CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (suicide)

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
D. Meloul (Chair), Y. Bombardier, G. Bonin (ad hoc), A. H. Caron, M. Ille, M.-A. Raulet

THE FACTS

Dupont le midi is a talk show broadcast by CHOI-FM (Radio X, 98.1, Québec) Monday to Friday from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. The show is hosted by Stéphane Dupont and he is usually joined by Jérôme Landry, Josée Morissette and Vincent “Dess” Dessureault.  The program generally consists of discussions about social and political issues and current events.  One such topic that had been discussed on a number of broadcast dates was suicide.  Dupont had some strong views about the issue, principally that suicide is a cowardly act and never the answer to life’s problems.  On occasion during such segments, as a jumping-off point to a broader discussion about suicide, he would refer to a recent example, and in so doing would identify the deceased by name.  Two such instances gave rise to the complaints treated in this decision.

The first complaint

On October 27, Dupont and his co-hosts had the following conversation about a suicide prevention conference that was then taking place in Quebec City as well as the recent suicide of a local high school vice-principal (a more complete transcript of this and all other relevant broadcasts can be found in Appendix A, available in French only) :

[Translation]

Landry:             This week, in Quebec City, 500 practitioners, um, in the field of, in the field of suicide are meeting here to attend the convention –

Dupont:                        Oh, yeah?!

Landry:             – of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.  The theme is “Working together to prevent suicide”.  Various topics are on the agenda, including dependencies, gambling, alcohol and also drugs, Internet, the Internet world and also mental health problems that are linked to suicide of course.  Among other things, this morning Max Gros-Louis delivered the welcoming address at the convention, and um, he said he was happy to see that practitioners are concerned by the situation, um, suicide in Aboriginal communities, particularly among youths where the suicide rate is quite high.  We have some figures, namely that 25 years ago up to six suicides per day were recorded in the province of Quebec and now that figure is down to four –

Dupont:                        It went down.

Landry:             – per day.

Dupont:                        The situation improved.  Why?  Because we’ve talked  about it.  Because what brings you to that point, well it’s serious.  Jérôme and I were rather shaken by a suicide that occurred last week.  We meant to talk to you about it on the air; we told you at one point – if you are regular listeners, we told you at one point “Well, there was an incident in a Quebec City school, um, the kids are a bit shaken up by the death of one of the, um, vice-principals of a school.”

Landry:             That’s right.

Dupont:                        We have more details today.

Landry:             That’s right.  Josée had also worked on that and on Thursday we continued to examine that issue.  We had received information by phone, and um, we can confirm this morning that, because it’s also public on the Quebec High School website, an English-language high school located on Belvédère in Quebec City.  We can confirm the death of Mr. [G. F.], who was a vice-principal, the vice-principal, um, of Quebec High School.  It is also confirmed on the school’s website that he took his own life.  Um, unfortunately.  Um, I’m going, I’m going to give you, um, an overview of the letter that was sent to the parents and is posted on the website: “It is with deep sadness that we learned of the death by suicide of one of our staff members, Mr. [G. F], vice-principal.”  The students are being given support.  The students who might have been affected by this suicide have been given access, among others, to experts from the Jeffery Hale Hospital.  It’s an extremely sad story, eh, Stéph?  We have certain details about that story.

Dupont:                        Mm hm.

Landry:             The guy, um, had his heart broken, didn’t he?  That would be part of the reason that pushed him –

Dupont:                        That’s all it was?

Landry:             Yeah.

Dupont:                        You know, I’ll tell you, it’s sad, and at the same time it’s disarming to learn of the reasons.  What really infuriates me when I hear talk of sui-, of, of suicide, is that you always hear the same things.  “Ha, you don’t know what his life was like, you don’t know, he has, he had problems.”  And then we always imagine and we dare to imagine, because, after all, someone just died; someone who was the father of young children, who was a guy, and it’s a shame that, now, today, it is said that he was extremely appreciated at work, also extremely appreciated by the students of Quebec High School.  And, then he does this.  I didn’t analyse his case more than that of the others, but I want suicide to go down.  And, the road I have chosen is to talk about it and stop glorifying that particular act.  You glorify it by not talking about it.  Talking about it in the way you often hear in the media gives the impression that they glorify that act.  The meet-, what is that meeting you just spoke of?  They’re meeting in Quebec City, are they?

Landry:             Yes.

Dupont:                        Five, five hundred?

Landry:             Five hundred practitioners under one roof, in the field of, um, the people who help those who may be suicidal.  It’s the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.  Their convention takes place this weekend –

Dupont:                        Preventing suicide –

Landry:             – this week here in Quebec City.

Dupont:                        – means no longer giving it value.  That’s what suicide prevention is.  And, it’s saying, that the guy, Mr. [F.], is that the name of the guy who –?

Landry:             [G. F.], yes.

Dupont:                        What he did, his parents, excuse me, his children, needed a father far more than the act he just committed.  Just because he had his heart broken.  And, I swear to you that if those practitioners were honest, first of all they would lose their jobs.  Because there would be no more suicide.  Then we wouldn’t need them anymore at 75 thousand per year, eh?  Those civil servants would lose their jobs!  If those suicide prevention experts were really good at what they do, they would lose their jobs.  Because they would get guys to understand that a broken heart, especially these days, is not sufficient reason to take your life.  In any event, there is not one damned crisis bad enough to make you take your life.  If I were responsible for listening to boys, guys rather.  Let’s say that, um, Dess here, who is looking a bit pale, has suicidal tendencies and one day he touches on the subject with me.  My answer will hit him hard. I’ve told you, it happened to me once in my life, where a guy I hung out with took his life –

Landry:             Ah yes.  Yeah.

[…]

Dupont:            I didn’t even go to the funeral.  I didn’t go, to hell with that!  You didn’t respect me.  You, you made a bad decision.  He wasn’t sick.  You know, sometimes we say “Ha, he was ill”, um.  In some cases, yes.  I’m not saying in all cases.  But, you know, the guy who gets separated and then, bing bang, overnight.  You know, stop with the psychological illness.  Yes, I will understand in the case of a guy who gets separated and takes it hard.  Sometimes the guys who get cheated on, among others, take it hard.  You know, we hear about it everywhere.  I’m not speaking of him; I don’t know him.  I don’t know him at all.  But could we stop glorifying suicide and saying “Ha, he had huge problems in his life, it was dif-, he was misunderstood, it wasn’t easy.”  Yes!  It-, life is never easy.  I’m not suicidal, not for one damned cent.  I can’t tell you it’s easy.  It’s never easy.  I’m enjoying this.  I, don’t, but there are rougher patches.  You’ve also had people around you who went through rough patches.  They got through it.  Why should we glorify him because he killed himself?

Dessureault:      Perhaps shaking them up sometimes rather than, than pitying them, that could, that could, —

Dupont:                        No.

Dessureault:      — that could help them.  I’ve been through that before.  I’ve experienced that, people who, who called me and gave me, some, some you know –

Landry:             Some signs.

Dessureault:      – “Yeah, well my girl left me and I’m thinking, um.” I said “Oh yeah?  You want to commit suicide?  Well, look here, if you do that, there’s no way I’m going to your blasted funeral.”  And then I hung up and he was all.

