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CANADA

Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage


NUMBER 025 
l
2nd SESSION 
l
39th PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

  (1530)  

[English]

    Welcome to everyone. I call the meeting to order. This is meeting 25 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
    Today we will start with some committee business. We have a notice of motion from the Honourable Denis Coderre.
    Mr. Coderre.

[Translation]

    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    As agreed at our last meeting, we have a motion. My intention was to make a motion introduced simply by the words "Therefore be it", but after discussing the matter with the clerk, we decided that this would not be enough. I needed to specify the rationale and I can discuss it. I am also open to amendments.
    But we must remember Bill C-10 and the fact that points have been discussed that have a direct bearing on audiovisual productions and therefore on television content. I thought that the bill would eventually make its way back here if there were amendments in the Senate. So I felt that it was somewhat redundant to continue studying the bill before us, however noble its goal. I feel that everyone is in favour of freedom of expression and that we all agree that we have responsibilities.
    But given that work is presently proceeding on Bill C-10 and that this cause and effect link might cause us to amend Bill C-327, I asked, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, that the House of Commons proceed no further with Bill C-327 and that the Chair present the report to the House. Therefore, I so move.

[English]

    Thank you.
    Mr. Abbott.
    Mr. Chair, I recognize the reasons as enunciated by my friend. I wonder if he might be open to three points of amendment. There is some respectful difference of opinion between us on the issue of Bill C-10.
    I recommend that we delete the causal clauses up to the final paragraph and use the following three points:
- Bill C-327 has a laudable goal of seeing a reduction of violence in society, particularly as it relates to children;
- Notwithstanding this goal, witnesses convinced the committee that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal;
- The committee unanimously supports freedom of expression, including in the media of film and television;
And then the final clause.
    I respectfully recommend that as an amendment. I think it's something we can agree to. We don't really need to engage in the dialogue on Bill C-10.
    I apologize, Mr. Chair, I have it only in this form. I'd be very pleased to read it again.

  (1535)  

    Could I have it? Thank you.
    Do you want me to read the amendment again?
    Fine.
    So these points would be replaced by three that say....
    May I read it?
    Yes, if you would read your writing.
    Yes. It would read as follows:
- Bill C-327 has a laudable goal of seeing a reduction of violence in society, particularly as it relates to children;
- Notwithstanding this goal, witnesses convinced the committee that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal;
- The committee unanimously supports freedom of expression, including in the media of film and television;
    Thank you.
    We can debate the amendment.
    Mr. Bigras.

[Translation]

    Mr. Chair, I understand the spirit of my colleague Mr. Coderre's motion. I also understand that the amendments the government has decided to make are friendly, but it seems clear from the four points in his preamble that the member is trying to suggest an ill-intentioned link between bills C-10 andC-327
    I have to ask members to recall that Bill C-327, right in its preamble that I invite them to read, makes it clear that the creative freedom of artists in the television industry must be protected. It is also clear that censorship is no solution. In its very principle, the bill rules out censorship and promotes freedom of expression. It is clear that, in its very spirit, my colleague's motion seeks to suggest ill-intentioned links. What does the bill do? It does not seek to become involved in the content of a production. Not one section of this bill seeks to become involved in the content of film productions.
    Moreover, the bill does not seek to forbid the showing of films. It simply seeks to put limits on when some films can be shown. Some people have suggested that Bill C-327 is not the appropriate way to attain our goal of reducing violence in our society. I just remind them that the association representing Ontario school boards sent a letter to each member of this committee indicating its support for regulations requiring that films containing violence and rated 13 years and over should be broadcast after 9:00 p.m.
    Furthermore, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the biggest education association in Quebec, clearly told us that it also wanted regulations. I deplore the link that my colleague Mr. Coderre is making. I do not know whether he is doing so because he wants to make his mark in his new portfolio, but this approach is, in my view, purely partisan, ill-intentioned and attempts to establish links that do not exist. The bill clearly rejects censorship and supports freedom of creative expression. This bill has received support from the Centrale des syndicats du Québec and the Ontario school boards association. Teachers want it, as do others who work with our children every day.
    Mr. Chair, I think that my colleagues should show some political courage and at least allow this bill to be studied. That is the least we can do. How do we explain that Liberal members came out in favour of the principle of studying this bill in committee and then made a motion to put an end to all debate and stop committee study of the very same bill? It is totally unacceptable.
    We are going to oppose this motion and its friendly amendments. I hope that my colleagues have the political courage to do as my NDP colleague has done and make amendments. Parliament, the House of Commons, wishes the bill to be studied here. I can understand that it may be amended, but we must remember that it is the wish of Parliament, supported by the Liberal Party of Canada, that this bill be studied in committee.

