CRTC "Client Services" explains their approach to obscene and profane language

From: CRTC Client Services/Services à la clientèle
Sent: January 6, 2021 9:01 AM
To: Valerie Smith
Subject: question re obscenity/profanity - CRTC ref. #75899
CRTC ref. #75899

Dear Ms. Smith,

Thank you for your message, following up on earlier calls and emails to Mr. Carmel. As you pointed out, there is often confusion with respect to terms such as obscenity, profanity and swearing. I hope the following will clarify our position.

The Radio Regulations, 1986 and Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987 both prohibit obscene or profane language (and for television, pictorial representation) but do not define the terms. No mention is made of swearing.  Note that obscenity laws are set out in the Criminal Code and are administered by the provincial governments through their justice departments -- this falls outside of the Commission's jurisdiction.

The term 'swearing' is very broad. It may include words that are not considered to be profane or obscene - interpretations may vary widely according to individual points of view. Wording that may be considered socially unacceptable in some situations may well be acceptable in others, often depending on how the terms are used. This is why we consider each broadcast complaint individually, taking into account the circumstances of the specific broadcast, including such factors as the nature of the program, the target audience, the date and time it aired, what was actually said (by whom) or shown, the context, whether or not advisory messages were aired, etc.

While the Commission regulates and supervises the Canadian broadcast system, the Broadcasting Act does not give the Commission the right to edit programming before it airs. Under the Broadcasting Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we must also respect freedom of expression, and the journalistic, creative and programming independence enjoyed by the broadcasters. In short, the Commission is not a censor board. As we have explained previously, the broadcasters themselves (not the CRTC) are directly responsible for the selection, scheduling and content of the programming that they choose to air. That is why in reviewing complaints, the first step is to ask the broadcaster (either directly or through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to address the complaint.

Broadcasters have also developed conduct codes that they have agreed to abide by and that the Commission has accepted. These cover issues such as ethics, television violence, and sex-role stereotyping. For example, the recently updated CAB Code of Ethics contains guidelines and scheduling provisions with respect to programming that may contain sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences, along with guidelines for the use of viewer advisory messages. The broadcasting industry's own self-regulating organization, the CBSC, has been mandated to administer these codes and mediate complaints from the public involving member stations. More information can be obtained from the CBSC web site: <>

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. I hope this is helpful. And, my apologies for the delay in getting back to you.


K. Remy
CRTC Client Services