Dupont:                        Who are, who are these people?  But that is exactly what I meant when I, I started talking about you.  I gave an example.  If you came to me all depressed one day, I would tell you, in any case I would say just one thing to you:  “Go ahead and kill yourself, man.  I think I’ll go piss on your grave.  And, I’ll call you a coward to all our mutual friends.”  Because that’s how I see it.  Because you have your life ahead of you.  Because it’s only what?  A woman?  Hey!  They’re, Quebec City girls are chomping at the bit and they’re all over the place!

Landry:             There are plenty.  Go around to the bars.  Go anywhere.  There are plenty.

Dupont:                        Hey!  Come on!  I see all kinds of guys who are nothing to look at and they get plenty of girls, and they have fun and, for pity’s sake!  I have friends who had that experience.  I’m thinking of one in particular who went through a rough patch.  And I was yelling at him on the phone.  You’ll say I yell all the time, you may be right.  I said “Now listen, you idiot, wake up and you’re going to – when you’ve finally understood what I’m telling you, I swear you won’t want a steady girl anymore.”  You’ll say “Hey, isn’t this a great life?”  Yes, it’s tough on the children and it’s one week here and one week there.  In the worst case, if you can’t, because the picture guys have in their heads, the guys who have been cheated on, is that the other guy is taking their place.  The kids are with their mother and their adopted father.  “And what am I in all this?”  And they question themselves on that.  In the very worst case, don’t take your children anymore.  That means abandoning them.  In the worst case, it would be an exaggeration; I don’t want you to do that.  But the guy who says “Yeah, but my children will have another father and I won’t count for anything.”  Well then, don’t count for anything.  But you, you have a life!  Find yourself a girl.  But it’s certain that most of those girls chomping at the bit in the bars, for example, have kids.  Okay?  So, you’re going to end up, you’re going to end up with kids.  You’ve already got, they’re out of diapers, they sleep through the night, they.  No more problem.  Except that suicide is a cowardly act.  Oh, here is a message from Jean.  I don’t understand him.  Jean-Félix writes “Stéphane, since you want suicide to stop, would you rather see unhappy people suffering?”  Suffering from what?!  Suffering from what?!  I’m thinking of the guy who is suffering from an extremely serious incurable disease and he really is in pain, I’m thinking of the gentleman … no, I’m not thinking of anyone; it’s not important.  I’m quite prepared to understand a small part of what’s going on with them.

Landry:             That’s not the same thing.  That’s far from the same thing.

Dupont:                        But suffering?!

Landry:             Hey, we’re talking about someone who has had his heart broken.  Compare, you can’t compare that to someone with a serious illness, an incurable and debilitating illness and, um, the guy has no more life.  It’s not the same thing.

Dupont:                        There is no suffering in being jilted by a girl!

Landry:             Well no.

Dupont:                        For heaven’s sake!

Landry:             Well it’s tough, but not to the point of, of committing suicide, and, um, come on.

Dupont:                        It’s just that – you say it’s tough, but you’re just looking at it from the wrong angle.  [Landry laughs]  One nineteen PM.  Suicide is the act of a coward.  I can’t say that applies to one hundred percent of suicides.  But if you asked the children of that guy, because it affects guys, it’s a cowardly act.  I’m telling you.

Landry:             But that, you know, um, on top of that you know, a school principal, you know, who worked, who worked with young people.  And I feel it is an important piece of news.  I don’t understand why the media aren’t covering it, the death of [G.], of [G. F.] the, the vice-principal.

Dupont:                        Do you know what scares me?  The fear I have, to be more precise, the fear that strikes me regarding the issue of the vice-, um, principal of Quebec High School?  It’s that those people are meeting with the students.  When someone called us last week to discuss this event, the day after that suicide, there was consternation in the school.  Some children were crying; the guy had been a teacher.  Everyone liked him. Okay?  Really.  I’m told he was “a really great guy.” In, forty years old!  Jeez, forty years old!  Everyone liked him.  The, the students were shaken.  They were crying and the school is in fact offering services and counselling.  Jérôme listed all that a while ago.  What do you say to the children?  Do you try to, to, to say “Well, listen, he, it was difficult for him.  You have to understand him, you have to, um, you know, um, it really wasn’t easy.  He didn’t have a choice or, um?”  Oh, hearing those answers pushes my buttons.  The guy I was telling you about earlier, my friend, who gave me the feeling that, and I don’t know because I never talked to him about it.  I had the feeling that I should kick him in the ass because he found it tough.  He’s writing to me and saying “Now, I don’t have enough time to see to the needs of all my new girlfriends because they’re so hot.  But, they also all want to meet a guy who will stay home with them all the time.”  [Landry and Dupont laugh]  But he got it.  He seems happy to me.  Maybe not as much, at least, not at the same level, as he was when he was part of a couple.  He didn’t choose to be the target of adultery.  It just happened.  He erased all that, you forget about that, and you’re on your way again.  I didn’t say it was easy.  I told you that suicide should not be on your to do list.  You know?  If you put moving to another country down on your to do list, go ahead and try it.  You’ll tell me that running from reality is certainly not a solution.  But, cripes, it’s always far better than committing suicide.  Eh?  Um, you know?

Dessureault:      Well, look, I’m, when I went away, um, to work out West in the mountains for six months.  When I left they said “You can, look, if you ever need a job come back and we’ll hire you.”  I always told myself that the day when I am completely undone and something terrible happens to me here, I’ll take my stuff and get out.  I’ll have friends there, um, I’ll make, I’ll make other friends and I’ll have fun.

Dupont:                        You, you felt a bit like you were embarking on a new life.

[…]

Dessureault:      You know, do I shoot myself and fall off a bridge or, do I try to do something?  You know, you try to do something.  It’s your life.

Dupont:                        That’s the kind of guy you are and you also have a bit of money.  And, I know you have children here.  But in death, he didn’t bring his children, and even if he had killed them he wouldn’t have brought them along with him anyhow.  That’s not how it works.  Wouldn’t he have been better off to take his money, say, to dump everything and leave.  An intelligent guy.  Leave, go live, I don’t know where.  I have a rather, um, strong tendency, where would I have gone?  Perhaps to Mexico, or I don’t know where.  I would certainly have tried something else, as you say.

[…]

Dupont:                        Am I exaggerating when I say that suicide is a cowardly act?

Landry:             No, you’re not exaggerating.  Think of, all I have to do is think of the children.  Someone with children who commits suicide.  Just picturing that, just thinking of what the children have to live with and will have to live with all their lives.  I assure you that it is indeed a cowardly act.

Dupont:                        Okay.  I’m going to tell you something that I did not want to tell you.  Because, I have, that argument, I have the impression it will help guys commit suicide.  And if you kill yourself because of that argument, well you’re worse cowards than the others.  We did some checking this morning.  You know, because there are depressed guys who say, um, “Ha, um, they’ll be much better off when I’m gone, um, I’ll leave them in peace, I’ll disappear.”  You know, the, the, the usual reasoning?

Landry:             Mm hm.

