Debates of Jan. 30th, 2007
House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was income.
- Question Period
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Canada Pension Plan
- Sales Tax Amendments Act, 2006
- Sri Lanka
- Lanaudière Centre for Innovation in Food Processing
- Natural Gas
- Six String Nation
- Child Care
- Archbishop of Toronto
- Post-secondary Education
- The Environment
- Eva Beaulieu
- Leader of the Liberal Party
- Softwood Lumber Mills
- Old Age Benefit
- Hrant Dink
- GTA's Most Wanted
- The Environment
- Aerospace Industry
- Child Care
- Government Policies
- Aerospace Industry
- Citizenship Act
- Riding of Mississauga--Streetsville
- Fisheries and Oceans
- Government Programs
- Lloyd Francis
- Sales Tax Amendments Act, 2006
- Committees of the House
- Sales Tax Amendments Act, 2006
- Criminal Code
- Points of Order
- Broadcasting Act
Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC
Mr. Speaker, I, too, share my friend's concerns about the current state of the law when it relates to impaired driving.
My question has to do with the frustrations that police across this country experience as they try to apply our drunk driving laws. I am wondering if the member has had an opportunity to discuss these frustrations with his local police or perhaps other police across Canada and whether they are encouraged by the steps our government is taking to keep up with the changes in technology and ensure our streets are safe from those who abuse their rights as drivers.
Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB
Mr. Speaker, what we have heard from police is overwhelming. They are increasingly frustrated with many of the cases involving the criminal justice system. Many areas of the criminal justice system need to be addressed and this is certainly one of them.
When we look at the disproportionate number of pages in the Criminal Code that are devoted to impaired driving and all of the defences that have been developed over time dealing with impaired driving and the loopholes that have been created in the system, the police are frustrated. What we have heard from police is that often, whether it is an accident or not, they are first on the scene. They see the carnage that comes from impaired driving, they, more so than the rest of us. When there is an accident at two or three in the morning, when the rest of us may be safely in bed, it is the police who must see the results of that carnage on the highway.
The police want to see a reduction in impaired driving in Canada, as we all do, which is why they support this initiative and why MADD Canada supports this initiative. I think we all have the same goal.
While respecting the charter and respecting privacy, which this bill does, we must also equip our law enforcement and our justice system with the tools they need so that when someone is caught for impaired driving there will be a consequence to that. We do not want people getting off because one of their friends testified that they only had one or two beers when in fact the breathalyzer and the equipment that is now at the police station have proven to be very accurate, very effective and very far advanced to where we were 20 or 30 years ago.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that this is the first time that I stand in this House as the opposition justice critic and I am very pleased to do so.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
As I just said in French, this is my first speech as the official opposition's justice critic. I look forward to working with my colleagues, be they in my party or in other parties, to provide intelligent, smart solutions to all justice issues that come before this House.
In considering Bill C-32, we must look at its history in order to understand it. The history of Bill C-32 goes back quite a few years, in fact to May 1999 when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”.
The committee then recognized that drugs were a contributing factor to some fatal motor vehicle accidents. It also emphasized the need to develop better measures to detect drug impaired driving and to obtain the proper evidence allowing for the successful prosecution of individuals who drove while under the influence of drugs.
A further study on this issue was the Senate special committee on illegal drugs report entitled “Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy”. One of its important findings was that there was no reliable, non-intrusive, rapid roadside test for drugs. In the case of cannabis, the best way to test is through blood samples. This then obviously represents a challenge that needs to be met in order to address the problem of drug impaired driving.
In response to the 1999 report, the Department of Justice and its working group on impaired driving consulted extensively with the provinces and territories. The results of these consultations was the October 2003 release of the report entitled “Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document”. This document pointed out that many drug impaired drivers were not voluntarily participating in testing. It does stress the need to develop measures that would allow police to demand that drivers suspected of being impaired by drug use would submit to testing.
The report highlighted two options. The first option was to set a legal limit on the presence of drugs on the body. The second option was to propose legislation that would improve the ability of our law enforcement, our police officers, to demand drug tests. A certified officer could demand a physical sobriety test or take a saliva or sweat sample at the roadside based on the reasonable suspicion of drug impairment. Failure on such a test would then represent reasonable grounds to conduct a more detailed evaluation and, obviously, more intrusive evaluation at a police station. The bill that is before us, Bill C-32, follows in the steps of this second option.
The House of Commons special committee report on the non-medical use of drugs released in the fall of 2003 called for Parliament to develop a strategy addressing the question of drug impaired driving. In April 2004, our then Liberal government, and it is quite coincidental I am sure that the present government bill carries the same number, reintroduced Bill C-32. That bill would have dealt with the drug impaired driving in the fashion described above. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper in May 2004 when an election was called.
The Liberals were re-elected, albeit as a minority government, and in November 2004 reintroduced that same bill but as Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. That bill made its way to committee and was reported back to the House with some amendments. Unfortunately, that piece of legislation also died on the order paper when the election was called in November 2005.
Thus, the current minority Conservative government's Bill C-32 has followed in the footsteps taken by the previous Liberal government. The Conservatives, however, have chosen to reintroduce it with a few changes, namely, by incorporating stronger penalties than the Liberals' two previous bills had envisioned.
On the same topic, I noted that Canadian Press reported on the introduction of Bill C-2 with the following words. I am quoting from the November 22 wire which reads:
The federal Conservatives have brought in legislation to crack down on drug-impaired drivers--by resurrecting a plan first advanced by the Liberals, adding heavier fines and jail terms, and calling the result a Tory initiative.
I think that this description is accurate, and I can only commend the Tories for recognizing a great idea even when it was developed and first presented by another party, the Liberal Party when it was the government.
