House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-17.

Topics

11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, more particularly the House leaders, and it has been tentatively agreed that the take note debates previously scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday evening will be replaced by a take note debate to take place during government orders. It would be my intention, for the benefit of hon. members, to start that on Wednesday and probably continue on Thursday.

I will give the appropriate notice of motion to the table momentarily if the motion passes. In order to facilitate this, I would propose the following motion:

That the order of November 7, 2002, appointing the evenings of November 19 and 20, 2002 for consideration of a take note debate is revoked and government order, Government Business No. 7 is discharged.

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That this House call upon the government to develop a comprehensive program to level the playing field for Canadians with disabilities, by acting on the unanimous recommendations of the committee report “Getting It Right for Canadians: the Disability Tax Credit”; in particular the recommendations calling for changes to the eligibility requirements of the disability tax credit so that they will incorporate in a more humane and compassionate manner the real life circumstances of persons with disabilities, and withdraw the proposed changes to the disability tax credit released on August 30, 2002.

This motion standing in the name of the hon. member for Halifax is a votable motion. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

It being 11:10 a.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

moved:

That a special committee of the House be appointed to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation and violence against sex-trade workers.

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Burnaby--Douglas, for seconding the motion today.

I am very pleased to rise in the House today to debate the motion and to hear the comments and views of members from other parties.

The motion is votable so it will have three hours of debate and this is the first hour. I will read the motion for the people who are watching the debate today.

That a special committee of the House be appointed to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation and violence against sex-trade workers.

I want to give a little background on the motion. The reason I brought this forward and the reason it is an issue of great significance and concern not just to me and my community in East Vancouver but, I think, to a number of cities across Canada is that a lot of evidence and reports have shown that the federal soliciting laws are actually putting a lot of women who are on the street at risk.

I first became concerned about this issue as a result of the situation in Vancouver's downtown east side where, as I am sure members are aware, a terrible tragedy has been unfolding. As of now 63 women, all of whom were involved in the sex trade in terms of street soliciting, have gone missing and many of them, if not all of them, may have been murdered. We now have the largest serial murder case in Canada's history unfolding out of Port Coquitlam as a result of the 15 murder charges that have been laid.

While that investigation has been going on, I have been working in my community in the downtown east side with local organizations that provide services and interventions with regard to street prostitution. While there are many questions about this horrific situation of missing women in Vancouver, there are many serious questions about the police investigations and why it took so long for a special task force to be put together to investigate the disappearance of these women. I think many of us wonder, had these women not been sex trade workers or prostitutes, whether the investigation would have been treated differently, at a much earlier date and with much more urgent priority.

In speaking briefly about the investigation, the many serious questions that arise as a result of the murder investigation and the fact that there is a need to have a public inquiry, I also want to put forward that there are still women who are at risk on a daily basis, not only in that community but in many communities across Canada. They are at risk because of neglect, stigmatization and the failure of governments to act.

While media attention is focused on the murder investigation that is taking place, many organizations and individuals in the downtown east side are pointing to the urgency of the situation still facing women who are at risk on a daily and nightly basis in the community.

It was because of some of the underlying issues around the role the Criminal Code plays in the laws pertaining to solicitation, around policing issues and around the marginalization and criminalization of sex trade workers that I brought forward the motion. I believe we need a review of the federal laws pertaining to solicitation that put so many of these women on the street at risk. It is important that we not only try to improve their safety and reduce violence and exploitation but that we also try to improve safety overall in the community.

I think some members of the House who have been around for a long time will remember that in 1985 the Fraser commission did a very thorough review of Canada's laws pertaining to solicitation and the sex trade. Hearings were held across Canada

I was a member of the Vancouver city council at the time the commission did its study. I remember very well the debate and the controversy around the Fraser commission. There was a lot of focus on street soliciting and the fact that many neighbourhoods were complaining about soliciting and the impact of prostitution, safety issues, traffic issues, cars driving around, johns and pimps. In many Canadian cities, including Ottawa, it was an issue that sparked debate with many different points of view.

What came out of the Fraser commission was a subsequent change in the law that dealt with communicating for the purposes of soliciting. The review of that law has shown that over the years since 1985 there has been no substantial change from the point of view of either increasing safety or law and order in local communities. Also, there has been no improvement in the marginalization and stigmatization faced by women who are involved in the sex trade. This becomes another reason that we need to have a review of the federal laws as they are today. We have not really had that kind of discussion since 1985.

