Montreal filmmaker exposes the price we pay for corporate greed

MONTREAL – A documentary film opening in Canada this weekend aims to spark a public debate over off-shore tax havens that are draining the public purse of trillions of dollars in potential tax income.

The Price We Pay, co-written and directed by Montreal-born Harold Crooks, exposes an array of tricks used by multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes to local governments.

“The practice has exploded over the years, with 15 per cent or more of the world’s private wealth now stored off shore,” Crooks told Global News.

“As well as 75% of the profits of multinational corporations.”

In the Cayman Islands alone, an estimated $1.6 trillion is said to be held in tax free accounts.

WATCH: The Price We Pay Trailer

At it’s core, Crook’s film dramatically highlights the increasing social inequality between the rich and poor, and reveals how the legal, but clearly immoral, tax practices of multi-billion dollar corporations affect your bottom line.

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“This impacts everyone,” Crooks said.

“As the tax burden is shifted away from the wealthy and powerful onto the middle class, the working class, small and medium sized business that don’t have an international footprint can’t game archaic tax rules in order to completely avoid taxation.”

The Price We Pay uses extensive footage of the powerful and revealing testimony of executives from Amazon, Apple Inc. and other companies before legislators in Britain and the United Sates.

During their depositions, the executives were forced to outline their companies policies of manipulating existing laws to minimize their tax bills and shift billions of dollars in profits to countries with low or no taxes.

Quebec tax policy adviser Brigitte Alepin, author of “La Crise Fiscale qui Vient” (The Coming Fiscal Crisis) approached Crooks to co-write and direct the film inspired by her book.

“She wrote numerous books on how public finances are unsustainable, but she felt it wasn’t really reaching a mass audience,” Crooks said.

When he was first approached about the idea of a movie on taxation, he felt it might not work for the big screen.

“At first I wasn’t sure,” Crooks said.

“But when I started reading a bit, when I understood that what taxation is, is a lens through which you see who has power in society, who doesn’t have power and whether the regular person has a hope in hell of getting ahead in life, then I was hooked.”

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So began his two and a half year process of trying to make a coherent story about how this giant mechanism of multinational corporations is shifting their wealth offshore beyond the reach of democratic control.

Crooks is hoping the film will open people’s eyes and call for more accountability at the government level – and it’s already starting to make waves.

“The film actually opened in France already and it’s on 70 screens,” he told Global News.

“There was a private screening for the French finance minister, Michel Sapin, and he went on national television in France endorsing the film. I hope that’s just a harbinger of the interest the film will have in the rest of Canada and the US.”

Several senior Quebec finance officials and members of the opposition, including PQ leadership hopeful Pierre Karl Péladeau, have already screened the film.

“It’s an issue that goes across the ideological spectrum,” Crooks said.

“It’s not just a left or right-wing issue, it’s undermining the major social innovations of the 20th century, the middle class, and the social welfare state.”

The Price We Pay is in theaters now.