An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Bernard Bigras  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of April 25, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

April 25, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

March 6th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for appearing here today.

We're studying a bill here today called Bill C-327, whose purpose is to reduce violence on TV. So this obviously touches on the issue of censorship and the like. On the other hand, we also live in a liberal democracy in which a fundamental principle is that citizens are free to act as they so wish and are free to express themselves as they so wish, provided that this expression or those acts do not harm others or harm others in a way that's unacceptable to society at large.

So we have free expression in this country. That being said, this free expression is limited by libel and slander laws, by the potential harm this expression could cause to others, and so on. There is a lot of jurisprudence around this regarding books and film. Over the years, the Supreme Court's interpretation of this area of law has evolved from one of meeting a community standard involving public decency and public morality to one involving harm--the harm test--whereby what is acceptable or not acceptable is decided on the basis of whether the materials cause harm to others. My question concerns this harm test.

Now, we're studying the issue of television in this bill. Television is satellite, cable; it's not the same as books and film. Books and film are in the private domain, and television and cable and satellite are in the public domain, but I think there are parallels between the jurisprudence that has been developed in the Supreme Court's rulings on books and film and what goes on in television.

So my question for the panellists is whether you can point this committee to any empirically based studies that have been undertaken that make definitive links between violence on TV and harm to others in society.

Mr. Chair, through you, could we start with Madam Wing and hear her response on that?

March 6th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.
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Cathy Wing Co-Executive Director, Media Awareness Network

Thank you.

My name is Cathy Wing. I'm the co-executive director of the Media Awareness Network, Réseau Éducation-Médias.

I'm very pleased to be here today to present this submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as it debates Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act.

We laud the motivation behind this bill protecting the health and the well-being of Canadian children. And we welcome this opportunity to illustrate the critical role that media education plays in supporting the healthy development of children, and in giving Canadian citizens—adults and children—the tools they need to effectively manage media content issues.

Media violence is an issue that educators, broadcasters, parents, and academics have been debating for many years in this country. Throughout this long-standing debate, media education and the fostering of media literacy skills in young people have always been recognized as key elements in any effective strategy to address the issue.

Indeed, the CRTC's 1996 public notice on TV violence stated that although industry codes, classification systems, and technology would play a role, public awareness and media literacy programs represented most of the solution to the issue.

Our organization was born out of a CRTC round table on TV violence in 1995. It was initially formed under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada. Since that time this national, bilingual, not-for-profit education organization has firmly established itself nationally and internationally as a leading centre in media education. Since our inception we've been fortunate to have had the long-standing support of Canadian media industries and the Government of Canada, both through financial contributions and participation on our board of directors.

Our vision is to ensure that Canadian children and youth possess the necessary critical thinking skills and tools to understand and actively engage with media.

Belief in the importance of media literacy in the education of young people is growing in this country. It is now a mandated area of curriculum in every province and territory, and our resources and programs are used in every jurisdiction in Canada by school boards, faculties of education, libraries, and community organizations.

Young people today often are spending more time interacting with media than they are in school. When they're using media—watching television, listening to music on their iPods, surfing the web—they're absorbing a large part of their knowledge about the world and themselves and others. And this informal learning is generally taking place without critical reflection or guidance.

For this reason, it is essential that young people are taught critical thinking skills in order to be thoughtful and engaged users of all media. A media-literate individual has the critical thinking skills to interpret and value media content and to understand media's cultural, political, commercial, and social implications.

One of the primary lessons of media education is that media productions are not reality, but they are deliberate constructions and the result of a series of choices. Media education encourages young people to consider the role of violence in media. Is it essential to the plot of a movie? Is it factored in just for drama or excitement? What are the differences between real-world violence and media violence? Is the violence shown to have realistic consequences or does it trivialize the psychological and physical trauma of real-life violence? How is it used to sell films to international audiences? What is the role of violence in news programming? What are the impacts on society? And how do factors such as age, gender, race, religion, and cultural background affect how we interpret violent media?