  (1540)  

[English]

    Mr. Siksay, and then Mr. Coderre.
    Thank you, Chair.
    I'm in a bit of a bind with the motion and the amendment at this moment, because I have tabled amendments with the committee that I would like to have an opportunity to see discussed at committee. My understanding is that if we vote for this amendment and this motion, it would make the clause-by-clause consideration redundant, and those amendments wouldn't be considered. That being said, should my amendments fail, I would support a motion that called for us not to report this bill back to the House, and I would support the amendment put forward by Mr. Abbott.
    On the amendment, I don't believe it's fair to link the discussion of Bill C-10 with the consideration of Bill C-327. I don't think it does justice to the work of Mr. Bigras on this issue. Although it was part of the context when we heard the debate on Bill C-27 and the concerns about Bill C-10 and censorship, I think it is unfair to link the two of them in this way, as Monsieur Coderre suggested in his original motion.
    So I would support Mr. Abbott's amendment and the motion, but only should my proposed amendments fail. I think it's important that we look at these amendments, Chair, because I think we heard from many witnesses that the issue of violence on television is important to many people. Mr. Bigras has already indicated who some of these organizations are, and we've heard from some others. From listening to these witnesses, we know that there was also a concern that nothing we do be seen as censorship. I think if you consider the amendments I have proposed, you'll see that I've been very careful to remove any references that might support censorship in the original bill and to replace them with suggestions that are in place through some informal mechanism of adoption by the CRTC when it comes to codes of standards and ethics by the broadcasting industry, but that also emphasize what we heard from many witnesses, the need for media literacy or media awareness education, and it adds that to this legislation.
    I think it is possible to find something helpful from this bill, and I want to commend Mr. Bigras for being so persistent in bringing this issue forward, because it is something that is of concern to so many Canadians and to so many people around this table. But I would like to see us have the opportunity to discuss the amendments.
    So Mr. Chair, given that long preamble, I'm going to support Mr. Abbott's amendment, but when we get back to consideration of the main motion, I'm going to propose that we table it, so that we can consider the amendments that I put forward. And should they fail, I'll be the first person to move that we remove this amended motion from the table so that we can consider it after that process.

  (1545)  

    Mr. Coderre.

[Translation]

    Mr. Chair, I cannot have my cake and eat it too. As my NDP colleague has rightly said, we should not report to the House and drop clause-by-clause consideration just because I want more information. I understand everyone's sensibilities.
    I ask my colleague Mr. Bigras not to take this personally. I am a parent myself and I have been in the House for 11 years. No one here has a monopoly on the truth. Nevertheless, I am persuaded by the arguments of my colleague, Mr. Abbott. As I have said from the outset, BillC-10 is a problem for me because it has implications on the content of audiovisual productions. However, I defer to the arguments made by Mr. Abbott and by other colleagues. We can remove my "whereas" sections that refer to Bill C-327. I concur with that entirely. I can even, if he wishes, withdraw my proposals and endorse his. I have no problem with that.
    If my NDP colleague wanted to propose amendments...In fact, the media themselves may have legitimate and valid concerns about the idea. We are playing with broadcast times. Parents also have a responsibility for the way in which their children watch television. I also understand that the government, with its regulatory power, has a responsibility here too.
    So I defer to my colleagues' arguments. As the NDP, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, our duty was to study a bill for the House in its context. We have done our homework. Witnesses have appeared and people have done a fine job. The principles remain, except that as we do this study, we realize that Standing Order 97.1 can be applied. We feel that the Chair does not have to report to the House and that, in the light of everything we have done, we should stop work immediately. This is why I agree completely with the amendment. I will remove all the "whereases" that I proposed.
    I would like to remind you that, at the outset, I said that, in my book, as Stan, the great coach in Les Boys might say, the motion was "be it therefore". But for reasons provided by the clerk, I came to understand that we also needed to give clear reasons to justify invoking Standing Order 97.1.
    That is what I had to say, Mr. Chair.