Dupont:                        “And the house will be free and clear, and.”  I said to myself, wait a minute, a suicide, insurance companies can’t be idiots.  So, um, in fact.  A life insurance policy taken out two years before the event and I know it has happened, I have a specific case where I remember I was working here when it happened.  But if you’ve had life insurance for more than two years and you commit suicide, the life insurance policy is valid.  That rule exists so that the guy who is truly determined to commit suicide doesn’t take out a bunch of life insurance policies and kill himself so the old lady collects the loot.  And, it’s the same thing where mortgages are concerned.  In the majority of cases, your insurance, so if you have loans, debts, and you kill yourself the insurance company in question will absorb those loans.  That is an argument that helps compulsive gamblers, you know, who lose everything and are in debt, and the other people who say to themselves, “If I kill myself, my debts will be wiped out, they will all be paid off.”  It’s still the act of a coward!  And I was wondering this morning.  I was saying to myself, and I didn’t talk to, um I don’t know what it’s called, it’s not the IBC, but it’s the Insurance Bureau, personal insurance, um, in any case.  It’s in Montreal, I don’t give a damn.  It’s not important.  So I called the guy, well it’s, he called me back.  So, I said to him “If insurance companies cancelled the pay-out outright when people take their lives, would that not help?  Would that have the effect of the guys saying to themselves, ‘Well, I can’t commit suicide.  In addition to abandoning them I’ll leave them in a mess’?”

Landry:             Well, I don’t think that would help.  Because in any case they don’t give a damn about others.  When a guy with kids who commits suicide, it means he truly does not give a damn for his kids.  It’s not, um, the financial issue.  Yes, his children need the money, but they need a father too, you know?

Dupont:                        Mm hm.

Landry:             So, they, those individuals truly don’t give a damn about what will happen to their loved ones.  Truly, they don’t.

Dupont:                        And that’s what the guy from the Insurance Bureau told me.  He said to me, “Listen, um, it wouldn’t help at all.  On the contrary, it would only create families that are in even more difficult circumstances.”  But, no problem.  I think that when we speak of that act, we should disparage it, we should make it as low as possible.  And it’s not the conference in Quebec City for suicide workers that is going to reduce the incidence of suicide.  If that happens, they’ll lose their jobs.  They don’t want to lose their jobs.  Jean-Félix is writing back.  He says “Excuse me”, he says, “I thought we were discussing suicide in the case of those who have just lost their girlfriend or things of that nature.  There are nevertheless people who don’t have a choice.”  What do you mean, no choice?  I don’t understand.  “I’m not suicidal, but I can see that some don’t have many options”.  Um.  What do you mean, not many options? Let’s say that tomorrow morning I’m destitute, I no longer have access to my children, no more partner, not a cent to my name, no job.  And I’m not, I wouldn’t be happy.  I would change my lifestyle.  I would rent the cheapest room possible.  I would live in a room, on welfare, say.  That’s a start.  After that, I would find a job.  There is work everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.  I would find a job, probably in the restaurant sector, because you get tips so you don’t have to declare that and, yes, you work weekends.  You meet people.  That would probably be my personal choice.  I would be rebuilding my life at the age of forty.  But, it isn’t true that he has no choice, that he has no hope.  A girl leaves you.  I almost said, I feel like saying “Lucky bastard”.  You know?  That would be a bit of an exaggeration.

Landry:             You know, it’s not that we want to get separated.

Dupont:                        No.

Landry:             But the guy who suddenly finds himself single again because his girl left him.  Jeez.  Another life is beginning.  And, you know, rebuilding your life brings a host of possibilities.  You know?  For heaven’s sake.

[…]

Dupont:                        Alright.  It’s one twenty-eight.  I do apologize if I offended anyone in discussing suicide.  However, I was trying to look into the steps taken in the Quebec High School case.  I don’t want that guy who took his life to be put down.  He made a bad choice.  He chose the wrong road.  He has, he had a bad idea.  Period.  Just don’t value what he did.  Value the guy, I don’t have a problem with that.  But not what he did.   Okay, twenty-eight minutes past noon.  We’ll be back with other things.

The hosts returned to the subject again the next day (October 28):

[Translation]

Dupont:                        A few loose ends.  First of all, we discussed suicide yesterday.  Um, we were, um, I mean we can see today that, and it’s in just about every newspaper.  There is a conference taking place in Quebec City on suicide prevention.  What a waste of time.  What a waste of time to see those people who are all paid, and a lot more than you peons, well paid, um, to, um, work in what they call suicide prevention.  Look at the results:  there is practically no drop in the suicide rate.  Of course, the number of these government-paid employees has not gone down, um, and their message is not about striking suicide off the list of things to do.  Yesterday, we said that suicide is perhaps an, um, a cowardly act, that we must stop honouring it and, because, we have glorified it for a long time in Quebec.  I’m sorry, but those who disagree with that, um, should sit down and take the time to think about it again.  We glorified suicide in Quebec.  Think of Gäetan Girouard.  Think of other suicides that resulted in, we almost, um, we almost raised them to the status of gods, um, after committing such an act, in my humble opinion, of course.  And I read to you yesterday, because in the Québec Post, we re-ran, twice, last evening at six and, um, after midnight, the segment of the program in which we discussed suicide and it caused a reaction.  Because, I was reading my e-mails this morning at dupont@radiox.com, um, many of you reacted against, of course, what was said.  All those affected by the suicide of a loved one, the suicide of a father, a mother.  Clearly, we know that the great majority are men, but those closely affected by suicide are not capable of saying that the person they loved so much committed a cowardly act, an irresponsible act.  And, in the majority of those e-mails, people wrote of depression, they told me “Ha, you’re taking the wrong view of depression.”  I’m sorry; I do know that in certain cases that is the cause.  I know that illness will be, will bring people to that decision.  But, my problem with suicide, and what I was telling you yesterday, and I wanted to be clear on that point, is that it is on the list of options.  A depressed individual can get some ideas in his head, like the idea, of, of, of, of, of, of, of letting everything go, abandoning everything, of, of, I don’t know, of, of, of taking medication, of getting out from under.  Couldn’t we cross suicide off that list?  Because, it often seems that as soon as depression strikes, the concept of suicide enters the picture.  Is depression more vicious among men in Quebec than men in the rest of Canada?  Does that explain why we are so far ahead of everyone else in North America when it comes to suicide?  Why is suicide considered a viable option here in Quebec, um, that we like to keep alive and to encourage in a certain way, while that is not the case elsewhere?  That is not the way to, um, address suicide.  When will we truly put a stop to  suicide?  When it disappears from people’s list of options, granted depressed, people who face up to their problems because perhaps we managed to get them to live long lives.  When I say long lives, I mean to an age where they have been so protected that they never experienced any problems.

Dupont and Landry then exchanged a few more thoughts on ways other than suicide to cope with personal problems.  They reiterated their view that a romantic separation is not a good reason to kill oneself, particularly since divorce rates and shared child custody are so common these days.

