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.