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Quebec considers adding suicide-content warning to films

Quebec Communications Minister Christine St-Pierre arrives to testify as Remstar's Maxime Remillard, right, leaves at CRTC hearings Tuesday, June 3, 2008 in Quebec City.

JACQUES BOISSINOT/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Along with warnings about vulgarity, horror scenes or coarse language, movie-goers in Quebec could soon face a caveat if a film depicts suicide.

In a province sensitive to the issue - suicide rates are the highest in Canada - the Culture Minister says she favours adding suicide as a content advisory for films, seeing it as helpful for parents choosing movies for their children.

"This is not a magic wand. It won't solve the issue of suicide tomorrow morning," Christine St-Pierre said in an interview. "But offering more information doesn't seem superfluous either."

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She has mandated Quebec's Régie du cinéma, the agency that classifies films, to study the issue.

The move is the culmination of an effort by a Quebec man who campaigned to add suicide warnings to movies. Daniel Lepage took two of his children to see a Hollywood film, Open Water, three weeks after their mother had taken her own life in 2004. He was unaware that one of the film's central characters commits suicide.

"I wanted to protect my children and didn't want a film to aggravate an already difficult situation," Mr. Lepage said on Thursday. He formed an association that collected 2,500 signatures on a petition submitted to the Quebec National Assembly.

Quebec takes a generally permissive approach to classifying films; while its Régie du cinéma offers seven different types of content advisories for films, such as "eroticism" and "violence," Ontario's Film Review Board has 21, according to its website (including four different advisories for violence, compared with Quebec's one).

Quebec's move on suicide has already met up with controversy. One columnist, seeing it as a heavy-handed intrusion, wondered rhetorically whether the province would also start considering advisories for movies portraying people eating meat or smoking. (In fact, Quebec's Council on Tobacco and Health recently complained that too many Quebec films depict smoking and were encouraging teens to pick up the habit.)

Suicide-prevention groups, however, say a suicide warning would help send a signal about the seriousness of the act. Quebec has made strides in recent years in lowering its suicide rate, multiplying suicide prevention agencies and programs in schools. Yet the rate remains above the national average and on par with countries such as Switzerland and France.

"This sends the message that suicide is not a banal act," said Bruno Marchand of the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide. Vulnerable filmgoers could be affected by scenes depicted on the big screen, he said. "Just identifying these films ahead of time could be part of the solution."

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