These broadcasts resulted in a complaint from a family member of the deceased high school vice-principal.  In a lengthy letter dated July 4, 2009 (the full text of which, together with the full text of all other correspondence, can be found in Appendix B, available in French only), the complainant explained how her family had come to hear the broadcasts and how upsetting the comments had been.  While preparing the funeral services for the deceased, someone had informed the family that Stéphane Dupont had discussed the matter on his radio program.  In the expectation that the program had said positive things about the deceased and the issue of suicide prevention, the family requested copies of the broadcasts from the station with the thought of perhaps including excerpts of it during the memorial.  The station provided the family with tapes, but, when they listened to them, they were both shocked and furious.  The complainant wrote

[Translation]

How could a radio host speak of my brother on the radio?  How, and according to what right, could he speak of his private life on the radio, a person he never had the opportunity to know?  What gave him the right to share his opinion of people who unfortunately commit suicide, without backing his words up with proven facts, but rather personal prejudice?  He gave me the impression that he was getting even with everyone who committed suicide!!!  When I listened to the program, that is the 17 minutes that were sent to us, I was outraged by the insolence, disrespectful laughter and innuendo, as well as the total lack of respect for my deceased brother and the lack of empathy for the members of his family, his colleagues, his friends, his young children and the students attending the high school where he worked!!!

The complainant went on to describe how upsetting it was to listen to the [translation] “nonsense, judgements, insults [and] falsehoods” levelled against the deceased while the family was still trying to cope with his death.  She emphasized that the deceased was not a public figure and had not taken his life in a public place.  Furthermore, she pointed out that, although the letter that Dupont referred to had been posted on the school’s website, that had been done in order to inform parents and assist students, not with the intention that the information would be broadcast.  In addition, the letter had not contained any information about the deceased’s family situation, but Dupont had nevertheless mentioned the man’s marital separation on air.

The complainant also suggested that the broadcasts could have performed a public service by informing listeners about various programs and organizations that help people who are in distress and contemplating suicide, but instead they

[Translation]

publicly ridiculed him [the deceased] on the radio, and they claim, moreover, that they would have reacted differently in such a situation, without knowing all the details!!!!!!!! […]

In addition, they said that those who try to help suicidal individuals would lose their jobs if they performed their duties as they should.  This is pure nonsense!  It is criminal to malign these organizations that help people in distress and their families!

The complainant also cited provisions from CHOI-FM’s own code of ethics and suggested that the hosts had not demonstrated any respect towards the deceased, who was a [translation] “non-consenting participant in this program”.  She argued that the deceased’s [translation] “excellent reputation […] was dragged through the mud” and that Landry had had no right or grounds to state that the man [translation] “didn’t give a damn about his children”.  She concluded her letter with the requests that the station make a public apology, that Dupont and Landry be fired, that CHOI-FM’s code of ethics be strengthened and that the station’s licence renewal be contingent on respect for that code of ethics.

The station’s President and CEO responded to the complaint with a lengthy letter dated September 4, 2009.  He expressed his sympathies for the complainant’s loss and noted that her complaint had been discussed with the relevant hosts and production team.  The station president went on to write

[Translation]

First of all, please know that Mr. Stéphane Dupont has always been a great champion of life and that he fights against suicide on a daily basis.  He is very concerned by the extremely high suicide rate in Quebec.  He has, on many occasions, spoken with individuals who said they were suicidal or practitioners in this field.  In the case of the former, he tried to give them encouragement and directed them to specialized organizations.  He also tries to apply a recognized technique, in order to add to his comments on suicide and have an impact on those who may have suicidal tendencies by making the consequences of their acts clear to them.  He refuses to keep suicide “under wraps”, to make it a taboo.  He refuses to see suicide as a solution.  He refuses to “glorify” suicide.

We can also inform you that your complaint was passed on to Mr. Dupont, who was upset by it, as he is, on the one hand, sorry that his words were interpreted in such a manner and, on the other hand, distressed because this interpretation runs counter to his goal.  In several programs (including one last August), Mr. Dupont has addressed the issue and welcomed guests who are experts for the single and ultimate purpose of having perhaps an impact, small as it may be, and saving even one life.

With respect to the programs, a long series of discussions on suicide as well as other debates on societal issues are kicked off under the theme “suicide should not be trivialized”.  This is always a timely topic and it is the subject of major debates of a societal nature in which political, social and religious groups participate.  This is evidenced by the fact that a convention was taking place in Quebec City at the time when Mr. Dupont and his team were addressing the issue.

We have been able to determine from the excerpts that the majority, indeed almost all, of the comments concern the issue of suicide in general and not any particular case.  Many segments flow from the editorial comment dealing principally with suicide.  Editorial comment means opinion.  One can disagree with an opinion, but however painful and clear-cut that opinion may be, it is permissible in a free and democratic society.  That is the basis of freedom of speech.  We understand that given your personal situation, Mr. Dupont’s comments on suicide were painful to hear at the time that they were made.  Mr. Dupont, as well as his team and the licensee can assure you that this was not the intention at all, far from it.  If you found these remarks hurtful, we extend our most profound apologies.

Finally, in addition to the issue of this complaint, we wish to stress that the alarming issue of suicide in Quebec remains, and that is an undeniable fact.  As broadcasters, we are directly concerned by the issue and you will probably be happy to learn that we involve ourselves in concrete ways by giving completely free airtime to this type of cause, namely 35 messages provided free of charge to the Association québécoise de suicidologie during their campaign for Suicide Prevention Week in the course of the last few years.  This important role that we deem to be a duty towards our listeners was commented upon during a recent convention.

The station president discussed a document that suggested that the media have a role to play in educating the public about suicide.  He then pointed out that

[Translation]

The hosts used a known case (published, among other places, on the Quebec High School website) as a jumping-off point to rapidly make very general comments designed principally to shake up individuals who see suicide as a solution or as a legitimate step that will free them.

Solutions were put forward as well as the host’s interest in helping to alleviate the problem.  The entire approach is part of a method used by Mr. Dupont for some time now.  The opinions expressed are justified in terms of the public interest and the treatment of controversial issues, all in accordance with the CAB Codes (see section 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics).

Finally, as you may be aware, the program Dupont le midi, like many radio programs, can be of a controversial nature and not to everyone’s taste.  Your letter raises concerns regarding the comments made by the host, and again we regret that you were offended by these remarks.

There are comments which are sanctionable and those which, even if tasteless or painful to some, are not.  lt would be unreasonable to expect that the airwaves be pure, antiseptic and flawless.  Society is not.  Nor are individuals in their dealings with one another.  What may constitute the limits of acceptability in each case will need to be appreciated in its context, and that is what we attempted to do here.

We wish to assure you that Mr. Dupont was not attempting to incite violence or suicide through his comments.  He seeks, on the contrary, to educate listeners on the problem and to put a stop to this destructive act with the means at his disposal.  In fact, we do not in any way tolerate any means of inciting violence on CHOI-FM.

[…]

We are therefore of the opinion that the comments fall within the constitutional ambit of freedom of speech, that they are compatible, when taken in context, with the standard of high quality and that they comply with Canadian broadcasting policies, namely those regarding balanced comments.  They also comply with the regulations.  In fact, the comments providing information or presented as editorial comment observed the rules of good practice.