One of the real problems we are facing is that prostitution itself is not illegal. Communicating, keeping a common body house, pimping, all of those activities of soliciting is illegal but in many communities off street prostitution is well tolerated. If we were to look through the yellow pages in any telephone directory we would see page after page of advertisements for escort services.

We have a very contradictory view about prostitution. When it is off street, out of the public eye and invisible there is a high level of tolerance, through law enforcement, municipal licensing and society at large. However when it comes to street prostitution the main instrument still being used to deal with street prostitution is a law enforcement approach.

From all the reports I have read, both nationally and locally in Vancouver because of the violence we have seen and the safety issues, they have basically highlighted how law reform is something that needs to be looked at. We need to have a community discussion involving sex trade workers themselves. We need to know the daily risks they face and what needs to be done, either through law reform, law enforcement, social services support or intervention services counselling, to help women exit the sex trade.

Those are the things that are a daily reality in my community but which get very little attention. What I found in talking to organizations locally is that if anything there is a greater and greater concern that reliance on an enforcement approach to street prostitution without recognizing some of the underlying systemic issues that are forcing women on to the street is creating a situation that is more and more dangerous.

I want to specifically point to some of the work that is being done by John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, who has studied this issue and presented a major paper in 1998 in terms of prostitution and law reform in Canada. He makes the point that Canadian laws in the Criminal Code are very hypocritical and that they allow this tolerance for off street prostitution but that when it comes to street prostitution we are still involved in enforcement that criminalizes women and causes all kinds of difficulties.

The motion before us today is to set up a special committee to review the impact of these laws and what needs to be done. In putting that forward, I am not suggesting what the outcome or conclusion should be.

I do have some opinions about what we should be looking at, but I think it is something that members of the House should be participating in because I know there are various points of view. I do believe that through this debate we will probably see that all of the members from the different parties do have one thing in common and that is the huge concern about the safety issues and the violence issues that are involved. We do have a responsibility to review the Criminal Code and the specific sections of it that pertain to this, to look at how these sections of the Criminal Code are actually increasing the risks sex trade workers face. While there may be different points of view on what we need to do in terms of looking at decriminalization or different kinds of law reform, I think there probably would be a fairly strong consensus that the need to improve safety for individual sex trade workers, as well as the communities at large, is something that is very important.

I think that the way to do this is to have a committee that can examine this issue. In fact, I have been sitting on the Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs and we have been doing exactly this. There are issues that often do not get the kind of attention they need, in a thoughtful way where members can actually examine historical situations and think about what we need to do in terms of law reform or policy development. I support the idea of having a special committee. All members of the House can contribute to the debate and we can go out to the community and speak to people. We can speak to experts like John Lowman and to other organizations. For example, one group in my community, PACE, Prostitution Alternatives Counselling Education, has done research that has involved taking surveys among sex trade workers to find out from those people themselves what their issues and concerns are. While this information is available in the local community and I have seen similar studies from Montreal and similar information from Edmonton, there has been no way to collect this information and actually bring it together in a way such that members of Parliament can have a debate.

Recently I met with the Minister of Justice about the missing women in the downtown east side and I found the minister to be very sympathetic. One of the things I put forward to the minister is that there has been a working group on prostitution at a federal-provincial-territorial level. It reported a couple of years ago, but again, while some of that work was interesting and useful and also focused on the issues of safety and violence, none of that has become public. Again, there has been no public forum through which these issues can be debated. I would very much like to see that happen.

I would certainly encourage members who are speaking to the motion or members who are interested or may even be facing issues in their own community to support the idea of bringing together a special committee. It could be a valuable tool for having that kind of investigative hearing. It is very important that we have community-based research across the country to do a proper evaluation of soliciting and of what we need to do and how as a society we can be more realistic and more understanding of what kinds of public policy decisions need to be made to improve the safety and end the stigmatization of sex trade workers.

One thing I have learned from speaking with many groups is that when people involved in the sex trade become the subject of law enforcement under the Criminal Code and are charged or convicted, they basically end up in a revolving door situation. Then it becomes very difficult to exit the sex trade, because they become very stigmatized and very marginalized. It becomes more and more difficult. I have looked at one of the studies, VIDUS, the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study, which specifically looked at the increase of HIV-AIDS in women. It found that about 75% of study respondents were women involved in the sex trade.