[English]

    Okay.
    Mr. Del Mastro, welcome to the committee.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I want to speak very briefly to my support for the motion with the amendment. I think it recognizes the will of the overwhelming majority of the members on the committee. We could probably talk about the various merits of the bill, and I'd like to commend the member for his intent behind the bill, because I think the intention is good. I just don't think it's going to get us where we need to go. Given that there's seemingly very strong support for the amended motion, I'd like to see us vote on that motion and move forward, because I think we're going to speak glowingly of the amendments for a while here, and that may not be necessary.
    Okay. I have three people on the speaking list. I have Mr. Fast, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Abbott.
    Mr. Fast.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Chair, I would ask that my name be left on the speakers list, but I'll make my comments when we're dealing with the main motion.
    Okay.
    Mr. Scott.
    On a point of order, Chair, if we've accepted Mr. Abbott's amendment as a friendly amendment, are we not back on the main motion? I'd like you to clarify the process.
    We need to vote on it.
    We haven't voted on it.
    So Mr. Abbott's amendment is still standing?
    That's right. We're still speaking to the amendment.
    Okay.
    Mr. Scott.
    At the risk of glowing slightly less than some others, in the spirit of the interventions we've received, I think there are just a couple of things.
     I think the reference to violence did not speak particularly to kids. Am I right? I think it should. It's a reasonable thing that Mr. Bigras' intention was to deal with it as it relates to kids.
    In regard to the second point, Mr. Abbott, the witnesses “confirmed”...and although I don't want to split hairs, I think this is important. “Confirmed” suggests that somehow we had it in our minds and they came here and confirmed that. I think they “convinced” us. I think it's a more appropriate way of expressing what happens in these kinds of committees.
    Witnesses don't come here to validate our position; witnesses come here to create our position, and they convinced us, I think, of the merits of their case. It may be hairsplitting, but I think it is legitimate hairsplitting—not that I have a lot of expertise in hairsplitting.
     Well, neither does Jim.
     The chair is about to weigh in.
    Finally, to try to capture what I think Mr. Siksay is trying to capture in this, we should speak to the number of interventions we received that asked us to support more proactive interventions.
    I was taking some consultation here. We could have a friendly amendment, but it would have to be unanimous.
    If the proposer of the amendment agrees with it—

[Translation]

    A point of order, Mr. Chair. It seems quite clear to me. A motion has been presented by my colleague Mr. Coderre. Mr. Abbott has proposed a friendly amendment which was accepted by Mr. Coderre. So we are presently debating the motion.

[English]

    Mr. Chair, would it be acceptable to you if Mr. Scott and I dialogued for just a second on the record here?
    Personally, I wouldn't have any problem with that.
    Okay.
    Mr. Scott, “Bill C-327 has the laudable goal of seeing a reduction in violence in society...”. Can you give me your suggestion, please?
    And “particularly as it relates to children.” That's the whole purpose.
    Okay.
    The language of the second line speaks of “confirmed”.
    Okay, then it would be: “Notwithstanding the goal of Bill C-327, witnesses have convinced committee members”—
    I think that's the process we're engaged in.
    Then, “convinced the committee that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal.”
    Okay.
    Next, “The committee unanimously supports freedom of expression, including in the media of film and television.”
    And your additional point is...?

