that is why the government is making a change with regard to public policy.

I would like my colleague's reaction.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand my colleague's question. This is what she said: if the government presently provides tax credits for pornography or child pornography, there is a problem. We must therefore ensure that that no longer happens.

I will simply say to my colleague that, at present, no pornographic movies receive tax credits and therefore are not indirectly funded by the state. With regard to child pornography, whether or not we like it, it is punished by the Criminal Code. It is illegal in Canada and in Quebec. Therefore, why amend a law if it is not necessary? Whether we like it or not, it is so they can introduce censorship through the back door.

Opposition Motion—Income Tax Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am quite thrilled by the arts. My riding of Cambridge has a new theatre that will bring $80 million in spinoffs to the riding, create jobs and bring in great Canadian productions. We are waiting for the province of Ontario to kick in its share.

Even though the federal government contributed some money to that project, none of these productions will contain offensive material. They will not be like some of the things we have seen in the past, which were sponsored by the Liberal Party, movies like Bubbles Galore and Penis Dementia: the Perfect Penis. These kinds of movies are offensive to some people in my riding and they do not want their tax dollars to be spent in that fashion.

This initiative was started by the Liberal Party many years ago and was supported by all parties, including that member's party. What is the flip-flop here?