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Susan Swan: Without NAFTA cultural exemptions, our books, films and art are in danger

Ottawa – As NAFTA talks head to the wire and the U.S. has demanded the end of cultural exemption, acclaimed Canadian novelist Susan Swan and Maude Barlow, Honorary Chair of the Council of Canadians, plead that Canada should not give in to last-minute U.S. pressure to ditch the exemption.

Some sources talk about  to pressure from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. legislators to abandon the provision. 

Susan Swan, former chair of the Writers' Union of Canada and a novelist of international renown, insists that Canada not give up on culture.

“Steady on, NAFTA negotiators! Without literature and art, there is no Canada. Today, only three percent of Canadian feature films are shown in our movie houses. Why? Years ago, our government let Hollywood control our film distribution. Without cultural exemptions, the rest of our art forms including our music, our books and our television will go the way of the dodo too.”

The cultural exemption in NAFTA gave Canada the right to implement policies and laws protecting Canadian culture from the U.S. mega entertainment industry.  While the provisions were not ideal – they, allowed the U.S. to retaliate against Canadian intervention – they were important in protecting Canada’s distinct voices.

“As a writer myself, this is something dear to me,” said Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson and author of 18 books, “We have to protect and cherish culture at the NAFTA bargaining table.  Cultural exemption helps ensure that, next to Hollywood, Netflix and the like, our production is distinctly Canadian in all its national, Indigenous and multicultural diversity.”

In September 2017, over 100 prominent Canadian, Québécois and Indigenous artists wrote a letter to the Canadian government asking it to enshrine and expand Canada’s cultural exemption in NAFTA. The letter was sponsored by the Council of Canadians and the Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale.

In English Canada, the signatories included Margaret Atwood, Susan Swan, Jane Urquhart, Ronald Wright and Jack Stoddart. In Québec, they included Michel Tremblay, Philippe Falardeau, Pierre Curzi and Micheline Lanctôt. Indigenous artists Tantoo Cardinal in English Canada and Marco Collin in Québec also signed the letter.

Read the letter: English | français | Ojibwe | Plains Cree

Artists are invited to sign the letter here.