CFTM-TV (TVA) re Piment Fort

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0211)
Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Gervais, S. Gouin, P. Tancred

THE FACTS

TVA runs a fast-paced celebrity comedy game show each weekday afternoon, which is
hosted by Normand Brathwaite. During a segment of the show of April 23, 1996, three
well-known personalities were invited to pick their favourite recent headlines and comment
on them in witty fashion. The host's opening remarks and that segment of the show ran
as follows:

Normand Brathwaite: Merci. Merci beaucoup. Merci. Vous êtes trop gentils. Bonsoir et
bienvenue à Piment Fort directement du Café Campus à Montréal. Pour s'amuser avec
nous ce soir, mesdames et messieurs, quand il est né il a disparu de la pouponnière, Alain
Choquette. Quand il est né son père aurait mieux aimer avoir un flamant, mesdames et
messieurs, Marc-André Coallier. Et quand il est né, il avait des cheveux, mesdames et
messieurs, Pierre Légaré. Bonsoir.

Pierre Légaré: C'est-à-dire, Normand, j'avais pas de cheveux, d'ailleurs ma mère se
trompait de bout quand elle me mettait la couche pendant à peu près deux mois.

Normand Brathwaite: On perdra pas de temps. On va tout de suite faire un petit tour de
table voir s'il y a quelque chose dans les nouvelles qui vous a frappé ou sur quelles
nouvelles vous voulez frapper. On va commencer par Alain.

Alain Choquette: Bon, ça tombe bien, j'en ai une.

Normand Brathwaite: Bon, vas-y.

Alain Choquette: Ça ne veut pas dire que c'est drôle, mais …

Normand Brathwaite: Vas-y.

Alain Choquette: Et ça dit: “3,9% pour les policiers”. Un peu plus pis y'avaient leur 4%.

Normand Brathwaite: C'est cute.

Alain Choquette: Faut pas parler contre les policiers, Normand. T'en sait quelque chose.

Normand Brathwaite: Bien sûr.

Alain Choquette: Alors, deuxième nouvelle qui m'a frappé: “Un foyer sur trois a un
ordinateur”. Oui, les deux autres ont des bûches.

Pierre Légaré: Est propre, faut la comprendre.

Alain Choquette: C'est parce que c'est un foyer.

Normand Brathwaite: C'est cute. C'est plat mais c'est cute.

Marc-André Coallier: C'est ce qui s'appelle frapper un noeud.

Normand Brathwaite: Oui. Marc-André.

Marc-André Coallier: Alors, cette belle nouvelle: “Anglophones en voie de disparition?”
Yes. [Applause] La semaine va être courte.

Normand Brathwaite: Tu vas faire grouiller ta Ville Mont Royal avec ça.

Marc-André Coallier: “Le Canada, un pays généreux.” Oui, pis on est même prêt à
donner Jean Chrétien.

Normand Brathwaite: O.K. Pierre.

Pierre Légaré: J'ai trouvé deux devises. La première: “Le travail tue”. La devise d'École
bleue. Et, “En finir au plus vite”. La devise de tous les gars.

The Letter of Complaint

An Anglophone viewer sent a letter to the CRTC (which, although undated, was received
by the Commission on April 29). That letter was in turn forwarded to the CBSC.

After turning on my television to … CFTM to a program called “Piment Fort” at 6:30 PM ,
Tuesday, April 23rd I was shocked to hear the outright racist remarks expressed. The
program is moderated by Normand Brathwaite who seems to joy in whipping up anti-English
sentiment. One panellist was asked what his greatest dream was to which he replied “To
see all the Anglos disappear.” This was closely followed by sarcastic remarks regarding
Canada's generosity. As a Canadian Commission you cannot stand by and be a party to
this kind of racism. Look into this show carefully as well as into the nest of separatists that
collect their Canadian cheques at Radio Canada.

The Broadcaster's Response

The Vice-President of Programming of TVA replied to the complainant on June 18. That
letter (courteously sent in English) reads in part as follows:

At the outset we must underline that this production is not produced by Télé-Métropole Inc.
but broadcast under licence from the producer named Avanti Ciné-Video Inc. Hence this
independent producer is first and foremost the party responsible for the content of the said
production.

However, Télé-Métropole as a broadcaster licenced by the CRTC is subject to the
applicable laws and reglementation and more particularly to section 5 of the Television
Broadcasting Regulation of 1987
which states that:

5. (1) A licensee shall not broadcast

(a)

anything in contravention of the law;

(b)

any abusive comment or abusive pictorial representation that when
taken in context, tends or is likely to expose an individual or a
group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of
race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual
orientation, age or mental or physical disability;

(c)

any obscene or profane language or pictorial representation; or

(d)

any false or misleading news.

In the present case the said obligation must be appreciated in the context of a humoristic
[sic] show where the questions and replies [of] the guest stars are triggered to provoke
reactions from the live public [i.e., audience]. Also, we refer to the interpretation section of
the Broadcasting Act which provides that:

(3)

Interpretation.– This Act shall be construed and applied in a
manner that is consistent with the freedom of expression and
journalistic, creative and programming independence enjoyed by
broadcasting undertakings.

We understand that humoristic [sic] material is always a delicate “product” and is always a
question of taste especially if this humour is mixed with political questions.

In the present case we are of the opinion that the said replies were within the acceptable
limits of the freedom of speech guaranteed in a free and democratic society.

As to your last comment concerning Radio-Canada as being a “nest of separatists” your
concerns must be addressed to Radio-Canada with whom we do not have any bonds.