The whole environment that is created in terms of illicit drug use, of being involved in the sex trade and of having very little access to resources makes it very difficult. For example, in my community there is no 24 hour safe house. There is no 24 hour counselling available. Most of the groups dealing with this issue are completely stretched for resources. They are operating with volunteers. They are operating in places where they are not even sure if they have security. There are not even the services that should be there to help women exit the sex trade. The services are not even available if they want to make that decision.

To me, this debate is about looking for ways to reduce the harm of what is taking place in these communities. It is about understanding what the impact of the law has been. It is about recognizing that we do have contradictions in the way we view prostitution, whether it is on street or off street. It is about having an honest and frank debate about what we can do to look at law reform and to look what other countries have done. For example, one of the really dangerous situations that the Criminal Code contributes to is that because communicating for the purposes of soliciting is an offence, it means women are put at greater risk because they are getting into a car, the door gets locked, they are driven away and that is where the transaction takes place. So even the communicating law is a situation that is creating a great hazard for people involved in the sex trade. Again, there is some information about this, but it has never been evaluated in a way that allows for a debate and a policy change to be considered.

I very much look forward to the debate that will take place today and I hope that the government representative who will be speaking will recognize that there is a problem. I am sure everybody agrees, but I think we have to focus on what it is that we are going to do to resolve that problem. I really think we would do a disservice to this issue if we were to continue with task force reports that are behind closed doors and at a bureaucratic level. I really believe that this should be an issue that involves members of the House, through a committee. I very much hope that the government would concur with that position and at least allow that debate to happen without prejudging the outcome.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak at the opening of this debate and I look forward to comments from my colleagues.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Northumberland
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak on Motion No. 192. The motion proposes the creation of a special committee of the House “to review the solicitation laws”, that is, the criminal law regarding prostitution-related activities,“in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce exploitation of and violence” done to sex trade workers.

First, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver East for having introduced the motion so that we can have this debate on what is clearly a very important issue. It is no secret that public concerns in the area of prostitution-related activities are growing with respect to the safety of the prostitutes and the harm caused to communities. It should also be noted that careful consideration of prostitution-related criminal law issues is important and is consistent with the government's commitment to vulnerable people, children included, and their protection.

I want to stress that the intent of the motion is admirable in that it tries to find a way to help a group of vulnerable persons and communities in our society that have consistently been marginalized, as the previous speaker indicated. However, I cannot emphasize enough that prostitution is a complex and multi-faceted problem. It must be addressed on many fronts, including legislative reform, community support, social interventions and other related issues.

In addition, the various impacts of prostitution on sex trade workers and on communities must be addressed in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, including other federal departments and agencies, provincial and territorial governments, particularly their departments responsible for dealing with justice-related issues and those responsible for social services and child welfare issues, and last but not least, municipal governments across the country.

Having said that, I wonder whether a special committee would be the best vehicle to elicit the collaboration of all these partners that must be involved in any attempt to address these issues. Clearly the cooperation of all these partners would be necessary to properly and usefully address all facets of prostitution-related issues.

I would like to take a few moments to give a somewhat brief and general outline of some of the government's past accomplishments and its ongoing work on this issue.

The Department of Justice has already undertaken various initiatives to address the issues linked to street prostitution, including the safety of sex trade workers and the reduction of harm to communities. For example, past legislative reform has included Bill C-27, in 1997, which amended the Criminal Code to create a new offence of aggravated procuring, to facilitate the use of police decoys for the apprehension of customers of prostitutes under the age of 18 and to make available special protections to young persons testifying against their exploiters, that is, such things as a screen, closed circuit television or videotaped evidence.

Another example of legislative reform is Bill C-51, in 1999, which amended the Criminal Code to extend the list of offences for which an authorization to intercept a private communication can be granted to include prostitution-related offences. This allows law enforcement to use electronic surveillance to investigate organized and telephone prostitution rings.

In relation to crime prevention and community-based projects, the Department of Justice has supported a number of initiatives, particularly throughout phase two of the national strategy on community safety and crime prevention, a $32 million per year program for safer communities. One initiative, for example, was the production of the “Stolen Lives” video, which documents the difficult lives of young sex trade workers in Vancouver and Calgary. Another example is the Department of Justice funding of some $489,000 to Victoria's Capital Region Action Team to address problems linked with youth prostitution in the Victoria area.