The media education curriculum also teaches students that they have a voice and a role to play as active media consumers who can talk to the entertainment industries and express their opinions through the mechanisms we have in place in Canada to address media content issues.

There is a body of research emerging that is examining media literacy as a health promotion strategy. Several studies point to its effectiveness in mitigating potential negative media influences on the physical and mental well-being of children and youth. For example, research has indicated that media literacy lessons incorporated into standard curriculum can help reduce potentially harmful effects of TV violence on very young viewers.

One U.S. study of third and fourth graders who were given a course in media literacy decreased their time spent watching TV, playing video games, and reduced their use of verbal and physical aggression as judged by their peers.

Another study of a year-long media literacy curriculum found children in early grades watched less violent TV and identified less with aggressive characters after the intervention.

Other studies have concluded that media literacy can help high-risk youth develop more responsible decision-making skills. An evaluation of a media literacy intervention program implemented by the Massachusetts juvenile justice system showed that learning to deconstruct media messages helped juvenile offenders think critically about the consequences of risky behaviours and helped them develop strategies to resist these impulses.

Helping to support the healthy development of children and youth through the acquisition of media literacy skills has become more critical than ever as our young people turn to the Internet as their main source of entertainment, information, and communications.

Our media environment has changed considerably since Canada's broadcasting initiatives were introduced to address TV violence. The convergence of media platforms and the availability of wireless communications technologies mean that rating and classification systems and legislation and industry codes and guidelines are no longer enough to protect children, particularly as they increasingly use the Internet to access video games, television, movies, and music.

We were born at the same time as the World Wide Web and we've grown with the Internet. We've watched its potential being realized and we've monitored the risks and concerns associated with its use. It was clear from the start that the Internet would bring new challenges to many of the media issues of concern we were dealing with, particularly media violence.

In 2005 we conducted a national survey of more than 5,200 Canadian students about their Internet use. One-third of kids' favourite websites contained violent content, and 34% of Grade 9 boys said they had visited a violent gore site on purpose. New research from anti-racism organizations shows that violent and hateful content is growing in interactive web environments such as social networking sites and user-generated video sites.

In this new media landscape where our young people are moving beyond geographic and regulatory borders to access media content, responsibility for protecting children is shifting to individual households, schools, and communities. There is no question that media violence is and will continue to be an area of concern to Canadians, as evidenced by the proposed legislation from the honourable member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. As media violence continues to be debated in our public institutions, Media Awareness Network encourages all Canadians to support the practice of media literacy as a key response to media content issues of concern.

Thank you.

March 4th, 2008 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

It's not in haste. In the time it took you to challenge the chair, we could have had it done. That's how long it's going to take.

As chair, I would like to move that the committee adopt a budget in the amount of $8,650 for its study on Bill C-327, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act in regard to reduction of violence in television broadcasts.

(Motion agreed to)

March 4th, 2008 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. von Finckenstein, for being here with us this afternoon to discuss Bill C-327 and its consequences. In your opening statement, you said that the code adopted by broadcasters had been vetted and approved by your organization. You also indicated that the code contained a provision against the broadcasting of scenes of violence intended for a mature audience before 9 p.m.

When you receive a complaint concerning that specific aspect of the code, how do you determine whether a show contains scenes of violence intended for a mature audience? Are there regulations concerning that definition per se?

March 4th, 2008 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Thank you very much.

I'd like to thank all of you for appearing before our committee, and also to commend Monsieur Bigras for his noble intentions in putting his bill forward again.

Mr. von Finckenstein, in your mind, in the opinion of the CRTC, is Bill C-327 simply redundant given the rules system already in place by the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council?

March 4th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
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Konrad W. von Finckenstein Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I thank the committee for inviting us to express our views on Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

The principle aim of the bill, as we understand it, is to contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children.

We assume by “solving”, the bill means that violence should not be glorified or depicted too graphically. By “reducing”, we assume the bill means restricting the most graphic and inappropriate portrayals of violence to time periods when children are unlikely to be watching television.

Given these interpretations of the key terms, we regard the aims of the bill as entirely laudable. These aims are ours as well.

