The linguistic rat in the granary of the cultural exemption Canada gained with The Canada U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988 and with NAFTA in 1993. The “notwithstanding” clause tacked onto the exemption allows U.S. traders the right of retaliation–to equivalent commercial value–to any attempt the Canadian government makes to protect Canadian cultural institutions. Thus, no serious new protections have been attempted since 1988, and those that were already in the works met with a hail of American threats, and thus died quietly on order papers and in Ottawa back rooms. Wary Canadians now duck whenever they hear this word spoken by anyone in a position of authority.

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