House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, May 1—International Workers' Day—was barely two weeks ago, yet it seems that there are two categories of workers in Quebec. Workers in the first category have the right to work in French in Quebec. They are governed by Quebec labour laws and Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language.

Over 200,000 Quebec workers in the second category are governed by the Canada Labour Code, and their employers are not subject to the Charter of the French Language. All too often, they have to work in both languages and sometimes, in English only. Some of them feel like second-class citizens in Quebec. They are the ones working for organizations that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as ports, airports, telecommunications and broadcasting companies, interprovincial and rail transportation companies, banks, and Canada Post Corporation.

Most of these organizations ignore the Charter of the French Language. Some openly flout it. Bill 101 does not apply to these employers in Quebec, so they can impose their language on their employees, who receive their weekly English-language schedules, and are blithely asked to attend meetings that are held, all too often, in English when at least one of their colleagues is unilingual anglophone. Bizarre situations arise as a result. For example, a company under federal jurisdiction is not required to respect the language of its workers in Quebec, but the union representing those workers, which is subject to the Quebec Labour Code, must comply with Bill 101.

Witnesses have stated that employers even force their employees to work in English, threatening to cut jobs in Quebec and create new jobs elsewhere in Canada, where people speak “Canadian”, if they do not agree to write their reports in English or if they speak up when they receive internal documents written in English only. I should clarify that employees are not refusing to provide services to clients in the latter's own language. They simply want meeting minutes, or the meetings themselves, as well as their interactions with their employers and colleagues, to be in French.

Of course, the situation varies with the region. In Montreal and in the Outaouais, the situation is far more problematic than in the Saguenay region, for example, where francophones make up 99% of the population. Overall, English is the main language of work for 17% of Quebeckers. Statistics recently released by the Quebec Office de la langue française indicate that many more francophones work in English than do anglophones in French. Forty per cent of workers in Quebec use English at work regularly.

The federal government stubbornly refuses to recognize Bill 101 in Quebec, so that even today, despite the legislation's 30 year existence, the process of francisation is still in its infancy. When we raise the matter in the House, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages replies that she is promoting bilingualism in Quebec. In fact, each time the government promotes bilingualism in Quebec, it pushes French back. English is not threatened in Quebec and Canada. Promoting French in Quebec means advancing the cause of francophones outside Quebec.

However, in response to the Bloc's initiative, the Conservative government recognized in 2006 that Quebeckers formed a nation. Who honours the rights of this nation? Certainly not the Conservative government, which protested far too much when the Canada Post calendar did not include Quebec's national holiday—and I say “national”, which is Quebec's national holiday on June 24—only to discover two weeks later that the same error of omission had been made on its own calendar.

Clearly, denial of the Quebec nation and disdain for its rights seem to be part of the culture of the federal government machinery. When have we heard the Prime Minister, one of his ministers or even one of his MPs use the term Quebec nation? Recognition of it is not to be found in either their remarks or their actions.

Let us not forget that the Conservative Prime Minister did not recognize the Quebec nation in November 2006 for its intrinsic value or because he was fond of or respected Quebeckers, but rather with the malicious intent to trip up the Bloc Québécois by adding the words, “within a united Canada” after “Quebeckers form a nation”.

But the time for empty words is over. It is time the Conservative government walked the talk.

To protect workers' language, identity and culture, this government must recognize the Quebec nation in fact by giving workers throughout Quebec the right to work in French.

The Bloc wants to amend federal legislation so that federally regulated businesses carrying on activities in Quebec are subject to the Charter of the French Language. The member for Drummond introduced Bill C-482 to amend the Canada Labour Code. We thank her and congratulate her.

I hear someone applauding. That is a very good idea, because this is a very fine initiative on her part.

Bill C-482 will require the federal government to recognize the Charter of the French Language in Quebec and will extend its application to businesses under federal jurisdiction.