However, it is important to remember that the CRTC does not mandate or dictate programming, but rather ensures that it conforms to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. In particular, the act states that programming should be of a high standard, respectful of equality rights and reflective of Canadian values.

In pursuing these objectives, the act also directs the CRTC to respect freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The system we now have in place to deal with these issues is a collaborative one that relies largely on self-regulation by the industry in accordance with an obligatory code on violence. This code was developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and approved by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC holds the authority to serve as a final arbiter on these issues when required.

Today I will focus on the enforcement of programming standards on violence. I would like to take you briefly through the process to show you how the system works when a complaint is made.

First, the CRTC requires all broadcasters to adhere to a code on violence as a condition of licence. However, it suspends this obligation as long as a broadcaster is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the CBSC, and is therefore bound by the CAB code.

The complainant may bring the issue to the broadcaster or the CRTC. If one of the private broadcasters is involved and that broadcaster is a member in good standing of the CBSC, the complaint may be brought directly to the CBSC, or it is forwarded by the commission to the CBSC, if it comes to us.

The CBSC is an independent organization established by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters with the approval of the CRTC. Once such a complaint is made, the council will determine whether an infraction of the CAB's violence code has occurred.

This is a code that the CRTC regards as an important standard, and its terms provide a framework that is used across all sectors of the industry. Among other things: it prohibits gratuitous violence; it requires that viewer advisories accompany programs with violent content, i.e., the verbal warnings that indicate the nature of the content; it requires broadcasters to display a rating that informs parents of the suitable age groups for the programs; it establishes a watershed hour, such that depictions of violence intended for adult audiences must be broadcast after 9 p.m.; and it sets out detailed restrictions on the portrayal of violence in children's programs.

A private broadcaster who is found to have violated the code must acknowledge the violation with an announcement on the air and must provide the council with evidence that this has been done. If violations of the same kind have occurred more than three times, the broadcaster is required to show within 30 days why they should remain a member in good standing of the CBSC.

When the complaint concerns a public broadcaster such as the CBC, an educational broadcaster, or a broadcaster who is not a member in good standing of the CBSC, it is the CRTC that will hear the complaint. The commission will also hear any complaint in cases where the complainant is not satisfied with the resolution provided by the CBSC.

If the CRTC finds that a violation has occurred, it will issue a public decision to that effect, and this goes on the record of the licensee. Such decisions may be considered when the broadcaster's licence comes up for renewal. Measures, even severe ones, can be imposed at that time. That's the principal difference: with CBSC, it is corrected; with us, not only is it corrected, but it goes on the record and will be considered at the time of renewal.

I have taken you through the enforcement process as it is today so that you may understand our reaction to the bill before you.

We have no problems with clauses 1 and 2 of the bill, given the interpretation I mentioned at the outset. We do, however, have reservations about clause 3, which would add two new sections, identified as 10.1 and 10.2, to the Broadcasting Act. These additions would require the commission to make regulations concerning violent scenes on television, including those in programming intended for children. It would also require the monitoring of compliance and the punishment of non-compliance according to law.

This is contrary to our regulatory approach. For us, it has become a high priority to use regulation as an instrument of policy only when regulation is necessary. That means we will regulate only when no other effective means is available to achieve the desired purpose. When we do regulate, it will be with smarter and lighter regulation.

We believe that the present system, based on industry self-regulation and adherence to obligatory codes, and backed up by the CRTC as the final arbiter, does provide an effective means to achieve the desired purpose. We therefore cannot support the provisions of Bill C-327 that call for prescriptive regulation in lieu of industry self-regulation backed up by conditions of licence.

We do, however, share the aims of this bill when it comes to effective enforcement of our policies governing content standards. For some time, we have felt the lack of a full range of penalties to deal with violations.

Our powers of enforcement would be both stronger and sharper if we were given the power to impose administrative monetary penalties, or AMPs. In other words, the commission should be able to fine a broadcaster for infractions. These fines would be proportionate to the offence. They would be large enough to hurt and serve as a deterrent.