Now that we have discussed the background for the bill before us, we must examine the amendments it will make to the Criminal Code. The summary for Bill C-32 reads as follows:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code
(a) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act;
(b) to authorize specially trained peace officers to conduct tests to determine whether a person is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug;
(c) to authorize the taking of bodily fluids to test for the presence of alcohol or a drug;
(d) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood and causing bodily harm or death to another person;
(e) to clarify what evidence a person accused of driving with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood can introduce to raise a doubt that they were not committing the offence;
(f) to create an offence of refusing to provide a breath sample when the accused knows or ought to know that the accused’s operation of a motor vehicle caused an accident resulting in bodily harm to another person or death; and
(g) to increase the penalties for impaired driving.
The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
As the Liberal justice critic, I want to say that my party takes very seriously problems of impaired driving caused by alcohol and/or other drugs. In my opinion, the proof of this is that, when we formed the government, we twice introduced a bill amending the Criminal Code to deal with this problem.
I believe the proof is there. We take this issue very seriously and we also take very seriously measures that are smart and effective and that have a good chance and even an excellent chance of achieving the intended objectives. Moreover, we support initiatives to provide services responsible for maintaining public order with concrete and effective tools to implement legislation aimed at cracking down on impaired driving caused by alcohol or other drugs.
We are therefore prepared to support Bill C-32 so that it can make its way to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee could examine the bill in greater detail and summon witnesses and experts to give their own particular perspective. In addition, the committee could propose any amendments it deems necessary. However, I would like to say that we still have reservations about some aspects of this bill. We hope that the government will work constructively with all the opposition parties to address these reservations and that the most useful and most effective legislation will be adopted.
What concerns or reservations do we have about this bill?
Some hon. members have already voiced them.
The Canada Safety Council has already voiced some objections to roadside drug testing. It asks which type of drugs police would test for. Would it simply be illicit, illegal drugs, or would it also be drugs that are legal, in the sense that they are prescription drugs. The person could be in legal possession of those prescription drugs, but the effects of those drugs may cause impairment and it is clearly indicated, for instance, as part of the protocol for taking that drug.
How many of us have not come down with a bad cold or a bad infection, have been prescribed medication by our doctor and when we receive it at the pharmacy it clearly says on the label not to operate machinery or a moving vehicle while taking that medication.
The Canada Safety Council has concerns about what are the drugs that are going to be tested for and whether there will be the possibility of distinguishing between prescription drugs and illegal drugs. As well, how would we deal with the fact that there are certain drugs, like marijuana, which may linger in the body well after the initial high is over and well after the effects of impairment of one's abilities have completely dissipated but traces of the drug still remain?
The Canada Safety Council is asking these questions. How is this bill going to deal with these issues? These are questions that hopefully will be answered if this bill goes to committee.
As I said, as the Liberal critic I will be recommending to my colleagues to vote in favour to send it on to committee so that we can attempt to get answers to these questions and, if it is possible, to amend the bill. If we are given solid answers by experts who say that yes, we could do that and we could amend the legislation in such a way to ensure that it happened, then we would hope that we would get government cooperation in order to do so.
I had another question which was not answered by the parliamentary secretary during questions and comments. I asked whether or not studies had been done to determine in what percentage of cases where there has been death or injury caused by a motor vehicle and there is evidence of impairment--and let us just consider alcohol impairment--the Crown actually brought forth manslaughter charges, which includes the section of the Criminal Code that exists right now that deals with manslaughter and also includes death and injury caused by a vehicle, including impaired driving and provides for a maximum sentence of life.
I would like to know what scientific studies have been done to determine why it is that those provisions have not been used obviously sufficiently from what the parliamentary secretary said. He talked about people who are impaired causing carnage with their vehicles et cetera and that they are getting away with it because they are refusing to take the testing. Where are the problems? We have provisions right now but they appear not to be used. Why is that? What is the evidence that would show why they are not being used?
Finally, we know the government has announced that it will be placing $2 million to the benefit of our law enforcement in order to get the training and to do these roadside sobriety tests. How much money, if any, is the government planning to use to do a public education campaign?
History has shown that Canada-wide public education campaigns about impaired driving have been very well received by the public.
That is why today people have a designated driver when they spend an evening with friends or go to a party in a hall or restaurant where alcohol is served. Today, the vast majority of people resign themselves to drinking nothing. But if they do decide to drink, they have a designated driver.
Does the government plan to put money and people behind the idea of an education campaign on driving while under the influence not only of alcohol, but also drugs, for example? I would like to know. Perhaps the answers will come out during the committee hearings, if the House decides to refer this bill to committee.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to my colleagues in this House who are taking part in this debate. As I have already said, I recommend that my colleagues from all parties refer this bill to committee so that we can try to answer these questions and, if necessary, improve the bill.
Bill C-327—Broadcasting Act
Points of Order
Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, my point of order is on Bill C-327.
Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, I would appreciate your consideration of whether this bill requires a royal recommendation under Standing Order 79. Clauses 1 and 2 of the bill add a new purpose to the Broadcasting Act to:
—contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children.
To meet this purpose, the bill would provide new powers to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, also known as the CRTC, to regulate violence on television, verify broadcasters compliance, issue annual reports and undertake a five year review, including holding consultations. These are new responsibilities for the CRTC which were not previously authorized by the Broadcasting Act. They would clearly require new government expenditures.
Precedence clearly established that a change in purpose requiring new expenditures must be accompanied by a royal recommendation. On May 9, 2005, the Chair ruled:
— bills which involve new or additional spending for a distinct purpose must be recommended by the Crown. The royal recommendation is also required where a bill alters the appropriation of public revenue “under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out” in the bill.
What this means is that a royal recommendation is not only required in a case where more money is being appropriated, but also in a case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is being significantly altered.