  (1555)  

    Finally, “The committee further recognizes the large number of witnesses who spoke to the need for more education, media literacy”--
     “And parental engagement.”
    I don't have any problem with “parental engagement”. So add, “and parental engagement.”
    “The committee also notes the number of witnesses”—
    Yes, “who spoke to the need for education, media literacy”—is that the language they used, Bill?—“and parental engagement”, or “parental guidance”.
     I think “parental engagement” is probably....
    May I reread, Chair?
    First of all, I guess Mr. Scott is proposing a subamendment, an amendment to the amendment.
    I understand it's a friendly amendment—I've seen you talking back and forth—so could you read the amendment to the amendment?
    It is this:
- Bill C-327 has a laudable goal of seeing a reduction of violence in society, particularly as it relates to children;
- Notwithstanding this goal, witnesses convinced the committee that Bill C-327 is the wrong means to achieve the goal;
- The committee unanimously supports freedom of expression, including in the media of film and television;
    And the new point:
- The committee also notes the number of witnesses who spoke to the need for education media literacy and parental engagement.
    Mr. Chair, I am curious whether Mr. Siksay feels that the points he was trying to bring up with his amendments.... He spent a lot of time drafting, which I deeply respect. I'm just curious about whether he feels that this amendment, particularly in light of the addition Mr. Scott has made, will have satisfied what he's after.
    Mr. Siksay.
    Mr. Chair, I'm going to still test the committee's willingness to consider the amendment, so that should Mr. Abbott's amendment and subamendment pass and we get back to the main motion, I'm going to suggest we table consideration of it until we have looked at the proposed amendments to the legislation. Should any one of those fail, then I would propose that we lift it from the table and go back to this motion as proposed by Mr. Coderre and amended.
    Mr. Bigras.

[Translation]

    Unless I am mistaken, if this motion is passed, my colleague will not have the opportunity to present his amendments. Since this is a bill that has been approved by the House of Commons, that the House wanted to be studied, and possibly amended, here, I have to say, though it is the chair's place to do so, that it will really be too bad if we are not able to study these amendments. That is the reality. Members are, I feel, entitled to oppose the bill, but they must also be open to it being amended. That is why we are here. So you should tell my colleague that, if this motion is passed, we will not be able to amend the bill. Am I mistaken?

[English]

    No, you're not mistaken. We're about ready to vote on the amended amendment, and then we will vote on the motion as amended. Whatever the outcome is on that.... If the motion is defeated, then we go clause-by-clause. If the motion carries, it's the end.
    I will call the question. It's on the amended amendment to the motion.
    (Amendment agreed to)

  (1600)  