The CRTC has such powers as a means of enforcement under the Telecommunications Act. It strikes us that it is equally needed in broadcasting. At the moment, the only penalties we can impose are either relatively light or excessively heavy. At the light end we have an on-air announcement required by the CBSC or a public decision rendered by the CRTC in response to a complaint. At the heavy end we can shorten the offender's term of licence at renewal time or deny renewal entirely. These are very blunt instruments; we need something in between. Those are the AMPs I mentioned.

If the committee so desires, you could have our legal staff draft the appropriate amendments to Bill C-327, which would replace the proposed sections 10.1 and 10.2 with a system of monetary penalties.

We note that the bill calls for the commission to review the new regulations after five years. Should the bill be enacted with the amendments we suggested, we would have no objection to undertaking such a review.

I thank you for giving me this opportunity to express our views, and we are ready to answer your questions.

March 4th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

There are organizations responsible for issuing ratings. For instance, in Quebec there is the Régie du cinéma du Québec. It is comprised of various specialists who screen all films. It issues a classification based on its series of criteria. It is interesting to point out that what might be considered violent in the United States or cannot be viewed by people under the age of 17 can, in Canada, be seen by 13-year-olds. It really is open to interpretation. There is no definition. There are organizations that rate films, very well, but violence has yet to be defined. If Bill C-327 were to pass, that should be part of the debate. There has to be a debate on a regulatory framework. In my view, it would be a good idea to come up with a definition of violence.

March 4th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

That is an excellent question. Indeed, there is a whole debate on the meaning of violence on television. it is difficult to reach a consensus. As I indicated, there are a number of definitions. One of them is from George Gerbner, a media specialist. Based on his research, he defines violence as “the act of injuring or killing someone or threat of injuring or killing someone.”

A study by the U.S. National Cable & Telecommunications Association considered violence to be: “Any overt depiction of the use of physical force—or the credible threat of such force—intended to physically harm an animate being or group of beings.”

There are several definitions, but there is no consensus on what violence is. I would like to see this committee initiate a social debate prior to the drafting of the regulations, if Bill C-327 were to pass. No, there is no definition. More specifically, there is no definition of psychological violence, simply because there has yet to be a study on the issue. As I mentioned, this is a new phenomenon that has yet to be analyzed. Yes, there are several definitions. But there is no consensus on the definition of physical violence, and even less so on that of psychological violence.

March 4th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Bigras, for having come here this afternoon to present Bill C-327, which was referred to us by the House of Commons further to its passing second reading.

Mr. Bigras, in your bill, are you attempting to define violence? Have you studied the definition of violence on television?

March 4th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Primarily, I suppose, it is because it is a condition of licence that they comply with the code. They cannot have a licence. They cannot broadcast these things.

However, I'd like to ask you very quickly, with regard to the terrible example—and we never minimize the death of children, and I take it as seriously as you do—of The Patriot , which happened to be on television, could that not have been on the television through a rental? Isn't the issue that the parent was not accompanying the child? Isn't that the real issue? If that is the real issue, what difference would Bill C-327 make? The child was not accompanied. It could have appeared on DVD or VHS. As it happened, it appeared on television, and the parent's decision to walk away was obviously something of a contributor. How does Bill C-327 make any difference? I don't understand.

March 4th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

We can indeed take the case of the Power Rangers, but we can also name other cartoons that have been broadcast which are just as violent. I must emphasize that there has been a progression and a gradual increase in the violence that is broadcast on the small screen.

I repeat: over the last few years, there has been an increase in physical violence. Now, violence is more and more psychological. We must tackle the new forms of violence that are completely different from the violence we saw a few years back.

What does Bill C-327 do? If the broadcasters' voluntary code allowed for the resolution of all of the difficulties, why would we not take that same code and use it to draft regulations? There is no impediment to doing that. If the code is legitimate within the framework of a voluntary approach, why would it not be so in the framework of a regulatory approach as is proposed in Bill C-327?

March 4th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Wouldn't you agree that if we take a look back to 1995, there was a particularly offensive violent program called the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, which was a program of some contention. Under the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council that you are referring to, the program disappeared as a result of the direction. Since that time, by the way, there has never been the reappearance of any program like that, nor have there been any complaints of that type.

