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House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-327.

I have to make an admission to the people of Canada that I am a huge fan of action films. In fact, my whole family are fans. On Friday nights, we like nothing better for the world to be hanging in balance while the good guy has to run out and save the planet with two minutes to spare while the planes are flying. I think one of the reasons these films are successful is that they are entertaining and people can tell the difference between the reality of violence and the action film genre, so I have to put that on the record.

However, I am interested in this bill because I believe that there is a difference between seeing the fantasy world of cops and robbers and action hero stuff that we are used to, the sort of comic book entertainment, and the good guy always wins in the end element of film and television. There is a fundamental shift that I am starting to see in terms of three areas.

First, is the increasing level of abusive, degrading and humiliating television that has become a standard staple.

Second, is the relentlessness of the imagery. As we know, our young people are not just watching it on television, they are on the Internet, and there is a relentlessness that is hammered home time and time again.

I think of the third issue, and I find this from my role formerly as a school board trustee. When we talk about empowerment and choice, we are assuming that we are talking about 1950s-style families. I can tell members, as a school board trustee, many of the kids in my community are at home alone when they come home from school because their mom, a single mother, is working or their father is out working. Who are they home with? They are home with the electronic child molester. That is who they are home with.

If we watch the programming that was put in the afternoon slot in the last number of years, we have Maury Povich and Springer. This is absolutely abusive and degrading television. I am concerned that when young people come into class, they do not have the faculties to separate this.

So, what we do have? We have a policy of zero tolerance in our schools. I have seen many kids act out stuff in the schoolyard without even having a sense of what they are doing, and then of course we have to bring in the police to deal with it. I am not talking so much about physical violence being acted out, but some of the abusive stuff that they see on television. So, there is an element there that we can talk about empowering our young people, but if they are home alone, they do not have that choice.

I think this debate today is actually very appropriate, given the very disturbing national conversation that is going on. All around us, Canadians are talking about the Pickton trial.

There is a really interesting debate if we listen to the talk shows. What people are saying is, “I don't want to hear it. I don't want these greasy fingerprints left on my imagination. Have the trial, please, but spare us the grizzly gore”.

What strikes me about this conversation, because I have been listening to the people phoning in, is that people do not want to be desensitized. They do not want to accept a point where they no longer even shrug when they hear these kinds of details. It is a very horrific conversation that we have to have. I was thinking in terms of the Bernardo trial and how I still feel such rage over what I heard about that. We are being asked as a society to cross a terrible Rubicon of the imagination whereby something that once was just a realm of Hollywood is something we have to accept as a reality. As I was thinking of this conversation, I was watching television with my daughter. It was interesting that I saw within a space of one hour two ads for serial killer torture shows that had very gruesome, very graphic and very stylized forms of the torture.

Can our children tell the difference between the allegations at the Pickton farm and these things on television? Of course they can. Just as they can tell the difference when they are playing video games that seem to me to be so much similar to the Dawson shooting. But at a certain point, there is a level of desensitization, and that desensitization has a very profound impact for cultural development.

Ronald Cohen, the chair of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, says very clearly, “In addition, there is no gratuitous or glamorized violence on television at any time of the day or night. Period”.

I was watching 24 with my daughters the other night. They are big fans of Jack Bauer. I am a big fan of Jack Bauer, the actor playing him being the grandson of Tommy Douglas, the great Canadian socialist. Jack Bauer is always there to save the world.

However, there is an interesting debate that has come up about 24 because of the way that people are now beginning to accept the notion that torture is perfectly okay. Jack Bauer can never save the planet unless he tortures somebody. He is very effective in torturing people and because Jack tortures people things work.

I was speaking to an educator who had been talking to a young person about notions of right and wrong and limits of right and wrong. The issue of torture came up. The student said, “Torture is perfectly okay. That's what you do if you're a police officer. That is perfectly acceptable behaviour.” The educator asked, “Why would you think that torture was normal?” The child said, “Jack Bauer has to do it.”

Think of the profound shift that has taken place in the last 10 years. Ten years ago, what was torture? In our imagination that was what thugs did in a Latin American prison. That is what petty gang lords did. However, a conversation now where we have stylized violence, and it is very over the top, it becomes acceptable. Therefore, we become desensitized to it.

