Magazine Mounties


Freeze! Drop that Sports Illustrated and put your hands in the air." Canada is in the process of passing a law that will protect Canadians from the terrifying menace of American-based magazines. Such publications, says the government, threaten "Canadian culture," an expansive notion that's nonetheless incapable of including People, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report. The government wants to make it a criminal offense for foreign publications directed at the Canadian market to sell advertising space to Canadians. The fine will be CDN$250,000. The goal is to avoid "split-runs"–Canadian editions of American magazines with little Canadian editorial content but lots of Canadian ads. Since Canadians already read so many American magazines, Canadian advertisers, if given the choice to advertise in split-runs, would leap at the chance. That would crush the Canadian magazine industry and, by extension, Canadian culture, government officials say. Until last year, when the World Trade Organization ruled such protectionist practices unfair, Canada prevented split-runs with huge excise taxes on American periodicals.

The proposed criminal statute is an attempt to get around the WTO ruling. Although Canada is quicker to censor than the United States, the statute may well run afoul of Canada's Constitution, as it violates freedom of speech. Certainly, it will restrict magazine choices for Canadians by making it less profitable for foreign publishers to compete in the Canadian market. Such protectionism may not even benefit Canadian culture overall: An independent study commissioned by the government reported that protectionism has seriously stunted Canada's advertising business and has cost jobs by restricting the magazine advertising space available to Canadian companies.

The U.S. government will challenge the law as an unfair trading practice.