How do you see that your Bill C-327 would improve on that?

March 4th, 2008 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Absolutely. Violence on television is probably the easiest kind of violence to regulate. The Internet is an open network that is accessible to everyone; its regulation will therefore be very difficult.

As a society, the message we would be sending if we pass Bill C-327 is that we hope to build a peaceful society in Quebec and in Canada, without violence, or discrimination, regardless of sex or origin. This is an important social message that Parliament can send through Bill C-327. The bill deserves to be improved, of course. I hope that there will be the broadest possible debate on the coming regulation.

March 4th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Of course. We absolutely need to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the protection and best interest of our children. It is important not to limit freedom of expression, but we need to guarantee that our children have quality television.

To begin with, the bill does not specify what the regulations should be. It simply states that regulations concerning violence on television must be added to the Canadian Broadcasting Act. The regulations would be defined through public debate, in which parliamentarians could perhaps participate through the Committee on Canadian Heritage. Ideally, the draft regulations should be reviewed by parliamentarians.

Second, regarding appropriate broadcast times, there is no intent here to prohibit a given film from being broadcast. That must be very clear. To do so would be unconstitutional and a violation of people's freedom of expression. It simply says that the broadcast time must be appropriate. Would it be possible for films rated “13 years and over with violence” or “18 years and over with violence and coarse language” to be shown after prime time for children? Is that 9:00 p.m.? Is it 10:00 p.m.? That issue is still being debated. There needs to be a debate about it.

In my opinion, it is clear that the Canadian Broadcasting Act needs to have regulations in this area. That is the objective of Bill C-327.

March 4th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank the committee for allowing me to appear. I have prepared a short brief, which I have unfortunately not had time to translate, given the short lead time for today's meeting.

Colleagues, in November 1992, a 13-year-old girl named Virginie Larivière, who had just lost her sister in a heinous crime, submitted a petition to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that was signed by over 1.5 million Canadians calling for legislation to reduce violence on television. At the time, this young girl's action provoked a great deal of public debate about the role of the government, broadcasters and parents in the face of the ubiquitous violence shown on the small screen.

The response from broadcasters and the CRTC was swift. A few months later, in 1993, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, brought in the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, which was developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

By signing on to the code, private broadcasters in Canada publicly endorsed the following principles: that programming containing scenes with gratuitous violence not be broadcast; that young children not be exposed to programming that is not age-appropriate; and that viewers be informed of the content of programs that they choose to watch.

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

Where are we 15 years on? An analysis done by Laval University's Media Study Centre in December 2004 indicated that the number of acts of physical violence on television had increased by 286% in 10 years, with 81% of those acts of violence occurring in programming beginning before 9:00 p.m. and 29% occurring in psychological films.

Of course, the figures can be presented in different ways, but it is clear that television violence is widespread to the point that it influences the behaviour of our young people. It has to be concluded that the voluntary approach used with broadcasters does not seem to have given the desired results 15 years after the voluntary code was adopted.

In Quebec, the report by Dr. Catherine 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 as 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, 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 at 7:00 p.m.

Similarly, under the voluntary code, the French version of the movie Striking Distance was shown at 8:00 p.m. on a major network on August 16, 2006; it was rated “18 years and over with violence and coarse language” and the movie Cradle 2 the Grave was shown in its French version on September 12, 2007, at 8:00 p.m.; it is rated “14 years and over with scenes of violence and coarse language.”

I sincerely think that it is time to act.

I would remind you that, in 1993, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture, which is now the Committee on Canadian Heritage, concluded that self-regulation needed to be given a chance to work. However, the committee agreed that if that approach did not work, legislation would have 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 violence on television, force it to monitor compliance by broadcast licence holders with their obligations concerning violence, and sanction those that violate the rules, as well as require it to hold hearings every five years to assess the results of this approach.

In closing, over 15 years after adoption of the voluntary approach, it is clearly time to take a regulatory approach. Our children and the teachers that work with them day-to-day deserve it.

Thank you very much.