Another point Mr. Cohen makes in terms of the reason we do not need standards, that we do not need to impose them here, and he is talking about protecting children. He says, “There can be no themes that threaten a child's sense of security.”

I was watching Fear Factor in my hotel room the other night. Since you might not believe, Mr. Speaker, how outrageous it is I will read the plot description that I picked up off the Internet. This was a plot with families, so it was mothers, fathers and their children on this show. This is a quote from the show. The children will be locked in a box of Madagascar hissing cockroaches that would be poured all over the children. Then the parents would have to use their mouths to transfer roaches from the box to a counterbalance. The pair would then have to get the keys so that the child could find a way to escape from this box where the child was screaming and covered with cockroaches.

The message I infer from this is that child abuse is okay if it is done on prime time, if it is done for entertainment purposes, and it is very clear that it is done for greed because do you know what happens, Mr. Speaker, if the mother manages to pick enough of these Madagascar hissing cockroaches off her screaming child and frees them from this locked box? She will win a 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon. I find this absolutely abominable.

I would like to think that industry would self-regulate, but I think what we are seeing now in terms of abuse on television is that it is self-regulating itself down to the bottom and we should not go along with this. I think at a certain point we have to say as a society that this degradation has to stop. The idea of abusing and humiliating people as a form of cheap entertainment is not acceptable. We do not accept it when our children act it out in the schoolyard. We should not have to accept it as a regular form of entertainment.

Again, I would like to point out that people can say, “Turn it off”, but I know of so many children who are at home alone. They are not reading, they are watching and this is what they are watching.

This leads me to another point that I think has to be made. It is a more subtle point. It is the notion of the breakdown of the self, the self-identity and the self-awareness from watching abusive television again and again by young people. I read a book earlier last year entitled A Is for Ox: the Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in An Electronic Age by Barry Sanders. He made some amazing correlations that what we are seeing in terms of a culture where children are raised strictly on television is the breakdown of literacy, not simply that they cannot read but literate conversation, the sense of self, has disappeared in so many young children. They do not have that construct.

He said that there are profound implications for society when we have children who are raised like this because as they have no sense of self they have no sense of the other. He is definitely making a very clear equation in his work between this rise of cultural illiteracy and a culture of violence, and a casual acceptance of violence.

Therefore, I am very pleased that Parliament has taken the measure to debate this issue. In terms of the New Democrats we believe that this is not an issue of censorship. This is an issue of restoring some fairness to the airwaves and saying to families that they do not have to worry that their children are being preyed upon by the electronic child molester if they have to go out to work.

There have to be some standards. If industry is not willing to meet those standards, then we have to have a national conversation and that conversation, I believe, has to include educators and a broad cross-section of our society. Clearly, it is our purview here within the House of Commons to begin that conversation.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate on Bill C-327 dealing with the reduction of violence in television broadcasts.

Television violence is a problem of such scope that it has been the subject of various, often controversial but always relevant and thought provoking, studies, reports and analyses. More importantly, this issue reminds the elected representatives that we are that, in our society, television has become an omnipresent media whose impact on the most receptive or vulnerable audiences, and I am thinking of our children, should never be underestimated.

At a time when an overwhelming majority of people in Canada and Quebec own at least one television set and spend an average of four hours a day watching this hypnotic box; when new media are being put on the market and the number of available stations keeps increasing; and when television is more and more and increasingly openly blamed for breeding a scourge of our society—and I am referring to all forms of violence—the Bloc Québécois, through the determination and perseverance of the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, whose eloquent plea we have heard and grasped the scope of, could not pass on a relevant debate and another meaningful piece of legislation on the theme of television images of a violent nature and their impact on our youth. That is the raison d'être of his bill to reduce violence in television broadcasts by granting the CRTC additional regulatory powers in this respect, without developing a censorship mentality.

The bill's summary states, and I quote, “This enactment amends the Broadcasting Act to grant the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission the power to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes”.