    Yes, Mr. Siksay.
    Mr. Chair, I move that we table consideration of the motion until after we have gone to clause-by-clause.
    Under advisement, I can't accept that motion. We can ask to have the motion withdrawn, and then we can go to clause-by-clause, but right now I will call the question on the motion.
     I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
    Mr. Siksay.
    Mr. Chair, I fail to understand why a tabling motion is not in order. We often use tabling motions.
    I would like to challenge your ruling on that. I believe it is important that we have an opportunity to look at the amendments that have been brought to this legislation, and I see this as the best way of going about that.
    Mr. Chair, I would like to speak, then, because I believe that in proceeding to this vote at this time without having considered the amendments that have been submitted to us is not performing the duties of this committee appropriately. This does not recognize the work that the mover of this legislation, Mr. Bigras, has put into this legislation over many years and the concerns of many people who appeared before the committee.
    Also, I don't think it acknowledges the work that members of the committee were asked to put in by way of looking at the possibility of amendment to this legislation. As the only member who has put effort into that, I am concerned that the proposals I put forward to committee members won't be discussed if we pass this motion.
    I believe there is something that can be saved in this legislation that will make it workable and that will make it accomplish the goals that people on this committee have heard from so many witnesses when it comes to the whole question of media literacy education. We heard time and time again that this needs to be an emphasis. I believe we need to call broadcasters to participate in this, and that it should be part of the mandate of the Broadcasting Act, so that Canadians of all ages, not just children, have the opportunity to learn how to become better viewers of programming on television, and that this needs to be part of the mandate of this committee.
    I also believe that we need to look at the connections between the depictions of violence in programming and violence in society. We should give a mandate to broadcasters to be articulate about that. That's all my amendment would require, Chair.
    I also believe there are a number of specific mandates that we should give to the CRTC in carrying out its work on behalf of Canadians when it comes to the broadcasting industry. I think the CRTC should have a mandate to propose regulations respecting the promotion of media literacy for Canadians of all ages.
    I also think, regarding the proposals they have developed over time and worked out with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Broadcast Standards Council, which sees the development of broadcast standards, of programming standards, of classification systems, codes of ethics, that we should give them a specific legislative mandate to do that in the Broadcasting Act. I applaud them for having undertaken those kinds of measures, but I think that power needs to be in the legislation.
    We also need to prescribe in the legislation the kinds of organizations and individuals who should be consulted in the development of those codes, which is what one of my amendments would do.
    Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.
    Mr. Siksay, hold for just one second.
    Mr. Chong.
    This is just a short point of order. We have orders of the day in front of us. We are, by my surmising, on part one of the committee business, a notice of motion from the Honourable Denis Coderre. The committee just decided that it did not have unanimous consent to change the orders of the day. So I think we're going on a tangent here. I would like—

  (1605)  

    I'm going to give Mr. Siksay another two minutes to speak on the motion. I think what I'm understanding is that he is speaking to the motion of Mr. Coderre, so I will listen to that. Then I'll go to Mr. Fast and then to Mr. Bigras.

[Translation]

    Are you saying that my colleague's time is limited? He can intervene as he sees fit and take all the time he wants to do so.

[English]