First of all, to avoid any ambiguity, it must be clear in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. We therefore consider it important to amend the preamble so that it provides that the federal government recognizes that French is the official language of Quebec and the common language in Quebec.

This amendment is not purely symbolic. It states, to a certain extent, the intent of the legislator. In this regard, the Barreau du Québec said this:

Jurisprudence, also, seems to consistently demonstrate that the preamble is always important, though the circumstances in a matter, such as the clarity of the provision, justifies setting aside any indications of intent that may be found in the preamble.

It then becomes an insurance policy provided that the body of the act is also amended. The Official Languages Act essentially applies to the Government of Canada and its institutions, and as mentioned earlier, under section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is impossible to amend any provisions dealing with institutionalized bilingualism within the federal government without amending the Constitution. However, two parts of the act can be amended, namely part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and part IX, which deals in part with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois will force the federal government to undertake that it will not throw up obstacles to the objectives of the Charter of the French Language. It is important to remember that recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority provided for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These amendments only limit the power of the federal government to interfere in Quebec's language policy.

The specific reference to a provincial act in the context of federal legislation is possible and even common. This is referred to as a statutory reference, in other words the government recognizes the provisions of another Canadian legislative assembly. For example, the Canada Labour Code sets the minimum federal wage based on provincial minimums. Section 178 states that:

—an employer shall pay to each employee a wage at a rate

a) not less than the minimum hourly rate fixed, from time to time, by or under an Act of the legislature of the province where the employee is usually employed—

This bill will amend the Canada Labour Code.

Federal undertakings or federally regulated enterprises are not governed by the Charter of the French Language, particularly with regard to the language of work. Some of these enterprises choose to abide by it, but on a voluntary basis and too infrequently for our liking.

Which federal enterprises are affected by the Canada Labour Code? I mentioned some earlier: Bell Canada has 17,241 employees; the Royal Bank, 7,200 employees; the National Bank of Canada, 10,299 employees; ACE Aviation Air Canada, 7,657 employees. We estimate that 200,000 Quebeckers are governed by the Canada Labour Code, or about 7% of Quebec workers.

The Bloc Québécois' bill will also amend the Canada Business Corporations Act to ensure that corporations' business names respect the Charter of the French Language.

The problem is that Quebec, as a nation, is still not able to ensure the use of French as the official and common language because of limits imposed by the federal government and its blatant disregard for Bill 101.

I ask that my colleagues in this House seriously reflect on the rights of a nation.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, several members of our government have already had a chance to express their opposition to Bill C-482. We can conclude only one thing: this bill purports to solve a problem that simply does not exist. The 2006 census data show that French as a language of work in Quebec is doing well.

Since 2001, the census has collected information on language of work, and the 2006 edition confirms that 99% of francophone workers in Quebec use French most often or regularly at work. These figures speak for themselves. It is very difficult to claim that the use of English in Quebec is a serious threat and that the federal government is to blame. There are no facts to back up this claim.

Some 94% of all Quebec workers use French, with varying frequency. In addition, between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of immigrants who said they use French most often at work, either alone or together with another language, increased from 63% to 65%. There was also an increase in the proportion of anglophones who use French at work most often or regularly. I also want to remind the House that 69% of Quebec anglophones are bilingual now, in comparison with 63% just 10 years ago. Under the circumstances, we really do not see the point of Bill C-482.

If we look at the results of the 2006 census on mother tongue and the language spoken at home, it becomes apparent that certain people have a tendency to draw hasty conclusions about major trends in our society, which in themselves do not pose a threat to the French language. It is true that many immigrants speak their language of origin in the home in order to pass it on to their children. Nevertheless, most of these people work in French and frequently use it in public. In addition, their children attend French-language schools and will eventually find it easy to migrate to this language.

Some concerns were raised last December and January about data on how easy it is for unilingual English staff to get hired in Quebec businesses. Everyone who is familiar with the statistics knows that this was not a serious study and it was undertaken mostly just to stir up trouble without really improving our understanding of the linguistic situation.