On February 8, 2005, the Speaker ruled:
Where it is clear that the legislative objective of a bill cannot be accomplished without the dedication of public funds to that objective, the bill must be seen as the equivalent of a bill effecting an appropriation.
On September 17, 2006, the Speaker noted that the sections of the bill:
—with regard to the process of petitioning and reporting, are also functions which would require the authorization of spending for a new and distinct purpose.
I note that the new purpose for Bill C-327 is established by the operational obligation which clause 3 places on the CRTC for regulating, reporting and reviewing and by clauses 1 and 2, which would amend the overall broadcasting and regulatory policies in the Broadcasting Act.
I therefore submit that the bill in its entirety requires a royal recommendation.
Bill C-327—Broadcasting Act
Points of Order
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is now obvious that the government raises the issue of royal recommendation each and every time members of the opposition parties introduce a private member's bill.
If my bill were to be implemented, there would be no fundamental change in the role the CRTC plays. All we ask is that new regulations be adopted under the Broadcasting Act. We really do not need new public monies to have the CRTC apply the legislative changes I propose in Bill C-327.
Under that bill, we could very well go ahead and evaluate the situation without necessarily requiring supplementary funds.
In fact, the CRTC has already made a study of violence on television and published reports on the issue. Consequently, it would be very possible to fulfill the complete mandate of the CRTC and to adopt the changes I propose without new public funds.
Bill C-327—Broadcasting Act
Points of Order
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, as the representative of the Liberal caucus on private members' issues, I take it very seriously to ensure we review the bills coming on to the order paper, which have been duly reviewed.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, it is the practice to do a thorough review of bills coming forward and in the event there is any concern of a possibility, even a remote possibility, that a royal recommendation would be required, the member is given due notice and has an opportunity to remediate the bill prior to it being tabled. I checked with the member and I understand the member was not given notice by the House of the likelihood of a royal recommendation being required.
Also, having looked at it, clearly I was very anxious to see the bill for our caucus. I think it is one that we definitely would like to deal with and to consider support on a very important issue. I am quite frankly absolutely surprised that the government would pull this opportunity to disqualify the issue of violence on television from consideration of the House. It is a very honourable and honest bill to come forward on behalf of the member.
We feel the CRTC mandate is clear. In the event that there was a will of the House to somehow address violence on television, we would not have to amend the legislation for the mandate of the CRTC to do that. Therefore, if that is the case, then there is absolutely no basis for suggesting that a royal recommendation is necessary because it is not within the mandate.
The government would have to demonstrate that. Argument has not been made to that extent. Therefore, I disagree strongly with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons with regard to the necessity for a royal recommendation. I believe the member should be given due consideration on this matter simply because it is the first time this matter has ever come up. The member has rights and those rights have not been respected by the government.
Bill C-327—Broadcasting Act
Points of Order
The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie
Private members' business was supposed to begin at 5:30 p.m. I have heard three people on the matter of the royal recommendation. I thank hon. members for their presentations. At some point, the Speaker will rule on the appropriateness of the government's recommendation that there be a royal recommendation. However, at this time we really should move to private members' business and to the bill in question.
It being just past 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Private Members' Business
January 30th, 2007 / 5:30 p.m.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
moved that Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-327 respecting violence in television broadcasts, which I am sponsoring in this House. I would like to start by reviewing the context in which this bill was introduced last spring.
One day during the winter of 2000, I was sitting in my living room in the early evening, watching TV with my daughter, Marie-Noël, who was three years old at the time. That is when I noticed how captivated, almost hypnotized, my daughter was by scenes of violence in a movie broadcast on the public network.
That is what prompted me, a few months later, to introduce a bill to reduce violence in television broadcasts. Sadly, the bill was not deemed votable at that time, but it nonetheless allowed me to mobilize parents, teachers, child care stakeholders and others in civil society who were concerned about our children's future, to send the government a clear message: it had to regulate violence in television broadcasts.
Today, six years later, Marie-Noël is nine years old, not much younger than the 11-year-old boy whose death, according to Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier, was directly linked to violent scenes broadcast on public television during prime time which he attempted to recreate. In April, the coroner concluded that the current measures to protect our children from violence in television broadcasts were insufficient. She encouraged broadcasters to move shows rated 13 and over past 9 p.m.
That is what Bill C-327, which I am currently sponsoring and which is being debated in the House today, is proposing. Under this bill to amend the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, would develop regulations limiting violence in television programming, ensure compliance by licence holders and provide for penalties to be imposed on offenders.
Why regulate now?
In spite of the revised adoption in 1993 of the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the violence aired on television continues to increase. According to an analysis conducted by the Centre des médias at the Université Laval in December 2004, acts of physical violence on television have risen by 286% in ten years; and 81% of violent acts occur in programs beginning before 9 p.m. Furthermore, 29% of the acts of violence in films are psychological in nature.
Sure, some people will say that we can play with the figures, but one piece of evidence is certain: there is enough violence on television to influence the behaviour of our young people. We can only conclude that the voluntary approach by broadcasters does not seem to have produced the results hoped for since, some 15 years after the adoption of the voluntary code, television violence continues to increase, as indicated by the Centre des médias at the Université Laval.
Obviously complete censorship is not an option. I repeat, full censorship is not an option, because it would not be an appropriate response in a democratic society like ours, in which freedom of expression is one of its cornerstones.
To my mind, only a regulatory approach based on the necessary balance between freedom of expression and the protection of our children would offer diversified programming respectful of the various clienteles.
The recent demands, made just last week, by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, for regulations that would prohibit programs with violent content from being aired before 9 p.m., are consistent not only with the spirit of the recommendation made by Coroner Rudel-Tessier, but are also in keeping with Bill C-327, which I am sponsoring today.
The Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the CSQ, which represents 172,000 members, including 100,000 teaching staff—who are in daily contact with our children—was among the first to applaud this bill.
The tragic story of the ten-year-old American and the nine-year-old Pakistani who accidentally hanged themselves by wanting to imitate Saddam Hussein remind us that, even though regulation of television violence is something that must be addressed, it is not a substitute for parental vigilance when it comes to not only the content of television programs, but also video games and Web sites.
The fight I began in 2000 has been fought by activists, daycare stakeholders and teachers.The first name that springs to my mind when I talk about the important fight I am fighting for the protection of our children is that of a young girl, now an adult, and someone you probably knew, Mr. Speaker. Her name is Virginie Larivière. Some years ago, she presented the Conservative government of the day a petition with 1,3 million signatures. The petitioners were Canadian and Quebec citizens who asked for regulations to reduce violence on television.
That young girl, about 10 at the time, introduced that petition it was because we already noticed in the 1990's that there had been an increase in the number of violent scenes on television despite the voluntary code the broadcasters had adopted for themselves in 1987. Despite that code, which was revised in 1993, the figures from the Centre d'études des médias of Laval University were revealing. Between 1995 and 1998, they showed an almost 50% increase in violent acts on television. The scenes of violence children could see—that is during programs broadcast before 9 p.m.—were also clearly on the rise. In 1998, 92% of violent acts were shown before 9 p.m.
The study also showed that one out of every two acts of violence in the study was either a gratuitous representation or unnecessary to understanding what was going on.
In 2000, these 1998 figures alerted me to this issue. Initially, it was my daughter who brought it to my attention, but after finding out more from media specialists, I concluded that TV violence was indeed on the rise. That made the 2000 bill very relevant.
Quebec's civil society leaders and artists mobilized. Why? Because the bill did not seek to limit freedom of expression. It simply sought to restrict programs with violent content to airing after 9 p.m., when children are not watching. It was not, and it still is not, censorship. It was just about adjusting broadcasters' schedules to ensure they respected all members of the viewing public.
This bill seeks to regulate violence on TV.
I would encourage the members to read this bill. It does not even say that violent programs should air only after 9 p.m. That is what I think should happen, and that is the approach I would recommend. This bill merely proposes creating a regulation within the Broadcasting Act so that the CRTC will be responsible for ensuring compliance among licensees and punishing them accordingly.
To what extent should they be punished?
Often, in various environmental files, big polluters get off with light punishments. We cannot let that happen here. The regulatory regime may specify punishment according to the circumstances of the non-compliance. Section 32 of the Broadcasting Act provides that a corporate broadcaster that contravenes CRTC regulations—in this case, a future regulation—may be liable to a fine as high as $250,000 for a first offence and as high as $500,000 for a subsequent offence.
In essence, with this bill, we are asking broadcasters to be good corporate citizens. It is important to understand that our airwaves are public and that we, the public, therefore bear some responsibility for them. But broadcasters have a responsibility to broadcast information that is accurate and does not convey stereotypes, prejudices, racial slurs or statements designed to undermine our society's fundamental rights. We must ensure that our public airwaves respect everyone's rights.
This bill therefore strikes a balance. I know that some of my colleagues believe that this bill could violate the right to freedom of expression. In an attempt to address this concern, we have proposed that violent scenes be broadcast after 9 p.m.
I am pleased to introduce this bill today. As recently as yesterday, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the CSQ, took a clear stand on this bill. The more than 172,000 members of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec decided to support this bill, simply because they work in education.
Anyone who has seen what goes on in our schools and daycare centres will understand why these people are clearly saying that there is a connection between what our children watch and how they behave. It is true of movies and it is sometimes true of cartoons, because cartoon formats changed several years ago.
In order to provide our educators and teachers with tools, we have to create a society that is as non-violent as possible. Of course, this bill will not reduce violence in our society. It is not the answer to violence in our society. There are other areas where we have to take action. I am thinking of the Internet and video games, but this Parliament could certainly take an important step by making sure that our airwaves are less violent and that we can live in a society that is as non-violent as possible.
Private Members' Business
Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to address this very significant concern in Canada.
The bill before us today is a further attempt to address the issue of TV violence in Canada. The bill would amend the Broadcasting Act by imposing a new, regulatory framework on the broadcast industry. I want to thank the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his efforts in bringing this legislation before Parliament.
From the outset, I want to state that reducing violence in our society is a priority for our Conservative government. Indeed, addressing violent crime in Canada is one of the five key priorities which we set during the last federal election, and we have made significant progress in changing our criminal laws to ensure that Canada's streets and communities are safe.
The tabling of the bill gives us an opportunity to consider again Canada's success in addressing violence on television and how Canadians, especially young Canadians, are exposed to it.
The bill would amend the Broadcasting Act by requiring the CRTC to make specific regulations to reduce the number of violent scenes on television. While I believe the motives behind the bill are laudable, the bill itself is flawed for a number of reasons.
It represents a veiled attempt to impose additional censorship on broadcasters, very likely violating the protections of freedom of expression under the charter. It would also impose a new regulatory burden on government which would cost taxpayers more money. It implies that Canadians are not smart enough to read the required warnings and make viewing decisions for themselves. It shifts responsibility for supervising and educating children from parents to the federal government.
The good news is that much of the authority which the mover of the bill is seeking is already contained in the current Broadcasting Act.
I would like to look at Bill C-327 in the context of current broadcasting policy and at the tools already available under the Broadcasting Act that encourage Canadians to become media literate and to then make safe viewing choices for themselves.
Our current broadcasting policy focuses on empowering Canadians to make educated choices for themselves about what they and their families will watch on TV. Our federal government consults and cooperates with law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, parents and schools, and in doing so, we focus on five common objectives.