In the international arena, Canada has been involved in addressing the trafficking of women and children. For example, we have actively participated in the negotiation of the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child relating to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 2000. Canada signed the optional protocol in November 2001.

As an example of working with our partners on this important issue, a federal-provincial-territorial working group on prostitution was established in 1992 by the federal-provincial-territorial deputy ministers of justice and reviewed legislation policy and practices concerning prostitution. It was co-chaired by the federal Department of Justice. Its final report was released in December 1998. It made recommendations on both legislation at the federal and provincial levels and on possible partnerships between government agencies. It underscored particularly the need for enhanced collaboration between justice and the child welfare systems.

As another concrete example of our partnerships in action, the federal Department of Justice co-hosted with the British Columbia child welfare services a national meeting of justice and child welfare officials in November 2000. Follow-up action to this national meeting has included the establishment of a network of justice and child welfare officials to allow for the prompt sharing of information on all issues related to children and youth involved in prostitution.

Additional follow-up action is overseen by the federal-provincial-territorial deputy ministers responsible for social services. Also, work is still being done, particularly to study issues and impacts relating to the possibility of decriminalizing street prostitution.

The Department of Justice will continue to build on past achievements and to work with its partners, including provincial, territorial and municipal governments and departments and agencies involved in justice related issues and in social services and child welfare issues.

Needless to say, this is a very complex matter and for all these reasons I support the intent of the motion in principle. However at this time I do not believe that a special committee of the House is the effective way for the development of recommendations and proposed changes to reduce the exploitation and violence done to sex trade workers.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I suspect if those government programs had had the impact of their intent we would not be here today and we would not see so many Canadian Alliance MPs supporting the NDP. Frankly, we probably would not have seen the election results that we saw in the City of Vancouver only a couple of days ago.

This is an issue that requires action. All the motion asks for is for the House to study possible action. We cannot get the government to even consider doing that.

It is a pleasure to rise and speak on Motion No. 192 put forward by my colleague for Vancouver East. Before I go to my prepared comments, I want to compliment the member.

As a member of parliament from an adjacent constituency who loves and grew up in Vancouver, it has been a tragedy to watch the steady erosion of the downtown east side of the city.

I remember shopping at the downtown Woodward's building with my mom while growing up, feeding pigeons in Pigeon Park and visiting shops in the area. It is stunning today to see how one area of Vancouver has suffered so much.

I greatly respect the genuine sense of compassion and the genuine search for answers to problems of the downtown east side by the member for Vancouver East. I congratulate her for her efforts to raise what is clearly among the most important issues, not only for her riding, but for many areas of Canada.

My riding of Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam is among the most beautiful in Canada and one of the best places on earth to live. The city of Port Coquitlam is home to over 52,000 people and is one of the youngest cities in British Columbia, which maybe explains why this city elected a 24-year old member of parliament to serve them in Ottawa, myself, and a 24-year old MLA named Karn Manhas to represent them in Victoria in the B.C. legislature.

Port Coquitlam is one of the great places to live. It came as a real shock to our community when a Port Coquitlam resident, Robert William Pickton, was arrested and charged with murder on February 22 in the deaths of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway.

On April 2 he was charged with killing Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock and Heather Bottomley. These women disappeared between January 21, 1999 and October 19, 2001. On April 10 he was charged with the murder of Andrea Joesbury who disappeared last June.

To date, Pickton has been charged with killing 15 women who were on the list of 63 missing women from Vancouver's downtown east side. Police are still to this day searching his farm looking for more evidence of evil acts done against women.

I raise this point to show that the problems of Vancouver's downtown east side have not been created in isolation, nor are the impacts of the problems felt in isolation. Prostitution is dangerous, ugly and it is not victimless. It is not victimless to the unknowing wives and girlfriends of johns who come home to them after having been with prostitutes. It is not victimless to the women, and by women I am including girls who should be in girl guides or in middle school, who are abused by johns. It is not victimless to the families of prostitutes who worry endlessly about the health and welfare of their daughters. It is not victimless to my constituents in a quiet Port Coquitlam neighbourhood around the corner from the Pickton pig farm who have been traumatized and shocked that such evil may have occurred so close to home.

Overwhelmingly, prostitution is about the subjugation of women for profit. Overwhelmingly that subjugation is driven by financial need. Financial need is driven by substance abuse, homelessness, exploitation by pimps, forms of personal corruption and a lack of life alternatives due to all of the above.

