moved that Bill C-374, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Customs Tariff (prohibited toys), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time since I was elected to the House in 1993 that I have introduced a bill. I introduced this bill, but it was inspired by people in my riding, who took up this fight. I will describe this later in greater detail.
I will first explain what the thrust of this bill is before talking about a broader problem, namely the violence our children are exposed to on a daily basis in society at large. As lawmakers we have to ask ourselves whether we provide the best possible framework to regulate this whole area.
The purpose of my bill is to ban the manufacture, importation, marketing and sale of toys with instructions—and this is the significant point—that clearly encourage violent behaviour. I make this distinction because the toy might appear innocent enough, but the instructions are not.
This is what happened to one of my constituents who bought a doll, more specifically a troll, for her children. At first glance, on the shelf, the toy was quite appealing, and there did not seem to be a problem. Then one day she saw the instructions accompanying the doll, which said “To keep your troll happy, beat it, shut it up in the dark, deny it all possible happiness” and so on.
This is where the problem begins, because it is totally bad taste. It is inappropriate even and unacceptable that this sort of message accompanying toys should appear on the market without impunity.
Obviously, a person faced with this situation would react first by saying “That must not be legal. I am going to find out”. Ms. Ayotte, who is a resident of my riding, therefore checked around and finally discovered that it was a perfectly legitimate practice and nothing prevented it. That led her to give thought to the greater problem of violence in general.
I come back to my bill, which concerns toys specifically. However, I would like there to be a much broader debate than just the focus of my bill, because the problem of violence is much broader.
My bill aims to introduce a prohibition in the Criminal Code, to create a criminal offence for these kinds of instructions. I will read the description of Bill C-374 in the summary accompanying it:
The purpose of this enactment is to prohibit the sale to persons under the age of eighteen years, the offer for sale in a place to which persons under the age of eighteen years reasonably have access or the importation into Canada of a doll together with a label or writing urging any person to mistreat the doll or cause it to suffer injuries or degrading acts, or the packaging of which contains such a label or writing.
Why was the word doll included in the bill? It was included because words have meaning in our language, and the word “doll” means an object with a human form. So, obviously, the link is even more direct when a person is encouraged to inflict injuries on or treat in a degrading manner an object with a human form.
Probably far more can be done. My approach is aimed at banning this practice, using a specific example. I am sure, however, that a number of improvements can be made to this bill.
It can be broadened to encompass all toys, although the point needs to be made that a toy per se may be relatively inoffensive. The problem lies far more with the use a child is invited to make of it.
Coming back to the action taken by some people in my riding, Mrs. Ayotte, who has five young children, set up a team, with community support. The university provided researchers. She started up a petition, which has taken on the form of a giant jigsaw puzzle, and which people were invited to sign to indicate their wish to see society take steps to decrease the violence with which our children are confronted.
To date, the petition initiated by Mrs. Ayotte has been signed by 400,000 people. The puzzle-petition, which has turned into the project “Joue-moi la paix”, has been exhibited on two occasions, one of them before this House. Unfortunately, when they came to put it together in front of parliament, it was election time, and most MPs were unable to see it.
It was also assembled in the riding of Rouyn—Noranda, and at that time all necessary steps were taken to get it into the record book, as it is the biggest jigsaw puzzle ever put together in the world. In the updated version of the Guinness Book of Records , the biggest puzzle in the world is associated with the “Joue-moi la paix” project.
The mayor of Rouyn was in attendance. So was our bishop, Mgr. Jean-Guy Hamelin. A large number of citizens came that day, which became a day of celebration in Rouyn-Noranda. They came to sign this puzzle, if they had not already done so, or to see it being assembled.
The group had a much loftier goal than my bill, and it conducted much broader research. In the process, some became more knowledgeable. Mrs. Ayotte met with officials from the Department of Justice to submit her project to the government, asking that steps be taken to reduce the number of violent stimuli to which children are confronted on a daily basis.
Should we not be concerned about the violence shown through video games and on television? A debate was held in the House on this issue. A petition signed by a large number of people was also initiated by a young woman, following a tragedy that had triggered a debate on the violence shown on television. The government followed up on this to see if additional measures should be taken.