The complainant filed her Ruling Request on September 9.

The Second Complaint

Another suicide, this time of an 18-year-old man, inspired Dupont to revisit the subject on April 1, 2010.  Again, Dupont identified the young man by name and commented on the reaction to his death, which was evidenced on the social networking website Facebook.  The dialogue, which occurred between 1:00 and1:30 pm was as follows:

[Translation]

Dupont:                        Um, sad, before moving on to the news, sad story this morning.  And, kudos to my colleagues Josée and Dess who, um, verified the same facts as I did this morning.  We took a look at the obituaries and a journalist even wrote to me this morning.  He says, “Have you read, um, about the suicide in the Journal de Québec?”  Imagine, um, my dismay this morning when we looked at the obituaries, after what I told you yesterday – I was trying to get you to think, of, of, the possibility of retaining some hatred towards those who take their lives.  Um, and this happened yesterday to, no it wasn’t yesterday, it took place on March 28th at his home in Charlesbourg.  [F. L.-P.] was 18 years old.  Um, he was the son of Ms. [C. L.] and Mr. [J. P.].  Um, it is clear that he took his own life, he committed suicide.  We checked on Facebook.  Um, the Facebook groups created for [F. L.-P.] who I am not putting on a pedestal, far be it from me.  Um, I won’t call him any names either.  It’s, but I can tell you that inside, I feel an, um, im-, immeasurable frustration.  I am frustrated by the act committed by this young 18 year-old man.  And what is even stranger is that I have my children with me today.  There is no school today and they were in the office when we spoke of it this morning, and, well, my youngest who is eight-years old –

Dessureault:      He was asking questions.

Dupont:                        “How could he have done that?  How did he manage to?  Why did he do that?”  You know, I’m not hiding anything from them.

Dessureault:      Yeah.

Dupont:                        He made a bad –

Dessureault:      So, what else did you tell him?  Did you say to him:  “Look, he, he wasn’t able to manage his problems.  He made a bad decision.  He decided to end it all”?

Dupont:                        For minor problems.  Don’t tell me that an 18-year old has major problems.  Josée, and there are, and I, there are messages I don’t understand.  And if we allow that to spread.  He’s dead.  There is nothing to be done for [F. L.-P.].  There is no more to be done; he’s dead, he’s cold!  But I fear for those he left behind!  How many others in his circle will do the same?  Along the lines of, um “Ha!  Some decision, man!”  Josée, who –

Morissette:        They trivialize too much.  They trivialize it.

Dupont:                        What, what did you find on Facebook concerning the suicide of this young man?

Morissette:        Well, a group has been created.  It has 329 members.  And, well, um, his friends created the group.  And, they’re writing in.  There is always a description when you create a group on Facebook.  “We’ll miss you like hell”; “I never thought you would do it”; “I guess you really couldn’t take it anymore, but we will never forget you despite everything.  Be there for us, be there to guide us” and also, um, well, “That is unfortunately not where we wanted you to be.  We wanted you with us to act crazy and have fun.”  There are also numerous messages from, from young girls, because that guy may be 18, but he looks like, like a lad of 16 –

Dupont:                        He looks like a young lad of 16.  That was, that’s clear.

Morissette:        He probably just reached the age of majority.  And, um, you know, listen, they egg each other on, and, um.

Dupont:                        That’s it.  To see that, to say that, first of all it’s clear that that guy gave some indications to, um, some of his friends because, um, several of them are writing, um, one of them wrote “tabarnac’”, it starts out with “tabarnac’”.

Morissette:        Yes.

Dupont:                        What other messages did you notice?

Morissette:        Hang on so I can find some that are more, um, …

Dupont:                        You know, and the understanding that is evident and all that –

Morissette:        Of course.

Dupont:                        – normal stuff –

Morissette:        “Be brave, dear.”  You can tell that is probably from a girl.  She writes: “It’s worse again this morning.  I’m hurting.  I love you my little angel.”  And the reply:  “Well, be brave my dear and all those who were close to [F.].  It’s normal to hurt, but as I told you yesterday, the hurt and the sorrow will slowly be replaced by memories, and it will be all right and the sorrow will be erased, and you’ll be left with good memories.”  You know.

Dupont:                        As his friends, couldn’t they have cornered him and said “Hey!  Come on!  Wake up and smell the coffee!”?  Whether his problems were; I don’t know what kind of problems he had.  Don’t tell me that at 18 years of age you’ve got such major problems as to come to that kind of decision.  For heaven’s sake!  Really!

Dessureault:      Especially as the messages show he had many friends.

Dupont:                        Well [??].

Dessureault:      He didn’t seem to be alone –

Dupont:                        He had a lot of people around him –

Dessureault:      – in life.

Dupont:                        It seems he did a lot of partying, though.  I could be wrong, I –

Morissette:        Well, there will in fact be a big party in his honour on Saturday.

Dupont:                        In a bar?

Morissette:        But you see, yes in a bar.  But you see, there are some girls asking themselves questions.  You know.  They’re saying:  “What happened exactly?  Does anyone know?”  Um, “I’d like, I’d like not to be in the dark about this.”  So, you can see that some of them don’t know anything, anything, about what happened.  No signs, nothing.  That is sad to see.

Dupont:                        It’s sad not to, you know, I don’t want to, and I’m not attacking him, not at all.  I just don’t want anyone else to do it.  I have one goal in life and that is to match Haiti.  The suicide rate is the only area where Haiti beats us.  Theirs is zero.  So, let’s ma-, match that.  Do you think that 18-year-old Haitians don’t have any problems?  Well, then, think about that.  And what also really hurts is to read in the same paper that [V. B.] … 27 years old.  You should see his smile.  Check it out in the Journal de Québec.  I don’t know if Le Soleil is running it.

Morissette:        Yes, they have it too.

Dupont:                        They have it too.  [V. B.] is at the University Institute of Cardiology and Pneumology of Quebec.  That’s affiliated with Laval University.  Um, he passed away on March 30, 2010 at the age of 27.  He was, it was cancer.  That’s clear when you’re in Laval Hospital, and in addition it must have been a very aggressive cancer.  Twenty-seven years old, destroyed.  Um, he leaves behind his wife [S. T.], among others, his brother, his parents.  So, um, he fought in every way to live.

Morissette:        Yes.

Dupont:                        Meanwhile, the other one, the 18-year old, pulls the plug and disconnects.  You’ll tell me that, mmmmm.  Put the two, perhaps by putting the two side by side, [F. L.-P.] and [V. B.], perhaps you will acquire more of an understanding of my perspective on suicide.  From what, I don’t know, from what I understand the young man who killed himself seems to have given signs.  Hey, all you had to do was give him a kick in the ass!  Stop with the understanding, stop with the cajoling and the flattery.  Those who crumble need a good kick in the ass.  I’m not saying he crumbled, forget about him.  But those who feel like doing that today, they need a kick in the ass.  No problem is big enough for you to take your life, unless life wants to leave on its own.  You’ve got an incurable disease, you’re through, you’ve decided not to suffer, I might understand that.  But apart from that, no other problem gives you the permission, um, to act in that way.  None!  But that guy makes that decision at 18?  Phfft, not impressed.  It is exactly one twelve.  Dess, the news.