The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on June 28, that the CBSC
refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication. Her Ruling Request
was accompanied by a covering letter in which she observed, among other things, that

In my initial letter of complaint I described that when asked “What would your best dream
be” the panellist answered “To see all the Anglos disappear”. I believe that in any context
and under any circumstance this is a hateful and racist statement and it is irresponsible and
demonstrates poor judgment on the part of both Avanti CinéVideo for producing such an
inflammatory program and on the part of Télé-Métropole for broadcasting it. In these very
trying time of political uncertainty I believe it behoves all media to refrain from inflaming
racist sentiment for personal gain.

THE DECISION

The CBSC's Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of Ethics
of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). Clause 2 of that Code reads as
follows:

Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain
fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of
their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or
comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age,
sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed
all of the correspondence. The Quebec Regional Council considers that the program is
not in breach of the CAB Code of Ethics.

A Level of Misunderstanding

While the cross-over of bicultural and bilingual interests in Canada is a great benefit of this
society, it may happen that any individual, Anglophone, Francophone or allophone, may
miss the sense of a remark made in a language not his or her own mother tongue. The
Quebec Regional Council believes it necessary to make this point at the start of this
decision since it appears that some of the complainant's misunderstanding may have
arisen on this basis.

In her letter of complaint, she said that “One panellist was asked what his greatest dream
was to which he replied 'To see all the Anglos disappear.'” In fact, the segment of the
program in dispute dealt with headlines, not with dreams, wishes or desires. Moreover,
the headline itself would have been translated as “Are the Anglophones Disappearing?”,
which would presumably have come from a newspaper article dealing with the
demographic question the emigration of Anglophones from the Province of Quebec or

something similar. The complainant's interpretation of that segment of the show seems
to miss that point. While the Regional Council considers that the language comprehension
issues were undoubtedly in good faith, they may well have altered the complainant's
perception of the program.

The Broadcaster's Responsibility for Material Aired

There is a suggestion in the response of the broadcaster that the primary responsibility for
the program in question is that of its producer, Avanti Ciné-Video Inc. As the broadcaster
stated in its reply, “Hence this independent producer is first and foremost the party
responsible for the content of the said production.” While the Vice-President of
Programming does go on to acknowledge the network's responsibility under the
Broadcasting Act, the Council believes that it should point out that the primary
responsibility if that of the broadcaster, and not the producer, for whatever the broadcaster
chooses to put on its airwaves. It is always useful for a broadcaster to point out to its
producers of programming, whether in-house or independent, just which standards it
employs for its programming but it is on the broadcaster's desk, not the producer's, that
the proverbial buck stops.

The Content of the Program

Despite the question of any linguistic misunderstanding, the complainant was of the view
that the segment of Piment Fort which she has challenged was racist. The Council must
now, therefore, turn its attention to that concern.

The CBSC has often dealt with the question of comments relating to the enumerated
definable groups mentioned in Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics. Its position, in
general, is that it is not every comment made about an identifiable group which may be in
breach of the human rights provision but only those which are found to be abusively
discriminatory. The circumstances of appreciation may also differ where comedy is the
intended and perceived result of a broadcast. As the Ontario Regional Council put the
matter in CHUM-FM re Sunday Funnies (CBSC Decision 95/96-0064, March 26, 1996),

The situation is different where the context is clearly comedic. After all, where the
audience is given no reason to expect that the substance of the comments made is serious,
their attitude could reasonably be expected to be different. A remark which might
reasonably be assessed as abusive in a serious context and thus in breach of the Code of
Ethics
may not be so viewed in the comedic environment.

Furthermore, humour is commonly based on national, ethnic, racial or gender traits, as often
as not related to background matters best-known to the comedian. Even stereotypes are
not unknown in such a context. Such issues cannot alone be the cause of a broadcast
sanction. They must be coupled with another defining criterion; namely, they must be
abusive or discriminatory.

In CHFI-FM re the Don Daynard Show (CBSC Decision 94/95-0145, March 26, 1996), it
was decided that “The Council's duty is to put a potentially offensive ethnic joke on its
societal scale and determine whether it could reasonably be viewed as having gone too
far.” That is the duty of the Quebec Regional Council in this case.

In that assessment, the Council considers that the humour of the segment was related not
so much to the headlines themselves as it was to the follow-up comments by the three
panellists, which were generally plays on words. The first of the headlines selected dealt
with the police, and the pun presumably related to labour or employment issues. In the
second headline, the double-entendre played on the word “foyer” which, in French, is both
a fireplace and a home, thus rendering the interplay between computers and homes, on
the one hand, and logs and fireplaces on the other more amusing.

The third headline, the one which distressed the viewer, involved the headline [translated
from the original French] “Are Anglophones Disappearing [from Quebec]?” The answer
was the single English word “Yes”, the obvious play on words being the reference to the
1995 referendum question on sovereignty. Although the word “Anglophone” was used, the
pun, in the view of the Quebec Regional Council, was harmless political fun, not racist
diatribe. This was reinforced by the subsequent humorous reference to Canada as a
generous country, so generous, in fact, that they were prepared to give away Jean
Chrétien. All in all, the Quebec Regional Council considers that the headlines pun relating
to Anglophones leaving Quebec does not exceed the standard of reasonableness
established in the CHFI-FM decision.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always
assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. In this
case, the Council considers that the broadcaster's response addressed fully and fairly all
the issues raised by the complainant and, moreover, made the courteous effort to respond
to the listener in her language, English, rather than in the language of the program about
which she was complaining. Nothing more is required. Consequently, the broadcaster has
not breached the Council's standard of responsiveness.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards
Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint
had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is
under no obligation to announce the result.