Toronto police chiefs press for video tax

The Spectator
By Chinta Puxley, Youth and Pop Culture Reporter

Hamilton-Wentworth's police chief has teamed up with his soon-to-be Toronto counterpart in urging the province to tax violent video games. Toronto's next chief of police, Julian Fantino, told provincial Tories gathered at a Hamilton policy conference on he weekend that a tax on certain video games could reduce violent offences involving youth. Premier Mike Harris said his government will "look at all possibilities."

Hamilton-Wentworth Police Chief Ken Robertson joined Fantino in saying a violent video game tax is the least the government can do.

"If they're not going to impose an outright ban, at least they could take the profit out of it," Robertson said. "Society has been apathetic. It's time to focus attention on this if we care about the future of our country."

This latest taxation debate centres around the increasingly graphic violence in video games and the link to violent youth crime.

While Robertson and Fantino say a tax would keep young kids from playing violent games that teach them to kill, others say a rating system making it illegal to sell certain video games to minors would be more effective.

Robertson said a tax on its own would put a dent in the profits of those who produce violent entertainment. But he said the tax, in conjunction with parental education, would also raise public awareness about the violence in games like Duke Nukem, Doom and Quake.

Most parents don't know what their children are playing, Robertson added.

"We're just going to try to keep (this issue) on the forefront," he said. "The reality is parents need to stand back and look at what their children are exposed to."

Rose Dyson, chair of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, also said the public needs to be aware of the damage done by exposure to many of today's video games.

"We are teaching children to kill with a clear conscience," Dyson said. "The same strategy that is used to desensitize soldiers for battle is being used to desensitize an entire generation of young people."

Dyson, who is also author of Mind Abuse: Media Violence In An Information Age, said she's been "prodding" Progressive Conservative party members to take action on this issue for months.

She's told them a video game tax could work the same way as the tobacco tax: It wouldn't keep all kids from playing the games, but it would make the games a little less accessible.

"The tax could then be earmarked to develop remedial programs for those who are socialized in a way that encourages them to act out in an aggressive manner," Dyson said.

But some say there isn't enough evidence linking video games and violent acts or proof taxation would even work. Pierre Quirouette, director of research at the Canadian Youth Foundation, said research linking violent video games with increasing youth violence has been inconclusive.

"Some research says there is growing insensitivity in people who are exposed to ever-increasing violent acts," he said.

"Other research says some people just become insensitive, but it doesn't make you go ahead and do an act of violence."

Even with conclusive evidence, Quirouette said taxation would likely create more problems than it solves. Firstly, he said it will spawn a debate over what constitutes a "violent" game. Secondly, he said the government sets the precedent of taxing "violent" entertainment.

"If you're going to have taxes on video games, wouldn't you also have taxes on violent films?" he said. "Why would you not have a tax on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but a tax on video games? Where do you draw the line?"

For his part, Tim Hillier said higher prices wouldn't keep 12-year-olds from buying violent games at his Main Street East shop, Galaxie. It just means they'll have to save up more of their allowance.

"They should be rated, like movies," Hillier said. "Then parents would have to be aware of what's in a game."

Few parents actually come in and purchase games with their children, he said.