First, we want to educate TV viewers. We want to strengthen the enforcement of the existing laws. We want to implement complaint reporting systems. We want to ensure that public and private sectors consult with each other and with their counterparts in other countries. Finally, and perhaps more important, we want to promote industry self-regulation.
That last objective, industry self-regulation, is key. The broadcast industry has, in consultation with the federal government, adopted a voluntary set of broadcast standards and a code of conduct which it applies to all of its programming.
Canadians will be very familiar with the frequent warnings which accompany programs containing violence or questionable or sexual content. These warnings equip parents to make decisions for themselves and their families as to the kind of programming which is suitable for them.
An added benefit of industry self-regulation is the fact that the financial burden of regulation and monitoring is borne primarily by industry, not by the taxpayers of this country.
Even if we wanted to regulate and control everything shown on television, it would be a futile endeavour. Canadians must understand that much of what we see on TV comes from foreign television signals. Canada has limited jurisdiction over these signals. We also have little jurisdiction, if any, over material that Canadians may view over the Internet.
Both foreign broadcasters and Internet service providers are not subject to Canada's licensing requirement. They are not subject to the Canadian broadcasting code of conduct and ethics, and as technology continues to develop, our ability to control content will continue to decline.
The current media environment is indeed the global village that Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan so prophetically pointed to. Government control over content is no longer a long term option in broadcasting. More than ever, Canadians need to be well informed. They need to be exposed to new technologies while understanding the potential harmful aspects of these innovations.
We live in a world without walls. We cannot be with our children at all times to keep them safe from harm. In the same way, recent experience has taught us that we cannot always protect our children and other Canadian audiences from controversial or objectionable content, especially when it originates from outside of Canada. It is even more difficult to do so if in fact we are to respect the charter right of freedom of expression.
What we can do is educate Canadians and give them the tools necessary to discern good content from harmful content. That is what the current Broadcasting Act does. The TV industry provides viewers with helpful information about programming content to enable each one of us to act positively, to become critical thinkers and to learn to discern. I also note that technology nowadays gives parents things such as the V-chip to allow them to control what their children watch on TV.
There is something troubling about this bill and it is in the preamble. The preamble categorically states that “censorship is not a solution”, yet the bill then proceeds to do exactly that, namely impose censorship by requiring the CRTC to impose regulations reducing violence in TV programming. These conflicting objectives are clearly fatal to the bill.
I remind the House of some of the key policy objectives contained in the Broadcasting Act. The act states in section 3(1)(d)(i) that the broadcasting system should:
serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada,
The very next paragraph states that the system should:
encourage the development of Canadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity--
To me these words suggest imagination and diversity of opinion, something that our charter of rights guarantees. Any attempt to circumscribe these rights would likely result in a successful challenge under the charter and I for one am not prepared to burden the taxpayers of the country with the cost of needless and ultimately futile litigation.
I would encourage the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie to again review the existing provisions of the Broadcasting Act, most notably subsections 10(c), 10(f) and 10(k) because these subsections already spell out a broad regulatory framework which, at least in my experience, has led to significant cooperation on the part of the broadcast industry. Moreover, the act already states that all broadcasting licensees are responsible for the programs they broadcast and that this programming must be of a high standard.
The Canadian approach to maintaining high standards engages the broadcast industry instead of invoking a unilateral heavy-handed enforcement program.
In conclusion, we have to ask ourselves a number of fundamental questions. Do we believe in more government? Do we believe that government should usurp the rightful role of parents to train and educate children? Should Canadians no longer be responsible for their own decisions for informing themselves? Finally, do we believe that taxpayers should again be burdened with additional regulatory costs that should be borne by industry? I believe the answer is no to all of these questions and that answer must compel us to reject this bill, as well intentioned as it might be.
Private Members' Business
Tina Keeper Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am confident that all members in the House join me in genuine concern about ensuring that our children have safeguards against violence on television in this country. To this end, on behalf of the residents in the Churchill riding, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts) introduced by the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
Upon introduction of the bill on June 19, 2006, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie said:
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to introduce a bill to reduce television violence, particularly during peak viewing hours for children.
This quote encapsulates the objective the member hopes to achieve with this bill. Before continuing this debate, I would like to acknowledge the integrity of my hon. colleague's aim. As many parliamentarians would know, the bill was initially introduced in the House of Commons during the first session of the 37th Parliament as Bill C-420 and prior to reintroduction, the bill received only slight modifications.
The issue of violence on television has been at the forefront of the public mind over the past couple of decades. In fact, the issue did become a priority for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the regulatory body of Canada's Broadcasting Act and in 1990 it commissioned two studies, “Scientific Knowledge about Television Violence” and “Summary and Analysis of Various Studies on Violence and Television”. The findings and recommendations of these studies led to action by the CRTC toward the development of guidelines in Canada by working with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, provincial ministers and the cable industry.
In 1992 a significant event occurred when a very young woman, Virginie Larivière, submitted a petition to Parliament with 1.5 million signatures seeking a ban on television violence. It was a clear message from Canadians on the issue.
In February 1993 the Action Group on Violence on Television was formed. It was comprised of the Association of Canadian Advertisers, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Cable Television Association, Canadian Film and Television Production Association, the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec, and the licensees of pay television, pay per view services and specialty services.
In September of that year they released a general statement of principles concerning violence on television programming with the aim of a classification system for television programming. Numerous critical actions followed. The CRTC accepted the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' revised voluntary code regarding violence in television programming and announced that compliance would be a condition of a broadcast licence. The code designated the watershed in which broadcasters could not air programs which included violence intended for an adult audience between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Since that time, Canada has been a leader throughout the world in setting regulatory mechanisms and strong industry codes to ensure that viewing choices for children remain responsive to the concerns of the public. These currently include program ratings systems; on-screen icons; violence guidelines and other content guidelines referring to language and content of a sexual nature; required frequent viewer advisories, both on-screen and audible; and program embedded ratings for use with V-chip technology.