[Dessureault begins reading the news.]

Dupont:                        Hey, hang on, I need to stop you.

Dessureault:      What?

Dupont:                        I just received, we just received a message, um, from a person who is, I think, a friend or even a relative of the family concerning the death of, um, [V. B.] listed in the newspaper, in today’s papers, who passed away at the age of 27.  Um: “Yes, [V.] did die of cancer.  He fought this damned disease all his life, but it is unfortunately a fight you lose before you start.  It all began when he was four or five.  He was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes.  He received treatment until about the age of seven and was in remission until last year.”  Just think, from the age of seven to 26 he was in remission.  “There were no traces of cancer left, but unfortunately, um, the cancer returned last year and attacked his lungs.  Part of one lung was removed, but to no avail.  It was too late; the tumours had metastasized to all of his body, including his brain.  We knew the end was near.  In the last weeks of his life, he was paralyzed from the waist down; his vision weakened and he was catheterized.  [V.] was a fighter and a source of inspiration.  He, um.  He never thought of suicide.  On the contrary, he lived life to the fullest.”  Hey, did you think of that?  Think about that for a couple of minutes.  He’s 27 years old, paralyzed from the waist down.  His life is over.  Um, his vision is getting bad and he never, on the contrary, I’m told, um thought of suicide.

Dessureault:      From the age of four or five.  He fought.  That means until what age?  They said until last year, or until nearly –

Morissette:        He was in remission.

Dessureault:      – 26, and then no more cancer at all, and then it comes back.  All of a sudden, he’s dead.

Dupont:                        Mm hm.  Jeez.  Yeah.  Link that up.  Take that text and link that up with, um, with the little 18-year old you want to idolize.  I repeat, I’m not attacking him and don’t come back to irritate me on that score.

Morissette:        I can’t find any Facebook group for [V. B.].

Dupont:                        No.

Morissette:        I looked.  I did it quickly, but imagine.

Dupont:                        Yeah, but the people who brought him to that point.  There might be an issue of, of peer pressure and all that, you know?  At 18.

Morissette:        But we’re not blaming!

Dupont:                        No.

Morissette:        Do you understand?  We’re not blaming, but … poor kid.

Dupont:                        Facebook is crap, isn’t it?  A big pile of crap as they say, um  … [he sighs].  Go ahead, read the news, we’ll take a break.

The CBSC received 25 complaints about that broadcast, but only one individual requested a ruling.  Her initial complaint of April 2 simply stated that the hosts had treated her friend [translation] “in a disgusting manner.  Yes, he committed suicide, but Dupont and his team did not have to disparage him and much less put the blame on his friends.”

The station’s response (of April 15) to that complaint contained similar remarks regarding Dupont’s position as [translation] “a great champion of life [who] fights against suicide on a daily basis,” Dupont’s disappointment that his words had been misinterpreted, and the role of the media in sensitizing the public to the tragedy of suicide.  With respect specifically to the April 1 broadcast, the station wrote the following :

[Translation]

In the excerpt, Mr. Dupont mentioned his dismay, his immeasurable frustration in the face of that act.  Mr. Dupont added that several messages from his friends were posted on Facebook, such as:  “… I never thought you would do it …”, “… I’m afraid…”, etc. … he then added “… he must have given some indications to his friends …”.  Mr. Dupont wants “… young people to wake up …”, and he says “no problem is big enough for you to take your life …”.  Mr. Dupont wants those who make a cry for help to be heard.

A person receiving that type of message should get help and not keep silent.  You must act, you must do all that you can to save his relative, his friend, a life.

The complainant submitted her Ruling Request that same day, arguing that

[Translation]

Their reply would seem to indicate they did not listen to the program.  I know that suicide is an alarming issue and that it should not be hidden and that people should NOT do that.  But Mr. Dupont’s remarks did not relate only to suicide in general.  He was talking more specifically about [F. L.-P.]; he was talking about him as though he were an idiot.  In addition, he came very close to accusing his friends of being responsible for his death!  How can Dupont know if his friends did their best to help him or not??  I am not concerned about the fact that he discussed suicide, but rather that he talked about HIM and attacked him as well as all his friends.  That is unacceptable.  There he was talking about this, not even a week after the death.  And, even if he had done it later, it would have been just as inappropriate.

CHOI-FM also provided the CBSC with copies of two other broadcasts in which listeners telephoned Stéphane Dupont to thank him for convincing them, via his general remarks about suicide and suicidal people, not to take their own lives.  Transcripts of those broadcasts are available in Appendix A, in French only.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaints under the following articles of the Radio Television News Directors Association’s (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Broadcast journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest. Hidden audio and video recording devices should only be used when it is necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster.  This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format.  Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

[…]

c)         Unduly coarse and offensive language.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcasts in question.  The Panel concludes unanimously that the broadcaster breached Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics and that it did not breach Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  The majority also concludes that the broadcaster did not breach Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Two Adjudicators dissented and would have found the broadcaster in breach of Clause 6.

On-Air Discussion of Suicide: The Host’s Concern

There are subjects that are problematic to discuss on the airwaves.  In many such instances, the difficulties flow from the likely reaction of the audience, which may have an aversion to, say, violence, sexual content, nudity, or coarse language.  While the discussion of suicide may be per se problematic for some audience members, the subject raises a further level of concern.  It is considered by the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA), for example, that “There is a significant evidence-base demonstrating that media reporting of suicides is linked to copycat suicides among youth and young adults under 24 years of age.”  Accordingly, the CPA, the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Journalists, the Canadian, American and International Associations for the Prevention of Suicide and others have published media guidelines for reporting suicide.  Of all of their recommendations, a couple stand out.  One is to avoid the reporting of specific details that could give rise to copycat attempts.  The other, far more germane to the matter at hand, is to avoid romanticizing, glamorizing or simplifying the reasons for the suicide.

Stéphane Dupont, the principal host of Dupont le midi, strongly supported that recommendation.  As he said on October 27, when referring to a friend who had committed suicide,

[Translation]

I’ve told you, it happened to me once in my life, where a guy I hung out with took his life – […]  I didn’t even go to the funeral.  I didn’t go, to hell with that!  You didn’t respect me.  You, you made a bad decision.  […]  You know, stop with the psychological illness.  Yes, I will understand in the case of a guy who gets separated and takes it hard.  Sometimes the guys who get cheated on, among others, take it hard.  You know, we hear about it everywhere.  I’m not speaking of him; I don’t know him.  I don’t know him at all.  But could we stop glorifying suicide and saying “Ha, he had huge problems in his life, it was dif-, he was misunderstood, it wasn’t easy.”  Yes!  It, life is never easy.  I’m not suicidal, not for one damned cent.  I can’t tell you it’s easy.  It’s never easy.  I’m enjoying this.  I, don’t, but there are rougher patches.  You’ve also had people around you who went through rough patches.  They got through it.  Why should we glorify him because he killed himself?

