moved that Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-327 respecting violence in television broadcasts, which I am sponsoring in this House. I would like to start by reviewing the context in which this bill was introduced last spring.
One day during the winter of 2000, I was sitting in my living room in the early evening, watching TV with my daughter, Marie-Noël, who was three years old at the time. That is when I noticed how captivated, almost hypnotized, my daughter was by scenes of violence in a movie broadcast on the public network.
That is what prompted me, a few months later, to introduce a bill to reduce violence in television broadcasts. Sadly, the bill was not deemed votable at that time, but it nonetheless allowed me to mobilize parents, teachers, child care stakeholders and others in civil society who were concerned about our children's future, to send the government a clear message: it had to regulate violence in television broadcasts.
Today, six years later, Marie-Noël is nine years old, not much younger than the 11-year-old boy whose death, according to Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier, was directly linked to violent scenes broadcast on public television during prime time which he attempted to recreate. In April, the coroner concluded that the current measures to protect our children from violence in television broadcasts were insufficient. She encouraged broadcasters to move shows rated 13 and over past 9 p.m.
That is what Bill C-327, which I am currently sponsoring and which is being debated in the House today, is proposing. Under this bill to amend the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, would develop regulations limiting violence in television programming, ensure compliance by licence holders and provide for penalties to be imposed on offenders.
Why regulate now?
In spite of the revised adoption in 1993 of the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the violence aired on television continues to increase. According to an analysis conducted by the Centre des médias at the Université Laval in December 2004, acts of physical violence on television have risen by 286% in ten years; and 81% of violent acts occur in programs beginning before 9 p.m. Furthermore, 29% of the acts of violence in films are psychological in nature.
Sure, some people will say that we can play with the figures, but one piece of evidence is certain: there is enough violence on television to influence the behaviour of our young people. We can only conclude that the voluntary approach by broadcasters does not seem to have produced the results hoped for since, some 15 years after the adoption of the voluntary code, television violence continues to increase, as indicated by the Centre des médias at the Université Laval.
Obviously complete censorship is not an option. I repeat, full censorship is not an option, because it would not be an appropriate response in a democratic society like ours, in which freedom of expression is one of its cornerstones.
To my mind, only a regulatory approach based on the necessary balance between freedom of expression and the protection of our children would offer diversified programming respectful of the various clienteles.
The recent demands, made just last week, by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, for regulations that would prohibit programs with violent content from being aired before 9 p.m., are consistent not only with the spirit of the recommendation made by Coroner Rudel-Tessier, but are also in keeping with Bill C-327, which I am sponsoring today.
The Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the CSQ, which represents 172,000 members, including 100,000 teaching staff—who are in daily contact with our children—was among the first to applaud this bill.
The tragic story of the ten-year-old American and the nine-year-old Pakistani who accidentally hanged themselves by wanting to imitate Saddam Hussein remind us that, even though regulation of television violence is something that must be addressed, it is not a substitute for parental vigilance when it comes to not only the content of television programs, but also video games and Web sites.
The fight I began in 2000 has been fought by activists, daycare stakeholders and teachers.The first name that springs to my mind when I talk about the important fight I am fighting for the protection of our children is that of a young girl, now an adult, and someone you probably knew, Mr. Speaker. Her name is Virginie Larivière. Some years ago, she presented the Conservative government of the day a petition with 1,3 million signatures. The petitioners were Canadian and Quebec citizens who asked for regulations to reduce violence on television.
That young girl, about 10 at the time, introduced that petition it was because we already noticed in the 1990's that there had been an increase in the number of violent scenes on television despite the voluntary code the broadcasters had adopted for themselves in 1987. Despite that code, which was revised in 1993, the figures from the Centre d'études des médias of Laval University were revealing. Between 1995 and 1998, they showed an almost 50% increase in violent acts on television. The scenes of violence children could see—that is during programs broadcast before 9 p.m.—were also clearly on the rise. In 1998, 92% of violent acts were shown before 9 p.m.
The study also showed that one out of every two acts of violence in the study was either a gratuitous representation or unnecessary to understanding what was going on.
In 2000, these 1998 figures alerted me to this issue. Initially, it was my daughter who brought it to my attention, but after finding out more from media specialists, I concluded that TV violence was indeed on the rise. That made the 2000 bill very relevant.
Quebec's civil society leaders and artists mobilized. Why? Because the bill did not seek to limit freedom of expression. It simply sought to restrict programs with violent content to airing after 9 p.m., when children are not watching. It was not, and it still is not, censorship. It was just about adjusting broadcasters' schedules to ensure they respected all members of the viewing public.
This bill seeks to regulate violence on TV.
I would encourage the members to read this bill. It does not even say that violent programs should air only after 9 p.m. That is what I think should happen, and that is the approach I would recommend. This bill merely proposes creating a regulation within the Broadcasting Act so that the CRTC will be responsible for ensuring compliance among licensees and punishing them accordingly.
To what extent should they be punished?
Often, in various environmental files, big polluters get off with light punishments. We cannot let that happen here. The regulatory regime may specify punishment according to the circumstances of the non-compliance. Section 32 of the Broadcasting Act provides that a corporate broadcaster that contravenes CRTC regulations—in this case, a future regulation—may be liable to a fine as high as $250,000 for a first offence and as high as $500,000 for a subsequent offence.
In essence, with this bill, we are asking broadcasters to be good corporate citizens. It is important to understand that our airwaves are public and that we, the public, therefore bear some responsibility for them. But broadcasters have a responsibility to broadcast information that is accurate and does not convey stereotypes, prejudices, racial slurs or statements designed to undermine our society's fundamental rights. We must ensure that our public airwaves respect everyone's rights.
This bill therefore strikes a balance. I know that some of my colleagues believe that this bill could violate the right to freedom of expression. In an attempt to address this concern, we have proposed that violent scenes be broadcast after 9 p.m.
I am pleased to introduce this bill today. As recently as yesterday, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the CSQ, took a clear stand on this bill. The more than 172,000 members of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec decided to support this bill, simply because they work in education.
Anyone who has seen what goes on in our schools and daycare centres will understand why these people are clearly saying that there is a connection between what our children watch and how they behave. It is true of movies and it is sometimes true of cartoons, because cartoon formats changed several years ago.
In order to provide our educators and teachers with tools, we have to create a society that is as non-violent as possible. Of course, this bill will not reduce violence in our society. It is not the answer to violence in our society. There are other areas where we have to take action. I am thinking of the Internet and video games, but this Parliament could certainly take an important step by making sure that our airwaves are less violent and that we can live in a society that is as non-violent as possible.