These are a mandatory system of codes and adherence to them is not voluntary. The system was approved by the CRTC in June 1997. Private broadcasters must agree to them and licences are reviewed regularly by the CRTC.
This proposed legislation seeks to amend the Broadcasting Act to grant the CRTC the power to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes. However, a great deal has changed in broadcasting standards and practices over the past 15 years on the issue of violence on television and a child or youth audience.
It effectively established a broad set of policies, technologies and rules affecting broadcasters that I would argue address the concerns and even the purpose of this bill. This is largely confirmed by the member's proposed amendment to section 10 with the addition of:
The Commission shall make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes, including those contained in programs intended for persons under the age of 12 years.
In an effort to safeguard children against violent television programming, various stringent measures were put in place. These policies are complemented by a series of technologies that have steadily increased in television broadcasting since their initial introduction.
For example, the CRTC launched a variety of new technologies set to increase viewer awareness of suitability of a given program. This is done through both voice and print immediately prior to programs as well as during commercial breaks.
Parent friendly rating systems have also been carefully integrated into the suitability warnings. Moreover, the introduction of an advanced parental control technology known as V-chip was created and put into action. It allows concerned parents to filter inappropriate content based on a rating system.
Comparing the existing practices of the CRTC with the member's proposed amendment to the Broadcasting Act, I think it is fair to say that the commissioner has ensured regulations are in place addressing television violence during peak hours and is effectively monitored. In fact, in 1994 the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent organization comprised of public and industry representatives, announced that the children's television program, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, violated children's programming provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' violence code. The producers were forced to comply with the code or the broadcasters were to remove it from their schedule.
In fact, to emphasize the results of the positive actions taken by broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has actually reported a decline in the percentage of complaints concerning violence on television. Between 2001 and 2006, public complaints involving violence have dropped by 37% and it ranks sixth as the subject of television complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
After taking into account the current policies and practices of the CRTC governing violence on television and now returning to the member's stated objective, and more important, the contents of his bill, I do not believe the proposed amendments will have an impact in reducing violence during peak hours.
Given the standards and practices that are already in place and enforced by the commission, Bill C-327 is redundant in terms of the Broadcasting Act. It is my assertion that the various mediums in today's market have a significant role to play in terms of the amount of violent content which is available to children and youth. Today's new medium means rapid access to materials through the Internet, video games and DVDs.
While I applaud the spirit of the member's bill, I do believe it is adequately covered through the current Broadcasting Act and regulatory body, the CRTC, to safeguard Canadians and to protect our values, and I cannot lend it my support.
Private Members' Business
Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-327.
I have to make an admission to the people of Canada that I am a huge fan of action films. In fact, my whole family are fans. On Friday nights, we like nothing better for the world to be hanging in balance while the good guy has to run out and save the planet with two minutes to spare while the planes are flying. I think one of the reasons these films are successful is that they are entertaining and people can tell the difference between the reality of violence and the action film genre, so I have to put that on the record.
However, I am interested in this bill because I believe that there is a difference between seeing the fantasy world of cops and robbers and action hero stuff that we are used to, the sort of comic book entertainment, and the good guy always wins in the end element of film and television. There is a fundamental shift that I am starting to see in terms of three areas.
First, is the increasing level of abusive, degrading and humiliating television that has become a standard staple.
Second, is the relentlessness of the imagery. As we know, our young people are not just watching it on television, they are on the Internet, and there is a relentlessness that is hammered home time and time again.
I think of the third issue, and I find this from my role formerly as a school board trustee. When we talk about empowerment and choice, we are assuming that we are talking about 1950s-style families. I can tell members, as a school board trustee, many of the kids in my community are at home alone when they come home from school because their mom, a single mother, is working or their father is out working. Who are they home with? They are home with the electronic child molester. That is who they are home with.
If we watch the programming that was put in the afternoon slot in the last number of years, we have Maury Povich and Springer. This is absolutely abusive and degrading television. I am concerned that when young people come into class, they do not have the faculties to separate this.
So, what we do have? We have a policy of zero tolerance in our schools. I have seen many kids act out stuff in the schoolyard without even having a sense of what they are doing, and then of course we have to bring in the police to deal with it. I am not talking so much about physical violence being acted out, but some of the abusive stuff that they see on television. So, there is an element there that we can talk about empowering our young people, but if they are home alone, they do not have that choice.
I think this debate today is actually very appropriate, given the very disturbing national conversation that is going on. All around us, Canadians are talking about the Pickton trial.
There is a really interesting debate if we listen to the talk shows. What people are saying is, “I don't want to hear it. I don't want these greasy fingerprints left on my imagination. Have the trial, please, but spare us the grizzly gore”.
What strikes me about this conversation, because I have been listening to the people phoning in, is that people do not want to be desensitized. They do not want to accept a point where they no longer even shrug when they hear these kinds of details. It is a very horrific conversation that we have to have. I was thinking in terms of the Bernardo trial and how I still feel such rage over what I heard about that. We are being asked as a society to cross a terrible Rubicon of the imagination whereby something that once was just a realm of Hollywood is something we have to accept as a reality. As I was thinking of this conversation, I was watching television with my daughter. It was interesting that I saw within a space of one hour two ads for serial killer torture shows that had very gruesome, very graphic and very stylized forms of the torture.
Can our children tell the difference between the allegations at the Pickton farm and these things on television? Of course they can. Just as they can tell the difference when they are playing video games that seem to me to be so much similar to the Dawson shooting. But at a certain point, there is a level of desensitization, and that desensitization has a very profound impact for cultural development.