The motion we are debating this morning, Motion No. 192, reads as follows:

That a special committee of the House be appointed to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers.

On the motion the Canadian Alliance will, as usual, have a free vote. I will be voting in favour of the motion. In my view, any changes or alterations to Canada's laws with regard to solicitation and prostitution must have as their first goal the intent of getting women out of prostitution.

There are simply no young girls who want to be prostitutes when they grow up. There are no reasons to allow women to be beaten and brutalized through prostitution.

Overwhelmingly, prostitution is not the rosy fairy tale of high priced escorts or the experience of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman . It is ugly, cruel, vile and beneath the interests of our collective future.

Some argue that prostitution is the oldest profession and, as such, will always be with us and therefore should be tolerated. This argument is as dumb as it is simplistic. Perhaps the former explains the latter.

Murder has always been with us, but we do not tolerate it in law. Rape has always been with us, but we do not tolerate it in law.

The argument, by the way, that we should tolerate something because it has existed for a long time is also the same argument that was used by those who opposed ending slavery in the United States. It was argued that slavery has always existed, therefore it should exist forevermore. Thank God those who have a moral compass, a drive to raise the value of human life and a sense that we should sacrifice the economic knocks of losing cheap labour have stepped up and have said that there is a greater good and a greater responsibility to not allow the exploitation of people for profit; and so it is with prostitution.

In this the 21st century, surely by now we can agree that we should not buy, sell or trade human beings and we should protect those who have been victimized by this process.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate our colleague on this motion and to inform her that I intend to get busy within my caucus to gain support for it. I trust that, if ever this House did not give its consent for the striking of a special committee, this motion would at the very least be referred to another committee. I think there might be a number of concrete advantages to having a special committee.

In June 2000, I presented my leader and caucus colleagues with the report of a task force, which I headed along with the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert and the hon. member for Longueuil. By the way, the latter member gave birth to her second child last week, and his name is Louis-Félix.

Prostitution, street prostitution in particular, is a highly complex issue. It involves our values. Having to deal with it is often quite upsetting. It is understandable that no parent would want a son, daughter, brother or sister to become a prostitute. At the same time, prostitution is an activity that no doubt goes back almost as long as humans have been on this earth.

The task force I chaired gave me an opportunity to travel to several major centres in Quebec and to meet with sex workers, community groups and representatives of public services. I believe that we, as parliamentarians, would be wrong to think we can avoid a debate on this. Many of our fellow citizens have to deal with the social problem of prostitution. It can readily become a real battleground between groups in the major urban centres.

In my riding of Hochelaga—Maisonneuve there are about 150 girls in this trade. I say girls, because I believe we will agree with the Council on the Status of Women that 98% of sex workers are female. In addition to being female, they often share certain characteristics relating to troubled backgrounds and poverty. We must not look down our noses at this whole issue, because no one among us is immune from reversals of fortune, and no one can predict what tomorrow will bring.

In the report submitted by the working group that I chaired, we proposed some fifteen or so solutions. The first one was to remove prostitution from the Criminal Code. If two individuals agree to sexual relations, and do so in a place that does not cause a public nuisance, if they consent, and one has to pay, this does not fall under criminal law. As legislators, our job is, of course, to ensure that if prostitution is legalized, there is an appropriate framework.

Our report was based on a logical argument. We said that we have to remove prostitution from the Criminal Code, and that over the next five years, there must be no prosecutions for offences under sections 210, 211, 212 and 213 of the code. This affects provincial attorneys general, but also federal attorneys general, even though it is the provinces that are in charge of enforcing the law. This includes keeping a bawdy-house, procuring, and, of course, solicitation. As our colleague was saying, prostitution, as such, is not a crime in Canada. Public solicitation is.

In our report, we said that during this five-year period, some efforts must be made. The member for Laval East will be happy to hear this. The municipalities will have to be involved. Municipalities will have to set up some sort of a task force involving community representatives, which would include, in Quebec, representatives of the Régie régionale and law enforcement services. Most importantly, there must be representation for sex-trade workers and citizens. This committee, this community task force, will have three mandates, for example, establishing designated zones.