We also need to know that the situation in Montreal is not evolving in a vacuum. Every day some 270,000 people from the northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, most of them francophones, cross the bridges to go and work on the island. Nine out of ten of them use French at work: 73% most often and another 16% regularly. Under the circumstances, there is no reason to fear the worst, especially as the data show that the use of French in Montreal has remained stable.

In Canada as a whole, because of immigration, we see the same linguistic diversification and reduction in the proportion of people with English as a mother tongue. Given the importance of English in the world, it is hardly surprising that this is a consequence of our very necessary immigration.

The second good reason to oppose this bill is equally important, because it touches on a deeply Canadian value. It concerns the equal status of French and English, and the federal government's commitment to enhance the vitality of the English and French minorities in Canada. Our government can never overstate the importance of this principle of the equality of the two official languages.

With this bill, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the federal government poses a threat to the French fact in Canada, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet again, the Bloc proposes a backward-looking vision, where the knowledge of one language is necessarily a threat to another. Through its official language policies, the government encourages not only francophone minorities, but also all Canadians, to learn French. That is why we now have a record number of Canadians who are able to speak both official languages. The government supports the French fact everywhere in Canada and provides particular support to the minority francophone communities. There are a million of these francophones in Canada. This reality opens the gates to the international Francophonie.

This year, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, some important international Francophonie events will be held. Quebec City will host the next Sommet de la Francophonie from October 17 to 19, 2008. It is no coincidence that francophone heads of state and government are turning to Canada to hold their discussions. Canada is a beacon of support for the dissemination and promotion of the French language.

Canada is proud to be a partner in the celebrations, which highlight an important chapter of our history. We want the 400th anniversary of Quebec City to be a celebration all Canadians will remember. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the event, the francophone presence in the Americas, and the vitality of the French fact.

The Prime Minister has often said it, and I quote him without hesitation: we share a long-term vision of a Canada where linguistic duality is an asset both for individuals and for institutions across Canada. The future depends on learning the second language, and even other languages, in a global economy and a spirit of openness to the world. Languages are the key that enables us to understand and appreciate other cultures.

The Canadian language framework that has been developed in recent decades originates in and is based on the principles and provisions found in our Constitution. Canadians today still say that these values are widely shared, and we will make sure that future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of bilingualism, one of Canada’s fundamental characteristics.

Our language industries are helping to position Canada on the international stage and they will continue to thrive in the years to come thanks to the cutting-edge research that is being done and will continue to energize this entire sector of the economy and thereby Canada as a whole.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that Canada continues to be a world leader when it comes to translation and other activities of that nature. We are also a model for many countries in the management of linguistic duality.

We are determined to continue working to help the official language communities flourish, in a spirit of open federalism and in a way that respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. Our approach to developing a new strategy is therefore aided by our continuing dialogue with the provinces and territories, and in particular by the work done by the Ministerial Conference on the Canadian Francophonie. The provincial and territorial governments are the ones that can take direct action on issues of crucial importance to the vitality of official languages communities throughout Canada, and our government looks forward to working with them to promote Canada’s linguistic duality.

In recent years, the Government of Canada has developed a number of policies on official languages, and our government is working actively on the next phase of the action plan, in order to take into account social and demographic changes in Canada. We want to offer Canadians the support that is best suited to their needs. We want to help them preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage and reap the full benefits of that heritage and pass it on to future generations.

Our government will continue to build on existing accomplishments so that Canadians can benefit from all the advantages our country has to offer because of the unique cultural wealth our two official languages represent in North America.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate today on Bill C-482. I must say at the outset that I have a great deal of respect for the member for Drummond, but I profoundly disagree with her on this bill. The bill is extremely dangerous from the point of view of a francophone from outside Quebec. It would give precedence to the French language in federal institutions in Quebec. I can only imagine the repercussions in the other provinces.