Ronald Cohen, the chair of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, says very clearly, “In addition, there is no gratuitous or glamorized violence on television at any time of the day or night. Period”.
I was watching 24 with my daughters the other night. They are big fans of Jack Bauer. I am a big fan of Jack Bauer, the actor playing him being the grandson of Tommy Douglas, the great Canadian socialist. Jack Bauer is always there to save the world.
However, there is an interesting debate that has come up about 24 because of the way that people are now beginning to accept the notion that torture is perfectly okay. Jack Bauer can never save the planet unless he tortures somebody. He is very effective in torturing people and because Jack tortures people things work.
I was speaking to an educator who had been talking to a young person about notions of right and wrong and limits of right and wrong. The issue of torture came up. The student said, “Torture is perfectly okay. That's what you do if you're a police officer. That is perfectly acceptable behaviour.” The educator asked, “Why would you think that torture was normal?” The child said, “Jack Bauer has to do it.”
Think of the profound shift that has taken place in the last 10 years. Ten years ago, what was torture? In our imagination that was what thugs did in a Latin American prison. That is what petty gang lords did. However, a conversation now where we have stylized violence, and it is very over the top, it becomes acceptable. Therefore, we become desensitized to it.
Another point Mr. Cohen makes in terms of the reason we do not need standards, that we do not need to impose them here, and he is talking about protecting children. He says, “There can be no themes that threaten a child's sense of security.”
I was watching Fear Factor in my hotel room the other night. Since you might not believe, Mr. Speaker, how outrageous it is I will read the plot description that I picked up off the Internet. This was a plot with families, so it was mothers, fathers and their children on this show. This is a quote from the show. The children will be locked in a box of Madagascar hissing cockroaches that would be poured all over the children. Then the parents would have to use their mouths to transfer roaches from the box to a counterbalance. The pair would then have to get the keys so that the child could find a way to escape from this box where the child was screaming and covered with cockroaches.
The message I infer from this is that child abuse is okay if it is done on prime time, if it is done for entertainment purposes, and it is very clear that it is done for greed because do you know what happens, Mr. Speaker, if the mother manages to pick enough of these Madagascar hissing cockroaches off her screaming child and frees them from this locked box? She will win a 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon. I find this absolutely abominable.
I would like to think that industry would self-regulate, but I think what we are seeing now in terms of abuse on television is that it is self-regulating itself down to the bottom and we should not go along with this. I think at a certain point we have to say as a society that this degradation has to stop. The idea of abusing and humiliating people as a form of cheap entertainment is not acceptable. We do not accept it when our children act it out in the schoolyard. We should not have to accept it as a regular form of entertainment.
Again, I would like to point out that people can say, “Turn it off”, but I know of so many children who are at home alone. They are not reading, they are watching and this is what they are watching.
This leads me to another point that I think has to be made. It is a more subtle point. It is the notion of the breakdown of the self, the self-identity and the self-awareness from watching abusive television again and again by young people. I read a book earlier last year entitled A Is for Ox: the Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in An Electronic Age by Barry Sanders. He made some amazing correlations that what we are seeing in terms of a culture where children are raised strictly on television is the breakdown of literacy, not simply that they cannot read but literate conversation, the sense of self, has disappeared in so many young children. They do not have that construct.
He said that there are profound implications for society when we have children who are raised like this because as they have no sense of self they have no sense of the other. He is definitely making a very clear equation in his work between this rise of cultural illiteracy and a culture of violence, and a casual acceptance of violence.
Therefore, I am very pleased that Parliament has taken the measure to debate this issue. In terms of the New Democrats we believe that this is not an issue of censorship. This is an issue of restoring some fairness to the airwaves and saying to families that they do not have to worry that their children are being preyed upon by the electronic child molester if they have to go out to work.
There have to be some standards. If industry is not willing to meet those standards, then we have to have a national conversation and that conversation, I believe, has to include educators and a broad cross-section of our society. Clearly, it is our purview here within the House of Commons to begin that conversation.
Private Members' Business
Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate on Bill C-327 dealing with the reduction of violence in television broadcasts.
Television violence is a problem of such scope that it has been the subject of various, often controversial but always relevant and thought provoking, studies, reports and analyses. More importantly, this issue reminds the elected representatives that we are that, in our society, television has become an omnipresent media whose impact on the most receptive or vulnerable audiences, and I am thinking of our children, should never be underestimated.
At a time when an overwhelming majority of people in Canada and Quebec own at least one television set and spend an average of four hours a day watching this hypnotic box; when new media are being put on the market and the number of available stations keeps increasing; and when television is more and more and increasingly openly blamed for breeding a scourge of our society—and I am referring to all forms of violence—the Bloc Québécois, through the determination and perseverance of the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, whose eloquent plea we have heard and grasped the scope of, could not pass on a relevant debate and another meaningful piece of legislation on the theme of television images of a violent nature and their impact on our youth. That is the raison d'être of his bill to reduce violence in television broadcasts by granting the CRTC additional regulatory powers in this respect, without developing a censorship mentality.
The bill's summary states, and I quote, “This enactment amends the Broadcasting Act to grant the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission the power to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes”.
And here is how the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie introduced his bill at first reading stage:
A recent study by Laval University showed that acts of violence shown on television have tripled since 1994. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Broadcasting Act to create a regulation governing television violence. The CRTC would be responsible for monitoring how large broadcasters apply the regulation that would be created by the bill I am introducing today.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill and salutes the initiative of the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. The Bloc Québécois reminds the House that, beyond self-regulation, we must provide broadcasting with an adequate framework in order to avoid a drift toward sensationalism that does not necessarily reflect Quebec and Canadian values.
The Bloc Québécois believes that young children should not be confronted with violence at a very early age, because this would tend to trivialize it, with the predictable consequences.
