Canadian Broadcast Standards Council: A History

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) is an independent self-regulatory body responsible for the administration of codified standards relating to broadcast content on its private broadcaster members’ stations and services. It exercises that responsibility in response to complaints received directly or indirectly from the public.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) first suggested the idea of a self-regulatory council to deal with complaints about private broadcaster content to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in April 1986.

By mid-1987, after consultation with various boards and broadcasters, the CAB submitted guidelines to the CRTC for the creation of such a council. The CAB fleshed out the future Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s objectives, structure, complaints procedure, standards to be administered, and annual reporting during the course of 1987 and 1988. The CRTC endorsed the principles and responsibilities of the Council in late September 1988. By then, the CAB had already developed two of the Codes the CBSC would later administer: the Code of Ethics (February 1988; revised in June 2002) and the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television (January 1987; replaced as of January 1, 1994). The Violence Code is a Condition of Licence for all television broadcasters; it is suspended for all broadcasters that are members in good standing of the CBSC.

The CAB then drafted the CBSC Manual, intended for broadcaster members, the Regional Panels (formerly Regional Councils), the Secretariat and the National Executive (that Manual was replaced by the CBSC as of March 1, 2001). The Regional Panels were launched between March and May 1990. The first National Chair was appointed in August 1990. By October 1990, 75 per cent of all CAB members had become members of the CBSC. There are, as of 2007, many more licensed broadcasters in the conventional radio, satellite radio, conventional television and specialty service television areas. Of these, more than 615 are now members of the CBSC. Almost all of them are also members of the CAB. Funding for the CBSC is provided by the CAB on behalf of the CBSC’s broadcaster members or directly by those members that are not CAB members.

The CAB released the third Code to be administered by the CBSC, the Sex-Role Portrayal Code for Radio and Television, in 1990. The CAB originally included a clause regarding sex-role stereotyping in the Code of Ethics(Clause 15), and had even earlier drafted a set of Sex-Role Portrayal Guidelines between 1982 and 1986. The CRTC praised these guidelines as excellent statements of principles and, in response to public and broadcaster concerns, requested that the CAB propose amendments to the guidelines, which became the new Code, endorsed by the CRTC on October 26, 1990. That Code is a Condition of Licence for all radio and television broadcasters; it is suspended for all broadcasters that are members in good standing of the CBSC.

After just over a year of operation, the CBSC itself received the CRTC’s formal endorsement in August 1991. The CRTC offered its wholehearted support to the Council. In Public Notice CRTC 1991-90 the Commission expressed its satisfaction with the CBSC complaints process, while indicating that any interested party would still be entitled to approach the Commission with broadcasting concerns.

In 1993, Ronald Cohen was appointed as National Chairman of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

As of October 28, 1993, the CBSC also undertook the administration of the Radio-Television News Directors of Canada (RTNDA) Code of Ethics. The RTNDA, which is now RTNDA Canada – The Association of Electronic Journalists, revised its Code of Ethics, which the CBSC often refers to as the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, in 2000, and it added a new article (Article 5A – Integrity) in 2006.

As of September 2007, there are two additional Codes under consideration, each of which is the subject of a CRTC Public Notice. The first is the Journalistic Independence Code (Public Notice CRTC 2007-41) and the second is the Equitable Portrayal Code (Public Notice CRTC 2007-89). In the event of approval by the CRTC, the first will be administered by a newly created CBSC Journalistic Independence Panel. The second, which extends the principles of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code to ethnocultural and Aboriginal communities and to persons with disabilities, will replace that Code.

The CBSC adjudicates complaints based on the broadcast location of the challenged programming. There are five Regional Panels, serving the Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairie and British Columbia regions. There are two National Panels, one for National Conventional Television complaints and the other for National Specialty Service complaints. The Panels are gender balanced and the Adjudicators themselves are divided equally into representatives of the public and representatives of the broadcast industry. They also represent Canada’s ethnocultural and Aboriginal communities, as well as persons with disabilities. They are appointed for two-year renewable terms by the CBSC’s National Chair, subject to the approval of the CBSC’s National Executive (its Board of Directors).

The results of the Panel adjudications are formal decisions, all of which are publicly released and posted on the CBSC website. There are, as of 2007, more than 400 such decisions. They provide the factual background of the broadcast, including relevant transcripts, the complaint, the broadcaster’s response, the applicable codified standards, and the Panel’s conclusion and rationale therefor (generally supported by reference to earlier CBSC jurisprudence). Neither the CAB nor the CBSC’s broadcaster members have any involvement in the adjudication process. No individual Adjudicator sits on an adjudication concerning his or her broadcast group.

