Mr. Speaker, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage presented April 9, 2008 should be accepted. The report recommends that the House not proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).
Violence in society is an issue of profound concern to every Canadian and is of concern to this government in particular.
First, I do want to thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his efforts to bring this bill before Parliament, not just in this session, but also in previous sessions.
The issue of violence in society has been a priority for this government. We continue to address it through initiatives to tackle crime. The age of protection, the age of sexual consent, has been raised from 14 to 16. People accused of gun crimes must now show why they should be on the streets while awaiting trial. There are tough new mandatory minimum penalties for those who commit serious gun crimes.
The tabling of Bill C-327 gave us an opportunity to have a constructive dialogue and to consider our accomplishments in Canada in limiting violence on television and in other media, particularly as it concerns children. It also gave the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of witnesses and gain a better understanding of the best approach to address the issue.
Bill C-327 would amend the Broadcasting Act to add as a policy objective “to contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children”, and would mandate the CRTC to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes.
During the second reading debate, the government explained that the Broadcasting Act already contains the necessary policy objectives and regulatory powers for the CRTC to deal with the issue of violence in broadcasting. It already makes broadcasters responsible for the programs they air and requires their programming to be of high standard.
The Broadcasting Act sets out a number of objectives for the broadcasting system. Central among these objectives is that the system should serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.
The Broadcasting Act also provides that all persons who are licensed to broadcast programs on television have a responsibility for what they air and that all programming originated by broadcasting undertakings should be of high standard.
Furthermore, the act states that the broadcasting system should encourage the development of Canadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity. In this regard the respect for the freedom of expression of creators and the provision of choice for Canadian audiences are key principles.
Our approach to the reduction of violence in television is one that balances freedom of expression and regulation where necessary, but not necessarily one of increased regulation.
We have systems and industry codes in place, including a code on violence that upholds societal norms of decency and integrity. The current approach gives Canadians the tools to make informed program choices for themselves and their families.
Canadians who have concerns over programming can make a complaint with the CRTC or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent non-governmental organization which administers programming standards, including the code on violence. Both the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council have a rigorous review process in place to investigate complaints.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the committee who worked on this private member's bill, especially for taking time to hear from more than a dozen witnesses and for conducting such a thorough review of the bill.
Violence on television is a sensitive issue and one that concerns us all. The committee heard from key representatives from the CRTC, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, media literacy organizations, teacher organizations, as well as advocacy and civil liberty groups. The committee also heard from children ranging in age who talked openly and honestly about their television viewing habits and their use of the Internet.
The key question we ask ourselves is this: will Bill C-327 achieve the goal of reducing violence in society, particularly as it relates to children?
What we found is that although there was broad support for the goal of reducing violence in society, almost all of the witnesses felt that Bill C-327 was not the right means for achieving that goal. Almost all believed that the regulatory measures contemplated by the bill would not be effective.
We heard that the CRTC already has the powers to make regulations concerning broadcasting of violent scenes and it has done so by requiring as a condition of license that broadcasters adhere to codes regarding violence on television. These codes were developed by the industry in consultation with Canadians and are designed to protect viewers from content they may find to not be to their wishes.
We also heard that the number of complaints concerning violent programming is generally low. From many of the witnesses, we heard that they were concerned with the potential for violations of free expression by the delegation to the CRTC of the power to make regulations respecting broadcasting violent content. We were reminded that Bill C-327 is directed toward the public, not exclusively toward children.
Some witnesses also talked about the difficulty in identifying the root cause of violent behaviour. As evidenced in the preamble, the bill presupposes a relationship between violence on television and violence in society.
However, whether there is a clear causal link between the two remains very much in dispute. There are everyday realities that we as a society must face, one being that we live in a society that unfortunately experiences violence.
The committee heard from many witnesses about the need for education, media literacy and parental engagement. They explained that media education and the fostering of media literacy skills in young people are key elements in any effective strategy to teach children how to be critical and thoughtful about the media they consume.
In contrast, we heard directly from children that they watch virtually anything they want, whether it is on television or the Internet. They questioned the effectiveness of wanting to regulate what they watch on television. With modern technology such as satellite television, digital cable and the Internet, they are able to access content from across Canada and the United States and, for that matter, all over the world.
The proposed bill has a limited ability to deal with these other potential sources of violent content. Therefore, we need to focus on encouraging parents to become more involved in the media choices their children make. We learned that kids and adolescents whose parents supervise their TV viewing and Internet usage are more likely to be aware of the negative impact of media violence.
I must tell members that just today the CRTC appeared before the standing committee to discuss administrative money penalties in testimony today. In regard to these AMPs, as they are known, we are now at the beginning of a process in which the committee is going to undertake to assist in giving a report on the efficacy and advisability of AMPs. The minister is looking forward to that report from the committee.
We are all deeply committed to the safety of our children and want less violence in our society. I do thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for bringing this issue forward. However, witnesses convinced the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal and would not serve Canadians in the long term.
I would therefore at this time encourage all members to accept the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage which recommends that the House of Commons not proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).