We agree that residential areas, and the vicinity of parks and churches are no place for this kind of activity. But surely there must be a way, in our communities, to establish designated areas. I think that prostitution in Montreal would not have been as volatile an issue if it had not been taking place, in the ridings of Laurier—Sainte-Marie and Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and downtown, in residential areas. Even the most tolerant among citizens cannot accept that. I have met people from CLSCs, people deeply involved in the life of their communities, and none of them would accept a sex-trade worker performing fellatio in front of their home. Our fellow citizens cannot be expected to put up with this, and it is normal that they should not accept this. Does this save us the trouble of designating areas where it could be done? No.

Our first mandate therefore is to find areas to be known as designated areas, which would be different from the red light districts; if such areas are to be established, it must be in conjunction with public services and the police. All sex-trade workers who operate in a given area must, of course, do so under the supervision and guidance of the responsible health organizations and the police.

We were also told that it would be unthinkable to decriminalize prostitution if there is no support program to deal with the problem of drug addiction. There are two types of prostitution: there are those who sell themselves on the street because they have a drug dependency, and there is end of the month prostitution. In Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, there are good women, single mothers who, unfortunately, because they cannot make ends meet at the end of the month and because they have responsibilities relating to their status as heads of families, sell themselves on the street.

So, there should be a drug dependency fund to help sex-trade workers who want to stop working the streets to actually do so.

We were also told, and this will be a component of the bill that I want to introduce, that sex-trade workers should qualify for training programs. These women should qualify for employment insurance and pay taxes.

Under the new social contract that we must have with sex-trade workers and citizens, these women must agree to work within a set environment, in set areas, and they must also accept to pay taxes. If they want to leave prostitution behind them, and many do, they must accept that training programs and action plans be made available for them.

This is the essence of the report that we tabled, and we must deal squarely and directly with prostitution. Right now, it is organized crime that controls prostitution. What happens when, in a community, prostitution is allowed to take over?

A few months ago, in south central Montreal, things almost got out of hand. Citizens are telling us that if the lawmakers do not deal with the problem, they will, and they will use force. Beating up prostitutes and resorting to violence will not solve the problem.

Citizens have rights, including the right to live in peace in their community, without being exposed to scenes that should not take place in public places. At the same time, prostitution exists and we must find new, innovative and responsible ways to deal with sex-trade workers, while also being respectful of their rights. This is why we should discuss the issue, listen to people and work seriously on this in a parliamentary committee.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this very important debate here in the House. I congratulate my colleague for having shared with us his point of view on this subject of concern to us all.

I wish to congratulate and pay tribute to my colleague from Vancouver East who has long championed this cause. This is an important motion. I would describe it as progressive, compassionate and in keeping with the effort that my colleague brings to this important subject matter. She has been genuine and emotional in bringing this important issue before the House. I wish to commend the perspective of those who have participated in the debate.

The motion calls for a comprehensive study of the issue. How could anyone reasonably be opposed to looking into this important issue, having a special committee of the House of Commons review the solicitation laws to improve qualities that affect us all, qualities that are aimed at improving communities? Human dignity is the basis of this motion.

I want to bring attention to compelling circumstances that are in existence right now. In the home province of the member for Vancouver East the circumstances surrounding accused serial killer Robert Pickton and the appointment of a committee to review the solicitation laws seem to be apropos to where we should be headed right now. Pickton has been charged with the murder of 15 women on a list of a potential 63 missing from Vancouver's east side. There is a chilling investigation into these serial murders. In keeping with issues arising from prostitution, this should lead us to action not just talk.

Prostitution, as was pointed out, is technically not illegal in Canada at this time. It is the solicitation and the act of profit from sexual acts that has to be studied and acted upon. In an essay investigating prostitution in Canada Martha Shaffer took a hard look at the circumstances surrounding the sex trade. Part of her thesis said that we must move prostitution out of the shadows and into the light before anything could be done to eliminate and improve working conditions for Canadians. Shaffer wrote that it was invisibility that exacerbated the negative aspects of prostitution, both for the community and for the prostitutes themselves. Invisibility means that we do not have to look closely at prostitution or our response to it because we have an allusion somehow that it is only a marginal part of society. This comes from Shaffer's book Prostitution in Canada: The Invisible Menace or the Menace of Invisibility? published in 1994.

From Halifax to Vancouver it is fair to say that prostitution is in fact a sad by-product of poverty, violence, education, power and addiction. This inability on the part of many Canadians to face up to this issue and the unwillingness to recognize that there has been a problem is detrimental to our ability to address it.