First, there is the whole issue that the federal government must respect the Constitution. I will not go into the details of that subject because my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier has very clearly spelled out the matter of constitutional principles. However, I do not understand how anyone could introduce a bill here, in this House, that goes against the Constitution of Canada. I want to look at practical reasons.

The Official Languages Act that was adopted in 1969 has protected and continues to protect our country’s two official languages. The act puts both official languages of our country on an equal footing. I will be the first to admit that there are many challenges to overcome. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, where there is a strong concentration of francophones in one province and where we encourage and celebrate multiculturalism—which is another factor that adds to the complications in an officially bilingual country—it has never been easy to find a balance in all of the issues related to official languages.

Nevertheless, we have made enormous progress. The Official Languages Act was essential to the growth of our minority francophone communities. The member for Drummond said that the use of French is declining in Quebec and everywhere in Canada.

However, we must talk about positive changes. In Manitoba, for example, there 45,000 people of francophone descent, but in principle, 110,000 people speak French. These people completed French immersion or second language courses. In British Columbia, parents, especially from immigrant communities, stand on the sidewalk all evening to register their children in immersion courses. This is really an interesting and significant phenomenon.

Significant changes are occurring in terms of respect for the two official languages. Let us take, for example, the group Canadian Parents for French, which last year or the year before celebrated its 25th anniversary in Manitoba. It is an exceedingly positive group for francophones right across the country.

In this age of globalization, people are realizing that knowing two or three languages is becoming the norm, not the exception. The hon. member will recall a study we did together on democratic reform. We visited England, Scotland and Germany, where she had an interpreter with her. In fact most of those we met spoke two, three or four languages and offered to speak French. That is today's reality.

I do not understand the strategy of turning inward and trying to stick to a single language. It makes no sense in today's world.

I do understand that we want to protect our language. We live in this great anglophone sea that is North America. However, today's youth must not be held back. The teaching of both official languages must be encouraged as must their use in the workplace. Our young people must be given every opportunity.

I have never understood why there has not been greater cooperation between Quebec and francophones outside Quebec. There are 6 million francophones in Quebec, but there are 2.6 million francophones in Canada's other provinces. Once again, in this great North American sea of 330 million people, it seems to me we would do well to work together—cooperatively—more closely and to join forces. But no, it is just not done to acknowledge that there are francophones living outside la Belle Province or that immersion programs are working extremely well. It would not be politically sound for a separatist party to admit that its distant cousins were managing quite well and that there were vibrant communities to be found in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, Vancouver, Regina, New Brunswick and even Alberta.

What was really heartbreaking was the Bloc's vote against Bill S-3, a bill that was vital for minority francophone communities. I can say for a fact that not all the Bloc members supported the decision by the leader of the Bloc.

The Bloc Québécois members who sat on the Standing Committee on Official Languages were torn by this decision. They knew that Bill S-3 was essential to the survival and development of francophone communities outside Quebec. Despite this, it was decided that they should vote against Bill S-3. How can that be good for the Canadian francophone community?

The other day, one of the Bloc members said that Quebec is a francophone nation. That disappoints me. How does a statement like that make the anglophones in his riding feel? That member does not necessarily represent everyone. That bothers me greatly. Anglophones and allophones also have the right to a representative that takes their interests to heart.

Things are changing. For example, in Manitoba, Premier Doer just created the Agence nationale et internationale du Manitoba. It is a francophone Manitoba Trade. We understand the added value of francophones in our province. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in the world and in all of the other Canadian provinces. In Quebec, they want to withdraw into themselves. I do not understand this senseless ideology.

As I said earlier, Canadian Parents for French is the most vocal group in terms of early immersion in New Brunswick. This group is essential for francophone communities.

Instead of seeing this withdrawal, I would rather see the Bloc Québécois work with us to restore the court challenges program and to put into place a new official languages action plan. It would be constructive and would advance French throughout Canada, including in Quebec.