And here is how the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie introduced his bill at first reading stage:

A recent study by Laval University showed that acts of violence shown on television have tripled since 1994. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Broadcasting Act to create a regulation governing television violence. The CRTC would be responsible for monitoring how large broadcasters apply the regulation that would be created by the bill I am introducing today.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill and salutes the initiative of the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. The Bloc Québécois reminds the House that, beyond self-regulation, we must provide broadcasting with an adequate framework in order to avoid a drift toward sensationalism that does not necessarily reflect Quebec and Canadian values.

The Bloc Québécois believes that young children should not be confronted with violence at a very early age, because this would tend to trivialize it, with the predictable consequences.

As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, violence in our society is an issue that raises concerns among the general public and, indeed, the legislator that each of us represents here. In this regard, we have the responsibility to introduce legislation.

What are the impacts of television on our children? In 1998, a UNESCO study showed that children under the age of 12 were spending an average of three hours a day watching television, that is 50% more than at any other activity.

Children who watch very violent television or films are more likely to become aggressive. There is no doubt about it.

Many reports agree on this. There is an enormous amount of research into the effects of media violence.

Researchers have long wondered whether television violence has such effect on young people that it can actually make them more aggressive. After some 50 years of research into this question, some investigators such as Professor Howell Huesmann of the University of Michigan are convinced that there is evidence of a direct correlation. I quote him:

—exposure to media violence causes children to behave more aggressively and affects them as adults years later.

Professor Huesmann demonstrated that when children imitate the actions of their “media heroes”, they develop “cognitive scripts” that ultimately guide their own behaviour. For example, when their heroes are violent, children internalize scripts in which violence is presented as an appropriate or legitimate method of settling disputes, solving problems or dealing with frustrations.

According to other researchers, the psychological effects are not as important as the physiological effects in the internalization of aggressive behaviour seen on television. These researchers observed that exposure to violent imagery is linked to increased heart rate, faster respiration and higher blood pressure. They think that this simulated "fight-or-flight" response predisposes people to act aggressively in the real world.

Similarly, an American study looked at the effects over 20 years. It showed a modest correlation between shows watched by eight-year-old boys and an aggressiveness indicator 11 years later. Boys who watched a lot of violent shows when they were young had much more serious police records at 30 years of age than other boys. These effects could not be ascribed to other social factors. To quantify this “modest” effect, the researchers said that it was comparable to the effect of tobacco consumption on lung cancer. All the experts in large research associations agree on these proven facts.

I want to emphasize once again that the consumption of televisions shows has certain effects, both direct and indirect. No one will be able to say later that they did not know. I encourage the House, therefore, to show good sense and support Bill C-327.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the federal government I would like to thank the member of Parliament for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his ongoing efforts to reduce violence on television.

The government understands the strong feelings expressed by those opposed to violence on television, especially where children are concerned. The government shares the concerns of parents, teachers and all stakeholders with respect to violence in our society.

Before considering amendments to the current act, I believe it is important to look at the system already in place. The current approach to violence on television protects television viewers, especially children, from the impact of violence. This approach has made it possible to adopt a strategy of cooperation and industry self-regulation, with the support of the CRTC and under its supervision.

As we know, the Broadcasting Act states that broadcasting licensees take full responsibility for the programs they broadcast and that this programming must be of a high standard.

The CRTC is an independent agency responsible for regulating and supervising Canada's broadcasting and telecommunications systems. It reports to Parliament on its activities through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

The Broadcasting Act and the expression of Canadian standards and values guide the work of the CRTC in managing the Canadian broadcasting system and its licensing process and conditions. The CRTC may, in carrying out its mandate, suspend, revoke, amend or refuse to renew a licence if conditions are not met.

Under the CRTC policy, broadcasters must meet licensing conditions and comply with the voluntary code on television violence, the code of ethics, and the sex role portrayal code for television and radio programming developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Moreover, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent self-regulatory body created by its broadcaster members, is responsible for ensuring compliance with codes and industry standards, including the classification system.

The government continues to be concerned about violence on television and ensuring that all industry partners comply with standards to ensure the well-being of our children. I would like to give some background on current activities among the various participants in the classification system.

In 1992 the CRTC focused its activities by setting the following objectives: implement real codes of conduct at the industry level; better inform viewers through program classification; change the attitudes of public education and media education programs; and strengthen the power of television viewers through the V-chip. Canadians are the forefront of addressing violence on TV.