We need only think of recent events in our society. The tragedy that occurred in Denver, Colorado, where two young men entered a high school and killed several of their fellow students, is still fresh in our minds. The same thing happened last week, in Alberta, where a young man was killed and another injured because teenagers entered the school with weapons. It was terrible.
Obviously, there is no legislation, regulation or measure that can guarantee us protection from this sort of catastrophe indefinitely. Far from it. However, particularly in light of recent events, we should ask ourselves if we are doing all we can as individuals, as parents, and also as members of parliament, as the lawmakers of our society.
We can be glad that there has been much less overall violence in Quebec and in Canada than in the United States, for instance, but we are not isolated from trends that originate there and eventually come our way.
The research showed that most of the toys I mentioned originated in the United States, but they still end up in our stores. With the way companies operate, and distribution networks and free trade zones, the marketplace takes in all of North America, the whole world. It is not true that, because they are made somewhere else, we are completely free from them. They end up in our businesses and they have an impact.
At the dawn of new phenomena such as the Internet or satellite TV, we will have less and less control over these things, in the near future. We will not be able to deny people direct access to American channels. We will be able to regulate less and less. It will come directly on the computer, which will be hooked up to the TV. People will make their own choices about what they want to watch.
What can we do? I would like to have the Standing Committee on Justice consider not specifically the focus of the bill but to consider what we can do. Can we do something?
There are experts in the field. We have seen a little more of this with the events in Colorado and Alberta, in the information programming on television and in all sorts of public debates. Questions have been raised, phenomena discussed. There are people who are experts in this area.
Is a child really influenced growing up in this environment? Maybe yes, maybe no. I do not claim to know for sure. I think it does have an influence.
Why not debate the matter with these experts, who will give us their opinion. It seems to me we study enough things here, for a question of such importance to be studied, particularly after the recent events.
Avoiding demagoguery and remaining realistic, I am not trying to tell the government that what I am proposing is a magic solution, far from it. This is not a simple or easy issue. We can never be fully protected from phenomena or actions that are violent, gratuitous, incomprehensible and unexplainable. They result in individuals feeling so desperate and aggressive that they can go as far as killing others. This kind of occurrence can never be completely prevented. It will probably never be fully understood, either, but there are a certain number of things that can be done.
Within my very specific bill, it seems to me that what I am asking for is not unrealistic. Moreover, when a toy, which may be merely totally tasteless in itself, also comes with instructions which, as the bill says, urges any person to adopt a violent behaviour or commit degrading acts, appropriate action must be taken against those behind the marketing of these toys. We are not talking of disproportionate penalties to be made part of the Criminal Code. The bill speaks of maximum fines of $25,000 for manufacturers and, in very serious cases, a sentence not to exceed six months. This would not be the first time penalties would be applied, but it would not be a bad thing to send a message to those tempted to make money from such gadgets.
The message would be: “In Canada, the Criminal Code contains provisions that prevent you from doing that, so take care”. Public pressure will always be very useful. The companies that will be judged negatively by the consumers because they sell such products will suffer the consequences. The vast majority of people find this unacceptable.
Moreover, this measure would make it illegal to do such things. The price to pay would be very high, not just in terms of the fine imposed, but also because of the negative publicity that would follow. If this bill became the law, it would be a deterrent.
Before concluding, I should point out one thing. I am not saying that this is the sole responsibility of government.
As parents—I myself am a young parent—we have a responsibility to our children. The best guarantee against all this is certainly the way we approach these issues with our children. The family setting, friends and the environment in which children grow are more effective than most laws.
Still, it is appropriate to start a debate on this issue and to expand it to allow people to express their views on it.
Unfortunately, my bill was not selected as a votable item. This means that, at the end of this hour, we will have heard nice speeches but little action will be taken. I am hoping this bill can be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice. The committee could, of course, conduct this review on its own terms, but the best guarantee would be to make the bill a votable item in the House, so that it would be referred to a committee between second and third reading.
I am asking all the members of this House—even though this is not very appealing, since it only launches the debate—to give their unanimous consent to put this bill to a vote after debating it.