As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, violence in our society is an issue that raises concerns among the general public and, indeed, the legislator that each of us represents here. In this regard, we have the responsibility to introduce legislation.
What are the impacts of television on our children? In 1998, a UNESCO study showed that children under the age of 12 were spending an average of three hours a day watching television, that is 50% more than at any other activity.
Children who watch very violent television or films are more likely to become aggressive. There is no doubt about it.
Many reports agree on this. There is an enormous amount of research into the effects of media violence.
Researchers have long wondered whether television violence has such effect on young people that it can actually make them more aggressive. After some 50 years of research into this question, some investigators such as Professor Howell Huesmann of the University of Michigan are convinced that there is evidence of a direct correlation. I quote him:
—exposure to media violence causes children to behave more aggressively and affects them as adults years later.
Professor Huesmann demonstrated that when children imitate the actions of their “media heroes”, they develop “cognitive scripts” that ultimately guide their own behaviour. For example, when their heroes are violent, children internalize scripts in which violence is presented as an appropriate or legitimate method of settling disputes, solving problems or dealing with frustrations.
According to other researchers, the psychological effects are not as important as the physiological effects in the internalization of aggressive behaviour seen on television. These researchers observed that exposure to violent imagery is linked to increased heart rate, faster respiration and higher blood pressure. They think that this simulated "fight-or-flight" response predisposes people to act aggressively in the real world.
Similarly, an American study looked at the effects over 20 years. It showed a modest correlation between shows watched by eight-year-old boys and an aggressiveness indicator 11 years later. Boys who watched a lot of violent shows when they were young had much more serious police records at 30 years of age than other boys. These effects could not be ascribed to other social factors. To quantify this “modest” effect, the researchers said that it was comparable to the effect of tobacco consumption on lung cancer. All the experts in large research associations agree on these proven facts.
I want to emphasize once again that the consumption of televisions shows has certain effects, both direct and indirect. No one will be able to say later that they did not know. I encourage the House, therefore, to show good sense and support Bill C-327.
Private Members' Business
Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the federal government I would like to thank the member of Parliament for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his ongoing efforts to reduce violence on television.
The government understands the strong feelings expressed by those opposed to violence on television, especially where children are concerned. The government shares the concerns of parents, teachers and all stakeholders with respect to violence in our society.
Before considering amendments to the current act, I believe it is important to look at the system already in place. The current approach to violence on television protects television viewers, especially children, from the impact of violence. This approach has made it possible to adopt a strategy of cooperation and industry self-regulation, with the support of the CRTC and under its supervision.
As we know, the Broadcasting Act states that broadcasting licensees take full responsibility for the programs they broadcast and that this programming must be of a high standard.
The CRTC is an independent agency responsible for regulating and supervising Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications systems. It reports to Parliament on its activities through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
The Broadcasting Act and the expression of Canadian standards and values guide the work of the CRTC in managing the Canadian broadcasting system and its licensing process and conditions. The CRTC may, in carrying out its mandate, suspend, revoke, amend or refuse to renew a licence if conditions are not met.
Under the CRTC policy, broadcasters must meet licensing conditions and comply with the voluntary code on television violence, the code of ethics, and the sex role portrayal code for television and radio programming developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Moreover, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent self-regulatory body created by its broadcaster members, is responsible for ensuring compliance with codes and industry standards, including the classification system.
The government continues to be concerned about violence on television and ensuring that all industry partners comply with standards to ensure the well-being of our children. I would like to give some background on current activities among the various participants in the classification system.
In 1992 the CRTC focused its activities by setting the following objectives: implement real codes of conduct at the industry level; better inform viewers through program classification; change the attitudes of public education and media education programs; and strengthen the power of television viewers through the V-chip. Canadians are the forefront of addressing violence on TV.
I would like to add that the V-chip technology was developed by Tim Collings of Simon Fraser University, originally from my riding of Perth—Wellington in Downie Township.
Introduced in 1993, the television violence code states that Canadian broadcasters may not air programming that contains gratuitous violence in any form, or which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence. It also states that programming intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 p.m.
In 1997 the Action Group on Violence on Television, an organization representing all sectors of the Canadian broadcasting industry, launched its program classification system. These codes are still in effect. Broadcasting industry representatives, researchers, educators, child mental health experts, parents and the government agencies that were involved continue to promote ongoing dialogue to help people better understand the problem and to create permanent tools to help parents make informed viewing choices for their children.
Canada is also very involved in children's media literacy and in educating children about the various media to which they are exposed. There are media awareness networks that are excellent sources of information about violence on television and that are still in place today.
As we can see from the many parties involved and the regulatory provisions that have been adopted and implemented, such as the codes of conduct adopted by the industry, the public education, and the public awareness programs, we have good management tools to address violence on television in Canada.
The government acknowledges the achievements of all stakeholders involved in the fight against violence and continues to believe in the effectiveness of the current system of self-regulatory codes administered by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and imposed on broadcasters as conditions of licence.
We would also like to underline the vital role that parents and guardians have to play and the fact that they have tools available to them and can make choices to help them better control the television programs presented in their homes.
With the monitoring system already in place to limit violence on television, we have looked at two annual reports that include the issue of limiting violence on television and we have found that few official complaints were made by the Canadian public.
The annual report of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for 2005-06 states that there was a total of 79 complaints relating to the violence code. Six of these complaints related to Quebec television stations. According to the CRTC's broadcast policy monitoring report of 2006, a total of 44 complaints were processed, which represents a significant decrease for 2005 over previous years.
In closing, given these results and the tools that are available as well as the role parents can play, we must question the merits of Bill C-327.
Private Members' Business
The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie
The time provided for the consideration of Private Members’ Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.