I would like to add that the V-chip technology was developed by Tim Collings of Simon Fraser University, originally from my riding of Perth—Wellington in Downie Township.

Introduced in 1993, the television violence code states that Canadian broadcasters may not air programming that contains gratuitous violence in any form, or which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence. It also states that programming intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 p.m.

In 1997 the Action Group on Violence on Television, an organization representing all sectors of the Canadian broadcasting industry, launched its program classification system. These codes are still in effect. Broadcasting industry representatives, researchers, educators, child mental health experts, parents and the government agencies that were involved continue to promote ongoing dialogue to help people better understand the problem and to create permanent tools to help parents make informed viewing choices for their children.

Canada is also very involved in children's media literacy and in educating children about the various media to which they are exposed. There are media awareness networks that are excellent sources of information about violence on television and that are still in place today.

As we can see from the many parties involved and the regulatory provisions that have been adopted and implemented, such as the codes of conduct adopted by the industry, the public education, and the public awareness programs, we have good management tools to address violence on television in Canada.

The government acknowledges the achievements of all stakeholders involved in the fight against violence and continues to believe in the effectiveness of the current system of self-regulatory codes administered by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and imposed on broadcasters as conditions of licence.

We would also like to underline the vital role that parents and guardians have to play and the fact that they have tools available to them and can make choices to help them better control the television programs presented in their homes.

With the monitoring system already in place to limit violence on television, we have looked at two annual reports that include the issue of limiting violence on television and we have found that few official complaints were made by the Canadian public.

The annual report of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for 2005-06 states that there was a total of 79 complaints relating to the violence code. Six of these complaints related to Quebec television stations. According to the CRTC's broadcast policy monitoring report of 2006, a total of 44 complaints were processed, which represents a significant decrease for 2005 over previous years.

In closing, given these results and the tools that are available as well as the role parents can play, we must question the merits of Bill C-327.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members’ Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, before Christmas I had the opportunity in the House to ask a question of the then minister of social development on the issue of homelessness. I had travelled the country at that point from coast to coast, meeting with people who were struggling with the very terrible challenge of poverty. In every community the issue that came up most often was the question of housing and homelessness. I made a case to the minister that perhaps as a government and a House of Parliament we could declare a state of emergency. At that point, many people had died in a state of homelessness either directly or indirectly as a result of the terrible weather we were facing.

I was disappointed in the response from the minister. It was petty and it was partisan. I thought an issue like homelessness would call for a larger response and a non-partisan response. I thought we could work together to deal with this terrible reality that exists for too many people.

I have now been to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Victoria, Saskatoon and just last week Castlegar and Penticton. Everywhere I go, large numbers of people speak to me about poverty. The common thread is the question of affordable housing and the issue of homelessness.

We have terrible homelessness in our larger centres such as Vancouver and Toronto. It is so cold and yet people are sleeping on the streets. There just is no housing any more. Housing built in the seventies and eighties is deteriorating. There has been no national housing program in our country, particularly under the leadership of the previous government. No affordable housing has been built for about 15 years. The existing affordable housing is deteriorating and falling apart. It is disease ridden. In Vancouver and Toronto I heard about bed bugs and cockroaches and people with TB and pneumonia. That should not exist in a country that is so wealthy and experiencing such prosperity.

I asked the minister to respond to me in terms of what all of us together could do to alleviate that terrible situation.

When I arrived in Calgary, I was shocked and alarmed at the situation that existed. That city probably represents the new wealth and prosperity in the country in a way that no other city does. I spent a good part of the evening at a shelter on a very cold night where between 1,000 and 1,200 people bedded down, and they do this on a nightly basis. City buses will pick up people who cannot get in and take them to the suburbs where they are bedded down on mats in warehouses. There are probably another 100 to 200 beds at places like the Salvation Army, et cetera across the city. They count these people every night. Between 3,500 and 4,000 people are homeless in Calgary. The rest of those folks span out across downtown Calgary. They sleep under bridges and in parks. Meanwhile the municipal council of Calgary is passing laws to make this illegal. Many of these people, because there is no other choice or option it seems--

6:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to tell the hon. member that his time expired a few moments ago.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

6:35 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the new government understands the importance of housing and shelter for those who need it and particularly, as the member described, during bitter winter nights. That is why the government invested $526 million for two major initiatives that were announced on December 19 of last year. The first of these investments will help prevent homelessness and improve the quality of housing for 38,000 low income Canadians.