In my opinion, the bill introduced by the member for Drummond would have the opposite effect, and I cannot support a bill that could harm our language. We have all worked too hard to preserve it.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have introduced Bill C-482. I would also like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her remarks, in which she really explained the bill. I am a little disappointed to see that my colleagues on the opposition side and my colleague who has just spoken have not sufficiently understood Bill C-482. In fact, it does not take away anything. It only amends the Official Languages Act so that businesses respect the spirit of the charter dealing with the language of signage and the language of work in related legislation on businesses. I would like to thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, my colleague from Joliette and my colleague from Gatineau, who travelled all across Quebec to explain Bill C-482, what it would change and what it would modify. I can say that it takes away absolutely nothing from the privileges of minorities within Quebec.

It is essential to specify in the Official Languages Act that French is the official language of Quebec. I would like the members who spoke on this bill could really recognize that French is the official language of Quebec. That is why it seems significant to us to amend the preamble to the act to state that the federal government recognizes French as the official language of Quebec and the common language of Quebec.

This bill would amend two parts of the Official Languages Act: Part VII, which deals with the advancement of English and French in Canadian society, and Part IX, which deals primarily with the mandate of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Recognition of the Charter of the French Language in no way diminishes the rights and privileges of the Quebec anglophone minority that are set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I emphasize that point. These amendments strictly limit the power of the federal government to intervene in Quebec's language policy.

Let us talk about a concept. The concept of nationhood is to recognize a nation. It also means recognizing its identity, its language, its culture, its history and its institutions. For the Conservatives, the concept of the Quebec nation is an empty shell. The Conservative game is nothing but a manoeuvre intended to trivialize the Quebec nation.

Logic requires that the identity of Quebec be recognized; in the North American context, that the predominance of French in Quebec be recognized; that Bill 101 adopted by the National Assembly be recognized and respected since a statutory reference is possible. We have used an example on many occasions, the example of minimum wage legislation. The reality is that the Conservatives do not have the courage to move from words to action. The Quebec nation in a united Canada is just window dressing.

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has already publicly committed himself to the need to defend and protect the French fact in Quebec. Speaking of Bill 101, he said in 1997 it was, and I quote, “The opposite of a racist law.” He even told the Canadian Press that Bill 101 was a great Canadian law. In that context, I invite honourable members and, in particular, all members from Quebec, to support this bill.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member.

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Official Languages Act
Private Members’ Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division is deferred to Wednesday, May 14, just before the time set aside for the consideration of private members' business.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

moved that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts)), presented on Wednesday, April 9, be concurred in.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 13th, 2008 / 6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to debate the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

This report raised a number of debates in committee, but basically, it can be summarized by the following text:

Therefore, be it resolved that this Committee, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, recommends that the House of Commons do not proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts) and that the Chair present the report to the House.

Before I explain what led the committee to adopt the report, I would first like to explain what motivated me, as a parliamentarian, to introduce Bill C-327. Why did I introduce this bill? I would remind the House that, in November 1992, a 13-year-old girl by the name of Virginie Larivière presented a petition signed by 1.5 million Canadians to the Canadian government, calling for legislation to reduce violence on television.

At the time, the images spoke volumes. The young girl presented the Conservative government, headed by Brian Mulroney, with a proper petition signed by 1.5 million Canadians. What did the government do then? It decided to accept a voluntary code governing violence on television, to trust radio and television broadcasters. Television broadcasters who signed on to the code committed to not broadcasting programs with scenes of gratuitous violence, to not exposing children to inappropriate programs, and to informing viewers of the content of the programs they chose to watch.

The voluntary code adopted by television broadcasters was the subject of an in-depth study at the time by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. In June 1993, the committee determined that if the voluntary approach proposed to television broadcasters did not work—and it was failing to achieve the goal of reducing violence on television—Parliament should seriously consider legislation.

Now, 15 years later, 15 years after the voluntary code for television broadcasters was introduced, where are we?