In addition to making crasser statements about his reaction to suicides, Dupont added the following observation about suicide itself:

[Translation]

Suicide is the act of a coward.  I can’t say that applies to one hundred percent of suicides.  But if you asked the children of that guy, because it affects guys, it’s a cowardly act.  I’m telling you.

It was a message he repeated on the episode of Dupont le midi the following day, when he said:

[Translation]

Yesterday, we said that suicide is perhaps an, um, a cowardly act, that we must stop honouring it and, because, we have glorified it for a long time in Quebec.  I’m sorry, but those who disagree with that, um, should sit down and take the time to think about it again. We glorified suicide in Quebec.

Returning to the episode of the 27th, Dupont did go on to discuss the high school vice-principal whom he had already identified in the following terms, which the Panel notes were positive:

[Translation]

Some children were crying; the guy had been a teacher.  Everyone liked him.  Okay?  Really.  I’m told he was “a really great guy.”  In, forty years old!  Jeez, forty years old!  Everyone liked him.  The, the students were shaken.  They were crying […]

He and his colleagues went on to discuss the negative aspects of suicide, adding that, even those who commit suicide in the belief that the insurance monies that follow will be of great help to their families are wrong.  As the hosts stated, the children may need the money [translation] “but they need a father too.”  He ended the episode of the 27th with the following summary of his perspective on suicide, drawing the distinction between the act and the high school vice-principal who had killed himself:

[Translation]

I don’t want that guy who took his life to be put down.  He made a bad choice.  He chose the wrong road.  He has, he had a bad idea.  Period.  Just don’t value what he did.  Value the guy, I don’t have a problem with that.  But not what he did.

In the view of the majority of the Panel, that was the constant message of the challenged episodes of Dupont le midi.  The host disparaged suicide as a solution to anything.  He insisted that it not be glorified or exalted as a remedy to life’s problems.  He consistently referred to the act of suicide as an act of cowardice.

The foregoing being said, the majority of the Panel considers that the identification of the two individuals did not disparage them as individuals.  The host and his colleagues were careful to draw the distinction between the individuals and their decision to commit suicide.  The Panel of course has the greatest sympathy for the families and friends of the two individuals and it understands the sadness and grief they have suffered at the loss of their loved ones.

The decision on the first complaint

Nonetheless, the Panel’s careful word-by-word review of the first complaint does not lead the majority to the conclusion that the complainant had reached.  The Panel understands her distress at hearing her brother’s recent suicide discussed on the radio and it will deal with the invasion of privacy issue in the next section of this decision, but nowhere in the broadcast, for example, did any of the hosts say, as the sister has alleged, [translation] “that [G.] was a coward.”

The Panel also appreciates that, given the experience she and her family had just endured, she did not want to hear an unsympathetic view of suicide itself.  Nonetheless, the broadcaster was entirely entitled to deal with that important societal subject on the air.  And the host was absolutely entitled to express his anti-suicide views on the airwaves.  The majority of the Panel does not agree that the broadcast manifested a [translation] “a total lack of respect for [her] deceased brother.”  There was undeniably a “lack of respect” for suicide but the broadcaster was, in the view of the majority, careful to maintain some distance between the act and the man; as he was quoted as saying just above, [translation] “Value the guy, I don’t have a problem with that.  But not what he did.”

While Dupont frequently referred to suicide as a cowardly act ([translation] “Suicide is the act of a coward”), there is no prohibition against his so doing.  He is entitled to hold that view.  He is entitled to speak strongly against suicide as a solution to life’s problems.  And he is entitled to broadcast that view.  Nor is he prevented from so doing because of the pain it may cause to families whose loved ones have, recently or long ago, chosen suicide for their own reasons.

The first complainant, the relative of the deceased, argued that [translation] “This could have been an opportunity to educate the listeners of this radio station on suicide, to inform people on what can truly be done to attempt to prevent it and especially where to get help in Quebec City.”  She was, of course, correct.  The station could have chosen that route and it would undoubtedly have been of service to listeners, but that was not the story it chose to tell.  That, it appears to the Panel, is not the style of the radio show in question.  And broadcasters are permitted to make those choices for themselves.  Provided no standards are thereby breached, broadcasters may take the approach to their shows and the subjects they treat without fear of contradiction.  They know their marketplace and their audience.  They are free to appeal to it as they wish, provided they do not breach any codified standards.

The majority of the Panel considers that the challenged episodes of Dupont le midi dealt with a delicate subject fairly and properly.  Like many radio shows of that style, they present themselves as authoritative, knowledgeable, principled and correct.  That is their right.  After all, no-one is forced to listen to them.  The hosts certainly mentioned the deceased’s name but they cautiously and appropriately stayed away from criticizing him personally and directly.  The majority of the Panel considers that there was no breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics during the program episodes of October 27 or 28.

The decision on the second complaint

The second complaint related to the broadcast about 17 months later of the name and some details relating to the suicide of an 18-year old.  The sole complainant to file her Ruling Request complained that the suicide was treated [translation] “in a disgusting manner.  Yes, he committed suicide, but Dupont and his team did not have to disparage him and much less put the blame on his friends.”  And then, in her Ruling Request, she repeated that substantive observation, saying that Dupont [translation] “was talking about him as though he were an idiot.”  Here again, the majority of the Panel does not find that the broadcaster’s treatment of the suicide theme was any different.  Dupont was still unsympathetic to suicide as an acceptable solution to the problems life presents.  It was unacceptable in the case of adults, and, if anything, Dupont was even less able to comprehend suicide on the basis of the young age of the individual.  As he said, [translation] “For minor problems.  Don’t tell me that an 18 year-old has major problems.”  The Panel is also conscious of the complainant’s observations that Dupont [translation] “came very close to accusing his friends of being responsible for his death!  How can Dupont know if his friends did their best to help him or not??”  The Panel takes no position regarding the complainant’s accusation but it does conclude that the host was entitled to espouse such a point of view.

If anything, the April 1 program was shorter and constituted less of a diatribe on the general issue of suicide.  The majority of the Panel finds no aspect of that episode in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Dissent Of A. H. caron And M.-a. raulet

We disagree with the majority.  We would conclude that the station did violate Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics for broadcasting Dupont’s comments on the suicides of the two men.  While we agree that Dupont was fully entitled to broadcast his views on suicide in general and to take the firm stance that suicidal people require [translations] “a kick in the butt” rather than “a helping hand”, we believe he went too far.  He did not merely present the cases of the high school vice-principal and the 18-year-old man as “jumping-off” points for his broader discussion on the subject of suicide; rather he focussed much of his commentary on the specific circumstances of those two cases.  In the more abstract sense, rather than going from the specific to the general, he argued from the general to the specific.  For example, Dupont’s co-host Landry revealed that the vice-principal’s suicide was related to his being [translation] “heart-broken” (it concerns me that that detail was not provided on the school’s website and therefore cannot be considered publicly available information), to which Dupont responded [translation] “That’s all?”.  Depersonalizing the significance of that sadness still further, Dupont then repeatedly insisted that any man who experiences a relationship break-up can, in any case, easily find a new woman with children:

[translation]

But the guy who says “Yeah, but my children will have another father and I won’t count for anything.”  Well then, don’t count for anything.  But you, you have a life!  Find yourself a girl.  But it’s certain that most of those girls chomping at the bit in the bars, for example, have kids.  Okay?  So, you’re going to end up, you’re going to end up with kids.  You’ve already got, they’re out of diapers, they sleep through the night, they.  No more problem.  Except that suicide is a cowardly act.