I note and thank the member's colleague from London—Fanshawe for her kind praise for our accomplishment that she expressed earlier today.

This includes the new homelessness partnering strategy funded at $270 million over two years beginning April 1, 2007. The strategy recognizes that the federal government has a role to play in dealing with homelessness across the country. Leadership, resources and support can come from Ottawa for local solutions created by those with local expertise.

Through partnerships with provinces, territories, other government departments and agencies, municipalities and community groups, we will make significant progress in moving vulnerable Canadians permanently out of homelessness and into homes.

for an example of how this new approach is working, I invite the member to talk to the member for Victoria. Just last week, residents of her riding saw the new government join with the province, the city, regional housing trusts and the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group to open four 3-bedroom homes in a renovated 1909 heritage house.

The government is focusing on a housing first approach that recognizes that housing stability is essential to self-sufficiency and full participation in Canadian society. We are not only talking about people who live in major urban centres. We are also talking about aboriginal people and people in rural and northern communities.

We have listened and will continue to listen to Canadians and to respond to their concerns.

The second side of Canada's new government's strategy is a $256 million investment in a two year extension of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's renovation programs for low income households. These programs will help improve housing for low income people and those who may be at risk of homelessness, including seniors, persons with disabilities, victims of family violence and aboriginal people.

These investments are over and above a one time investment of $1.4 million that was in budget 2006 to help Canadians find safe, adequate, affordable housing through the establishment of housing trusts available to the provinces and territories.

In addition, the government provides approximately $2 billion a year in housing assistance across the country. This funding primarily supports approximately 633,000 lower income householders who live in assisted living projects across the country. Plus, we are creating affordable housing through the $1 billion affordable housing initiative in collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners.

Let me sum up the government's approach to homelessness in the following way. The government's total investment over the next two years will provide concrete, meaningful and lasting results for Canadians who need safe and adequate housing.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, while the parliamentary secretary talks about what the government is doing, more than 3,500 people are sleeping on the streets of Calgary and in shelters and many of them are turning to drugs, crack and crystal meth, which gives them a sense of not being hungry, not being cold and being fearless. The only problem is that the hit lasts five or ten minutes and then they have to go after another, which makes the streets of Calgary a very dangerous place.

The member spoke about a program that was unfolded in Victoria of four 3-bedroom homes. Those home would only house 12 people. I am sure she is aware that there are 700 homeless people in Victoria.

If the minister had told me, when I asked her the question in December, that she was coming forward with a program, I would have been willing to sit down and talk to her about how we might do it better.

I was pleased today with the response of the new minister. At least he recognized that we had a problem and he offered to work with us. He also talked about things that perhaps we could do together.

The member for London—Fanshawe was not thanking the government for these initiatives. She was saying that it was not enough, that this announcement came too late. The agencies that are working day and night, seven days a week, to try to serve the homeless in their communities have no money left. Because the announcement came so late, these agencies will have to shut down before they can access the new money. The member was asking the minister today to commit to some bridge funding for some of those projects.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, as he heard, the money is starting to be delivered.

I was surprised to hear the member's opening remarks. It takes me back to Saskatchewan when he talks about people who have turned to crystal meth and drugs. We have that in our province but we also have an international group called Teen Challenge which has offered some of these people homes because many people who are on drugs are homelessness.

Does the member know what the response was from the NDP Saskatchewan government? Its response was in line with the remarks the member just made? Its response was that it would not support a Christian faith based initiative just because it is Christian based. It is against the Saskatchewan government's better judgment.

Where does that put Teen Challenge and all of these young people? They are coming to the federal government and the federal government this year gave Teen Challenge $50,000 for those homeless people because our provincial government refused to help Team Challenge because it was faith based. Some of these kids are indeed--

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Sorry, but the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:44 p.m.)