The Université de Laval's media studies centre looked at this issue. The latest study available was released in 2004. The media studies centre no longer has the funding to do its work because the federal government decided to cut funding for researchers studying and analyzing programming. Nevertheless, the study found that over 10 years, violence had increased by 286%, 81% of depictions of violence on television were broadcast before 9 p.m., not after peak viewing hours for children, and 29% of movie violence was psychological in nature.

Over the past few years, violence on television has changed. We are seeing proportionally less physical violence and more psychological violence. Numerous studies have shown that the violence to which our children are regularly exposed in movies, and sometimes even in television dramas, influences their behaviour.

The report by Dr. Rudel-Tessier as a result of her coroner's inquest into the death of an 11-year-old boy on December 31, 2005, is still fresh in people's minds. In her report, the coroner described Simon's story.

—Simon [was] a lively, healthy boy with a bit of a sense of adventure. On December 30, 2005, at around 7:00 p.m., Simon and his father decided to watch the movie The Patriot on television.

As the report indicates:

The plans of Simon and his father to watch the movie together changed when an unexpected visitor arrived. The child started to watch the movie alone, and his father promised that he would come and join him. At around 8:10 p.m., the boy was found hanging from the ceiling with The Patriot still playing on the television. The movie was rated “13 and over with violence” in Canada.

According to the coroner [Dr. Rudel-Tessier], there was nothing to indicate that the boy had committed suicide. She said that he had almost certainly been trying to play out a scene from the film shown at 7:34 p.m. where the hero's oldest son is brought by soldiers to be hung from a tree. According to the coroner, Simon may also have been influenced by another scene, which was shown at 8:01 p.m.

Finally, she questioned whether the film should have been shown in the evening, at 7:00 p.m. This example proves that we must establish regulations to reduce violence on television. The voluntary code did not stop a major network from broadcasting Striking Distance, on August 7, 2007, at 8 p.m.; it is rated “18 years and over with violence and coarse language.” Another movie, Cradle 2 The Grave , was shown on September 12, 2007 at 8 p.m.; it is rated “14 years and over with scenes of violence and coarse language.” I believe it is time to take action.

I would remind members that, in June 1993, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture concluded that the self-regulation approach needed to be given a chance. I quote:

However, the committee did agree that if that approach did not work, legislation would need to be considered.

That is the spirit behind Bill C-327. The bill before you today would require the CRTC to adopt regulations to limit—and I emphasize, to limit—and not to prohibit violence on television; to monitor compliance by broadcast licence holders with their obligations concerning violence; to sanction those that violate the rules; and to hold hearings every five years to assess the results of this approach.

The attitude of the government and the Liberal Party of Canada, who refused to study the amendments proposed by the NDP that would improve the bill, is deplorable. In my opinion, in a democratic debate, when a bill is studied by a parliamentary committee, members on the committee must have the opportunity to present and consider amendments.

I would like to thank the NDP member who will speak today for deciding to work on this bill. I would like to say today that it is important and that we will vote—

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage presented April 9, 2008 should be accepted. The report recommends that the House not proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

Violence in society is an issue of profound concern to every Canadian and is of concern to this government in particular.

First, I do want to thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his efforts to bring this bill before Parliament, not just in this session, but also in previous sessions.

The issue of violence in society has been a priority for this government. We continue to address it through initiatives to tackle crime. The age of protection, the age of sexual consent, has been raised from 14 to 16. People accused of gun crimes must now show why they should be on the streets while awaiting trial. There are tough new mandatory minimum penalties for those who commit serious gun crimes.

The tabling of Bill C-327 gave us an opportunity to have a constructive dialogue and to consider our accomplishments in Canada in limiting violence on television and in other media, particularly as it concerns children. It also gave the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of witnesses and gain a better understanding of the best approach to address the issue.

Bill C-327 would amend the Broadcasting Act to add as a policy objective “to contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children”, and would mandate the CRTC to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes.

During the second reading debate, the government explained that the Broadcasting Act already contains the necessary policy objectives and regulatory powers for the CRTC to deal with the issue of violence in broadcasting. It already makes broadcasters responsible for the programs they air and requires their programming to be of high standard.