The CBSC also has a mechanism for the issuance by the Secretariat of summary decisions, which are in the form of private letters to complainants. These explain the reason for which the Secretariat considers it unnecessary to refer the matter to one of the foregoing Panels for adjudication.

The CBSC publishes a brochure that explains its processes and provides extracts of the most frequently applied provisions of the four Codes it administers. That brochure is available on the CBSC website,, and is printed in English, French, and 42 other languages, including Aboriginal tongues, and languages of comfort for Canada’s South American, European, African, Middle Eastern, South Asian and Far Eastern communities.

Toward the end of 2011, National Chair Ron Cohen announced his intention to retire from the post he had held for eighteen eventful years. On Nov. 29, 2011 Sylvie Courtemanche, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) announced the appointment of Andrée Noël as the CBSC’s new National Chair effective as of January 1st, 2012. Andrée had had considerable experience with the Canadian broadcasting industry, having been, for nine (9) years, the CRTC’s Regional Commissioner for Quebec.

“We selected an individual who would continue to build on the accomplishments of the CBSC,” said Sylvie Courtemanche who had acted as the Chair of the Search Committee. “Andrée is uniquely qualified to understand the importance of effective and credible self-regulation.”

In 2014, the CBSC continued the corporation under the new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act.  As a result, broadcasters that participate in the CBSC became known as “associates” rather than “members”. Also, as part of that exercise, the Panel structure was changed.  Previously, there were five Regional Panels (British Columbia, Prairie, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic) and two National Panels (National Conventional Television and National Specialty Services), as well as the Journalistic Independence Panel.  The Regional and National Panels were eliminated in 2015 and replaced with the English-Language Panel and the French-Language Panel.    

 In 2015, the CBSC launched a new logo and a completely redesigned website.

Andrée Noel continued as National Chair, with John McNab as Executive Director.

In the summer of 2017, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters provided the following update report:

“The Canadian Broadcast Standards (CBSC) continues to maintain its level of service, for the benefit of audiences
and broadcasters. In 2015/16 the number of complaints and ruling requests remained at a consistent level.
CAB is pleased to report that, with the exception of several unusual files, the CBSC Panel decisions are
generally being released within four months of the receipt of a Ruling Request. Summary decisions are also
adhering to the four-month timeframe.
Work continues on creating a new database structure that will allow the CBSC to better manage complaint
files. We expect the new system to be in place in the coming months.”

On November 7th 2017, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters announced the appointment of Sylvie Courtemanche as the CBSC’s new Chair. The appointment wass effective as of January 2nd, 2018.

“Sylvie is well known to all industry stakeholders and has over 25 years’ experience in the broadcasting industry and in the public sector. Ms. Courtemanche is well acquainted with all aspects of our industry and understands the importance of broadcast standards and the key role the CBSC has played over the last 25 years in the interpretation and application of the CAB’s broadcast codes.”, said CAB Preident Nathalie Dorval.

“We selected an individual who would continue to build on the accomplishments of the CBSC,” she added. “Sylvie is uniquely qualified to understand the importance of effective and credible self-regulation.” The appointment was made, following an announcement by Andrée Noël of her plan to retire after more than 6 years as CBSC’s Chair. 

“I am delighted to join the CBSC and to have the opportunity to assume the challenging role of Chair,” said Ms. Courtemanche.

Sylvie Courtemanche joined the CBSC from Corus Entertainment Inc. where she was the prime senior executive on both regulatory matters and government relations. Ms. Courtemanche had held a variety of senior executive roles in the industry including Executive Vice President, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Canadian Association of Broadcasters and key regulatory and policy positions in the private industry. She also provided services to both public and private organizations from her consulting practice related to broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada. Ms Courtemanche was also Legal Counsel at the CRTC for several years working on a number of key policy and licensing hearings. Ms. Courtemanche held numerous roles on a variety of industry boards including Chair of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and Chair of the Radio Starmaker Fund.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) is an independent, non-governmental organization created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) to administer standards established by its members, Canada’s private broadcasters. The CBSC’s membership includes more than 825 private sector radio stations, television stations and discretionary services from across Canada, programming in English, French and third languages.