The Pickton case proves and provides a further example of how Canadians somehow are turned away and understandably do not want to address the issue head on. However we have women on the east side of Vancouver who went missing. It is known that most, if not all of these women were participating in the sex trade and over the course of time more and more had disappeared and yet they were living in the shadows. They were marginalized. They were not being addressed in terms of their many social problems.

Nothing of substance has been done to determine if the foul play that was involved had anything to do with an organized group that was profiting from prostitution, yet one might easily draw from this that there was a close association to the murders themselves and the trade.

I do not read into this motion an endorsement or even a call for the reduction in sentencing or legalization but rather a way to move this problem front and centre so that Canadians can look for and be engaged in the debate as to how to address the problem.

Striking a special committee with a mandate to investigate the issue is in line with the Progressive Conservative Party's position and it would lead to substantive changes in a way that we could deal with the problem. Getting together stakeholders, interested persons and those with specific insights, like the member from Vancouver, can only help us in dealing with this compelling and troubling issue. Nearly all the assaults and murders that occur while a prostitute is at work is a very troubling issue.

When considering how to deal with legislation regarding prostitution, particularly under section 213 of the Criminal Code, we must be cognizant that the potential for increased violence against prostitutes truly exists.

I was disappointed and taken aback at the position taken by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. The self-congratulatory tone in talking about what has already been done has not resulted in the desired effects that we are looking for and wrestling with. The issue is one of action. The government could and should do more on this file.

Those involved particularly in the sex trade today are often victimized disproportionately when compared with others in society. It is time to examine that issue closely.

Many of those who are victimized are mere children, innocence, those whom we have a higher commitment and responsibility, and I would say obligation, to protect. Many of them are also engaged in the issue of pornography where they are further victimized. Those who are victimized are crying out for help in many cases.

This is especially true in terms of youth involved in the practice of prostitution. They are more at risk of being robbed, beaten, sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps or customers. Violence, as the member for Vancouver East has pointed out, is prevalent and closely associated with this issue.

Generally, prostitution will always invoke strong emotions. It is a controversial subject, one that goes back to the beginnings of time. It is involved, complex and contradictory in many of its interests and values that stem from the issue. It has become an acute problem in large urban centres around the country.

From Vancouver to Halifax pimps and prostitutes have in many cases transformed certain areas of cities into unpleasant and intimidating congested streets. It is inevitably associated with other problems, such as drug addiction and violence.

In a 1999 study by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics it was reported that there was a sharp increase in the number of prostitution related incidents recorded by police. Since 1995 those numbers continue to rise. However the increase could reflect changes in enforcement rather than in the volume of criminal activity.

The street is a dangerous place for those working in the sex trade. There is a relationship between violence against prostitutes including assaults and homicides, and the venue of its occurrence.

The position of the Progressive Conservative Party is that we would support an effort to study this issue, an effort to bring people together to delve into it in greater detail. One area that should be concentrated on is the tougher sentencing of those who tend to live off the avails of prostitution or engage in the recruitment for prostitution.

Another issue that has been before the House recently deals with the age of consent. This should be brought into the study.

Currently under section 212 of the Criminal Code anyone who procures, attempts to procure or solicits a person to have illicit sexual intercourse with another individual is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. Bringing that sentence higher so that the benchmark itself might be higher would lead to greater deterrence. This section deals specifically with those who wish to live off the avails of prostitution.

These are truly the bottom feeders in this whole equation. Rather than increasing the sentence from summary to indictable for those charged under section 213, we could potentially address the greater issue, that of persons who are profiting from prostitution more directly. An increase along those lines would allow for a greater message of deterrence to be sent. It might also include raising the age in this section to 18. This could serve as a potential model for other sections and it would have a beneficial effect when we need to address the heart of the issue.

We need to engage in these preventative measures: early intervention, educational awareness, strategies, development of educational tools and resources, and identifying those at risk early on.

I commend the member for Vancouver East and like-minded individuals of this House and around the country who are looking for solutions and actions on this long standing and troubling issue. Members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada will support and participate in that effort.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in this debate on the motion put forward by the member for Vancouver East. I also want to congratulate her for her work on the very serious issue of the sex trade.

This is a very constructive motion before the House. It is worded in a way that gives members of Parliament an opportunity to come together to develop strategies based on the evidence and research done to date. It provides an opportunity to bring guidance and direction back to the House in terms of legislative or programmatic changes.