The Broadcasting Act sets out a number of objectives for the broadcasting system. Central among these objectives is that the system should serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.

The Broadcasting Act also provides that all persons who are licensed to broadcast programs on television have a responsibility for what they air and that all programming originated by broadcasting undertakings should be of high standard.

Furthermore, the act states that the broadcasting 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. In this regard the respect for the freedom of expression of creators and the provision of choice for Canadian audiences are key principles.

Our approach to the reduction of violence in television is one that balances freedom of expression and regulation where necessary, but not necessarily one of increased regulation.

We have systems and industry codes in place, including a code on violence that upholds societal norms of decency and integrity. The current approach gives Canadians the tools to make informed program choices for themselves and their families.

Canadians who have concerns over programming can make a complaint with the CRTC or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent non-governmental organization which administers programming standards, including the code on violence. Both the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council have a rigorous review process in place to investigate complaints.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the committee who worked on this private member's bill, especially for taking time to hear from more than a dozen witnesses and for conducting such a thorough review of the bill.

Violence on television is a sensitive issue and one that concerns us all. The committee heard from key representatives from the CRTC, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, media literacy organizations, teacher organizations, as well as advocacy and civil liberty groups. The committee also heard from children ranging in age who talked openly and honestly about their television viewing habits and their use of the Internet.

The key question we ask ourselves is this: will Bill C-327 achieve the goal of reducing violence in society, particularly as it relates to children?

What we found is that although there was broad support for the goal of reducing violence in society, almost all of the witnesses felt that Bill C-327 was not the right means for achieving that goal. Almost all believed that the regulatory measures contemplated by the bill would not be effective.

We heard that the CRTC already has the powers to make regulations concerning broadcasting of violent scenes and it has done so by requiring as a condition of license that broadcasters adhere to codes regarding violence on television. These codes were developed by the industry in consultation with Canadians and are designed to protect viewers from content they may find to not be to their wishes.

We also heard that the number of complaints concerning violent programming is generally low. From many of the witnesses, we heard that they were concerned with the potential for violations of free expression by the delegation to the CRTC of the power to make regulations respecting broadcasting violent content. We were reminded that Bill C-327 is directed toward the public, not exclusively toward children.

Some witnesses also talked about the difficulty in identifying the root cause of violent behaviour. As evidenced in the preamble, the bill presupposes a relationship between violence on television and violence in society.

However, whether there is a clear causal link between the two remains very much in dispute. There are everyday realities that we as a society must face, one being that we live in a society that unfortunately experiences violence.

The committee heard from many witnesses about the need for education, media literacy and parental engagement. They explained that media education and the fostering of media literacy skills in young people are key elements in any effective strategy to teach children how to be critical and thoughtful about the media they consume.

In contrast, we heard directly from children that they watch virtually anything they want, whether it is on television or the Internet. They questioned the effectiveness of wanting to regulate what they watch on television. With modern technology such as satellite television, digital cable and the Internet, they are able to access content from across Canada and the United States and, for that matter, all over the world.

The proposed bill has a limited ability to deal with these other potential sources of violent content. Therefore, we need to focus on encouraging parents to become more involved in the media choices their children make. We learned that kids and adolescents whose parents supervise their TV viewing and Internet usage are more likely to be aware of the negative impact of media violence.

I must tell members that just today the CRTC appeared before the standing committee to discuss administrative money penalties in testimony today. In regard to these AMPs, as they are known, we are now at the beginning of a process in which the committee is going to undertake to assist in giving a report on the efficacy and advisability of AMPs. The minister is looking forward to that report from the committee.

We are all deeply committed to the safety of our children and want less violence in our society. I do thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for bringing this issue forward. However, witnesses convinced the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal and would not serve Canadians in the long term.

I would therefore at this time encourage all members to accept the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage which recommends that the House of Commons not proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).