    Mr. Chair, I thought you had put the question, actually.
    I had put the question, but I gave Mr. Siksay the ability to speak. I think he's speaking to the motion and is speaking on the amendments that he brought to the motion.
    Thank you, Chair.
    I am indeed speaking. I do believe that we should have the opportunity to speak to the main motion, once it's been amended. That's what I'm planning to do, and that's what I'm doing at this time. I don't want to waste the committee's time, and I won't be doing that, but I do want to make some points, given the work that I've done and the seriousness with which I've taken the inquiry we made into this legislation. I wish that all members of the committee would approach the task at hand with the same seriousness.
    Chair, as I was saying, I think there's also the opportunity to amend this legislation to ensure that the codes of ethics and the broadcasting standards that are developed through the process I've already suggested are reviewed independently and regularly to ensure that they're meeting the goals they're set out to establish; that the complaints mechanism is functioning appropriately and meeting the needs of Canadians to understand the broadcasting system and the place of violence and other concerns about it; and also that any necessary changes or improvements to regulations and legislation might be forwarded to government and to the commission as a result of that kind of review.
    So Chair, I think that all of the amendments I was proposing are in order in terms of the normal clause-by-clause consideration of legislation. I wish we had the opportunity to go through this and to judge the possibilities. Unfortunately, the motion that's before us will circumvent those possibilities. For that reason, I won't be able to support it at this time.
    But I do think there was another opportunity, another alternative before the committee, to look at some of the ways we could make amendments to Monsieur Bigras' legislation that would improve it and meet the needs and goals of the many people who appeared before us, and others who are interested in this process.
    Thank you, Chair.
    Thank you.
    Mr. Fast.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this.
    I want to make sure I had a chance to explain my position on this bill, especially since Mr. Bigras has spent a lot of time on this.
    When I was first asked to speak to this bill, when it came forward at second reading, I did so with some trepidation. I mean, who among us wants to speak out against reducing violence on television as it impacts children? None of us wants to do that.
    When I had a chance to actually look at the bill...as a lawyer, I look at it from that perspective. I think most of us will agree that when you look at proposed subsection 10(1)(1), it's a power much broader than simply restricting violence on television as it relates to children. It's a very broad power. Virtually all the witnesses at our committee agreed that it was so broad that it amounted to a power to censor that would be given to the minister. That in itself caused me some great concern.
    I agree that it's unfair to link this bill with Bill C-10, because one deals with direct or indirect public funding of violent programs on television, and the other one doesn't.
    I do agree that our focus needs to be on media literacy and on encouraging parents to become involved in the lives of their children. When Mr. Bélanger first requested that we have young Canadians, children, come before us at this committee, I met that proposal with some skepticism.
    I believe he was right in bringing them to our table. They gave us a much different perspective from that which we might have as adults. Most of the children there I think acknowledged that it's virtually impossible to regulate all of the violent programming available to them. We have the Internet, new digital platforms that arise virtually every year, and even on television, because of time shifting and different time zones, it's virtually impossible to regulate all of that.
    The focus has to be on parents taking an interest in the lives of their children. I was somewhat shocked when even some of our young Canadians admitted that they could watch virtually anything, whether it was on the Internet or on television, because their parents really were never there to control what they were watching. Not one of them could say that their parents were using the V-chip to control their viewing. To me, that's a failing of parents, some parents. I think that's where a lot of the effort has to be.
    I want to commend Mr. Bigras for bringing this forward, because I believe there is some programming on the Internet, in video games, and on television that is perhaps still inappropriate for children during normal viewing hours. I had a young family for whom I was very critical. We took some very dramatic steps to make sure they didn't view inappropriate programming.
    Given that, though, I would encourage Mr. Bigras to take this up with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and perhaps work with them in implementing some changes to their code that he and they might deem appropriate to fulfill his objectives. This bill will not do that and, just by its plain drafting, is so broad that I think it fairly attracts the label of being a censorship bill.
    I'll be voting in favour of the main motion, but I do commend you, Mr. Bigras, for bringing forward an issue that to me is very important and I think to most of us is very important. This should not be construed as not being concerned about violence on television as it relates to children. That's not at all the case.

  (1610)  

    Mr. Siksay.
    Thank you, Chair.
    I just need to respond that I believe that if the issue of censorship is the one that's motivating members of the committee to not consider this bill further, then they're missing the boat by not considering the amendments that I've brought forward and tabled with the committee. Those amendments were specifically designed to deal with the concerns about censorship. I think that if you look at them, you will understand that if the amendments I proposed went through, this bill would not be about censorship.
    I want to assure the committee, too, that this is something that I raised and it's why I suggested that we hear from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on this legislation when we were in hearings. I ran my amendments by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and they have strongly agreed that they can support those amendments.
    So we have a way of dealing with the issue of censorship. We have a way of making proposals that will address some of the concerns that Mr. Fast just raised. It's sitting here before the committee, but the only way we can get to it is if we are willing to look at the clause-by-clause proposals that I've brought forward. Unfortunately, if we approve this motion, we will never have the opportunity to do so.
    I'm going to call the question.
    Mr. Bigras.

[Translation]

    I would like a recorded vote.

[English]

    Yes, we'll have a recorded vote. We're voting on the motion as amended.
    (Motion as amended agreed to: yeas 8; nays 3)
    I wonder if I might make a friendly suggestion. It's small consolation for Mr. Siksay and the work he has done, but I wonder if we could have his written amendments recorded in the minutes of the meeting, so they're part of the record. This won't change anything, but it will just be for future reference for the people looking at this, so they will be able to see what he was talking about.

  (1615)  

    Again, we do some unusual things at this committee, and that is a little bit unusual. If we have unanimous consent that Mr. Siksay's amendments be written into the minutes, I have no problem with that, but I need unanimous consent.
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Chair: Okay, it will be done.
    With that, we don't have anything else on the docket for today, so the meeting is adjourned.