I am surprised that there has not been a more clear indication of support from government members speaking today for the motion. It seems to me that when we acknowledge and recognize a serious social concern and problem in our society and when we have constructive recommendations for pursuing that problem, we should come together and supports actions based on that kind of understanding. It is surprising to me that there has not been an outpouring of support today from all sides for the motion so we can get down to work and do as other members have said, and that is to get involved in action. Study after study has been done. Research project after research project has been done. Now is the time for action.

The member for Vancouver East has been vigilant and persistent in raising issues around the invisibility of the sex trade worker, particularly from the point of view of the missing women in downtown Vancouver's east side. We need to draw on the experience of members like her to recognize the gaps in policy and the need for action.

Not only is this a serious problem and concern in the City of Vancouver. It has been clearly identified as a priority for the community of Winnipeg. I want to acknowledge the work of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg which recently conducted a series of consultations and information sessions to produce a report entitled, “Exploitation in the Sex Trade: What Can Communities and Agencies Do Together?”, released on March 8. It offers a number of recommendations that ought to be sent to a committee of the House for consideration and deliberation.

This study, like so many others, clearly has acknowledged that this is not just a simple problem for which there is a simple solution. We are talking about a very complicated and complex matter that has come about as a result of multiple causal factors, which have already been identified today in the House. The issues of drug abuse, gang involvement and difficult economic circumstances, particularly deeply entrenched poverty, are clearly factors as to why women are involved in the sex trade. This requires a concerted, comprehensive approach on the part of all of us.

The recommendations that flowed from the Winnipeg consultations are very significant and ought to be studied immediately by this place. Recommendations ought to be brought forward by way of changes to legislation and program initiatives. I want to reference a few of them for the House. These recommendations were made by talking as a community.

The first recommendation is that sexually exploited children and youth ought to be removed from the streets as quickly as possible and taken to a safe place, not from the point of view of emphasizing punishment, but to pursue treatment, to provide safety and alternative programming and to help at the earliest stages possible because nothing is more shocking for all of us than to see, hear and read about very young children aged 6, 7, 8, and 9 years old engaged in the sex trade.

The second recommendation out of the Winnipeg Social Planning Council, and this has been referenced by the Conservative member who just spoke, is that johns found guilty of procuring sexual favours from children and youth ought to be prosecuted for child sexual abuse.

The third recommendation is that we find ways as policy-makers and legislators to partner with Child Find so that we can share information pertaining to children and youth who are missing with children and youth who are clearly identified in terms of the sex trade and sexual exploitation.

Another point, and my colleague from Vancouver has said this time and time again, is that we need a concentrated program around providing community based safe houses because if we do not ensure that we as a federal government support provincial and municipal initiatives in this regard we will never have the kind of network of safe houses that are needed to really make a difference. When people talk about safe houses, they mean support for former prostitutes and including them as staff members. It means linking these safe houses with drug rehabilitation programs. It means access to cultural programs, staff to assist prostitutes transitioning into the mainstream, access to child care services, and so on.

Let me also say that the Winnipeg effort has recognized the need for training of the people involved in law enforcement in this regard so that we provide appropriate cultural awareness and training to police officers, RCMP, judges and crown attorneys so that all are prepared, ready and equipped to deal with this very serious social ill.

It has also been recognized that we absolutely have to place an emphasis on apprehending those responsible for fuelling the industry of prostitution, not blaming the victim and focusing on solicitation but understanding that the johns, pimps, drug dealers, business owners, those who knowingly prey on people who are vulnerable and use them to make money to improve their financial situation. That has to be the target of our efforts today.

Finally, the Social Planning Council and other activists in Winnipeg have recommended that we have an active outreach program so that we can reach sex trade workers on the streets, talk to those who are vulnerable and identify from them the solutions that will make a difference.

There is enough research and knowledge from the communities that we represent. It is time to take that knowledge and information, that research and analysis and get it into an active working committee of the House of Commons that can prioritize and sort through jurisdictional questions and come back to this place with recommendations for legislative changes, for changes to the Criminal Code and for programs that actually make a difference in helping women, youth and children get off the streets, out of the sex trade and into areas where they can serve our society with dignity and with pride.

Solicitation Laws
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The item is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 5, 2002 consideration of the motion that Bill C-17, An Act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

November 18th, 2002 / 12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I wish to inform the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane that he had 14 minutes remaining when the debate on this bill was interrupted. After his speech, he will have 10 minutes for questions and comments.