With respect to the 18-year old, Dupont insisted that the young man had killed himself [translation] “For minor problems.  Don’t tell me that an 18-year old has major problems.”

In both instances, Dupont was extremely dismissive of the reasons for which these two specific and named individuals experienced psychological distress and resorted to suicide.  Reflecting the underlying attitude of Stéphane Dupont, the broadcast simplified and trivialized these men’s pain.  And, after all, Dupont was only suggesting his equally simple and trivial solutions to what many others would consider difficult life problems.  In addition, we are troubled by the fact that he made the comments very soon after the deaths had occurred, which had the potential to insensitively exacerbate the grief of the respective individuals’ friends and family.  We consider this to be similar to the dissenting observations made by two adjudicators of the Prairie Regional Panel in CJKR-FM re a morning show parody (Osborne 24) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0393, November 1, 2004).  In that case, a morning show made a joke about a recent unusual death where the body of a young man had been found inside the wall of a bar.  The majority of the Panel concluded that the joke did not violate Clause 6, but two adjudicators disagreed on the grounds that

the joke was local (and therefore likelier to affect individuals in the area of the broadcast), modern and fresh.  Because the death was recent, it was likely to be rawer than if it had been an event of years before, long passed from the public consciousness.  In the light of the time and geography associated with the Osborne Village death, the dissenting Adjudicators consider that the mocking of the undoubtedly lengthy, frustrating and painful demise of the young man would constitute a breach of the broadcaster obligation of “fair and proper presentation of […] comment.”

In the end, we would go so far as to say that it was improper and even potentially dangerous for Dupont to express his insensitive and contemptuous views of severe mental anguish, particularly when he is not an expert in the areas of psychology or suicide prevention.  This is the moreso true when he was doing so by revealing private information that had not been revealed elsewhere on a public basis.  Hosts and broadcasters must always be mindful of their privileged access to the airwaves and their responsibilities towards their audiences when discussing sensitive topics, particularly when these are related to real people who live in the local listening area.  We consider that the comments about suicide were neither fair nor proper under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Invasion of Privacy: The Issues

The primordial goal of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics is to “ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest.”  In CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) re CTV News report (terrorist suspects) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1641, January 9, 2007), the Ontario Regional Panel laid down the following fundamental understanding of the circumstances in which a broadcaster may be entitled to infringe the privacy of an individual.

There are […] two elements to satisfy, namely, the necessity of the information, on the one hand, and the public interest in the disclosure, on the other.  As to the latter point, the public’s interest must be serious, not merely prurient.  Gossip would not, for example, be a justification for an invasion of privacy (in the case of individuals who are not public figures).  In other terms, while the public may be “interested” in information of a private nature, the RTNDA Code requires that their interest must be reasonable.

It should also be noted that the CBSC has extended the spirit of Article 4 to broadcasts that are not, strictly speaking, journalistic in nature.  In a decision of this Panel that is not otherwise applicable to the matter at hand, namely, CFTM-TV (TVA) re Tôt ou tard (CBSC Decision 00/01-1080, April 5, 2002), the Panel established the general principle that “respect for the rights of privacy of individuals should be understood as extending to individuals even though the form of coverage does not, strictly speaking, fall into a journalistic category.”  That determination extends to the present complaint.

As to the source of the names of the two individuals who committed suicide in the challenged broadcasts, one via a website and one via Facebook, the applicable rule is, broadly speaking, the same.  That rule is that information that is already public will not generally benefit from the protection of Article 4, provided that it is newsworthy and, consequently, in the public interest.  In the view of the Panel, information that has been publicized on the internet and that is accessible to anyone with a computer is no longer private; it has become public.  (Since this decision does not deal in any way with the copyright of material accessible on the internet, it should not be read as extending to issues beyond the identification of the individuals in question.)  As to newsworthiness and the public interest, the Panel believes that there must be considerable, but not unlimited, range extended to freedom of expression.  The purpose of the publication ought not to be gossipy, prurient or gratuitously offensive.  That said, the reporting of crimes, catastrophes, judicial proceedings, some births, marriages or deaths, unusual occurrences, even car accidents, and so on will fall into the category of matters that are newsworthy and, consequently, in the public interest.  The Panel considers that, generally speaking, suicides will fall into this category.

In the first case, the death of the vice-principal of the Quebec City high school had been rendered public on the internet by the school itself.  While the Panel recognizes that it would have been possible to broadcast the entire show of October 27 without any mention of the name of the deceased, the information had already been publicized and, as indicated above, it was no longer eligible for protection.  Moreover, the Panel considers that the broadcast of a matter such as a suicide, again as indicated above, rendered the material newsworthy and in the public interest.

For similar reasons, the Panel considers that the identification of the 18-year old and the broadcaster’s determination of his suicide from the combination of the obituary in the Journal de Québec and the information on Facebook rendered the name of the young man ineligible for protection in terms of the privacy standard in the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  With the permissible publication of the names, the broadcaster, like other print and electronic media, was entitled to seek additional information for publication purposes, which it did.  Although the Panel understands the additional grief and sadness that result from such undesired publicity, there is no protection against such an invasion of privacy afforded by the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  The Panel finds no breach of Article 4 of the Code resulting from the challenged broadcasts.

Coarse Language

The Panel has little to add to its numerous prior decisions dealing with the use of words such as “chrisse” and “chrissé” during times of the day when children could be listening to the radio.  Those two words (and other similar religious epithets) have been determined to fall into the category of coarse or offensive language under Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  See, e.g.CJMF-FM re Bouchard en parle (CBSC Decision 05/06-0326, February 3, 2006), CKRB-FM re Prends ça cool … and Deux gars le midi (CBSC Decision 08/09-0689 & -1228, August 11,2009), CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Money) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1379, December 11, 2006) and CKAC-AM re Doc Mailloux (six episodes), as well as this Panel’s decisions of even date, CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010) and CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (Haiti) (CBSC Decision 09/10-0854, September 23, 2010).  The use of those terms in the matter at hand constitutes a violation of Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the response of the broadcaster’s President and General Manager was thoughtful, candid and sympathetic.  He wrote of providing the complaint to host Stéphane Dupont and Dupont’s shocked reaction.  He conveyed the commitment of the host and the station to the issue of suicide prevention.  He even provided the CBSC with two other tapes of episodes of Dupont le midi in which callers contemplating suicide had talked about their intentions with the host.  Everything in the file manifests a particularly high level of collaboration on the part of CHOI-FM’s President and General Manager.  The Panel considers that CHOI-FM has more than fully met that membership obligation in this instance.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CHOI-FM is required to:  1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during peak listening hours within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which Dupont le midi was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CHOI-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CHOI-FM violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics in its broadcast of the program Dupont le midi on October 27, 2008 and April 1, 2010.  The CBSC decided that the use of religious epithets during hours of the day when children could be listening to the program violated Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.