moved that Bill C-304, an act to amend the criminal code (prostitution), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am presenting Bill C-304, an act to amend the criminal code (prostitution). First reading was deemed to be March 19, 2001. In the summary of the bill it states:
Under this enactment, the offences related to prostitution that are provided for in section 213 of the Criminal Code from now on will be either indictable offences or summary conviction offences.
My private member's bill is deceptively simple. It is a minor technical point in the criminal code, but it is my belief that the clarity and improvement it makes can bring a significant positive result for communities to take back their streets, for local merchants to have their sidewalks back again and for parents to renew their confidence in the safety of local schoolyards.
However, the main reason I am bringing the bill forward again is that it addresses the main point of the ease of access for juveniles to get involved in the sex trade in the first place. My bill would mitigate against children getting involved in the beginning. It is about crime prevention.
Bill C-304 would amend section 213 of the criminal code to change the kind of process available against a person being investigated for talking in a public place about buying or selling sex. It would change the street prostitution section.
I propose making the existing offence a hybrid or electable offence so that an investigator can proceed either summarily or under the rules of the list of indictable offences. Critics wrongly get hung up on the theoretical higher penalty from the indictable route, which of course is never applied, rather than the process and identification tools which is what the bill is really all about.
In Canada it is a criminal code offence, a crime to buy and sell sex in a public place such as a street corner, a taxicab, a bar, a pub or a hotel lobby. That is the law. We have had a national conversation about whether that kind of activity should be controlled by criminal sanction and, consequently, it is a crime.
It is also a crime to live off the avails of prostitution, to be a helper or employer to benefit from the trade, or to keep a place of prostitution. Involving juveniles is a very serious crime. However, existing rules for the streets seems to approve in a backhanded way.
The private act of prostitution itself is not a crime. I do not know why it is not a crime, as the history of abuse, exploitation and degradation associated with those who tend to become sex trade workers appears to be condoned here in a double standard. However, that is a completely different debate and beyond the scope of what I am trying to do here today.
I am sure that I will hear from my critics a reference to that false argument to cover their own lack of courage to act, and their lack of understanding of street realities. I have observed that a helpful procedure is to respond more directly to the street trade in prostitution. Capacity creates its own demand. If there were no buyers there would be no sellers, and if there were no sellers there would be no buyers.
We have a societal problem. Mitigating against exploitation is historically the Canadian way. We must provide the legal symbols which provide the appropriate social context for citizens to voluntarily do the right thing, while we defend the helpless and help them, rather than allow them to be exploited.
My proposed change is important for broad societal reasons. There is a national problem of street prostitution across the country that did not exist in such a pervasive way just a few years ago. Since the advent of the charter and the repeal of vagrancy laws the legal capacity has created its own demand. Whenever we create a loophole for the perverse the legal vacuum is soon filled.
Street prostitution goes far beyond just being a local nuisance. Wherever it takes a foothold the surrounding communities soon learn that the drug crowd follows, as does breaking and entering, theft from cars and an attraction of those with criminal histories. All these become entangled in the culture of the street. These trends develop wherever prostitution is openly traded. It is a money producing activity that supports organized crime, the drug trade and the foreign trade in people. It is a sad fact that our pathetic law gives an opening for international operatives to exploit.
Communities are victims too. Mothers do not appreciate walking their children to school over needles and condoms along the schoolyard fence. Merchants should not have to patrol their front sidewalk and doorways cleaning up after the night trade.
However, the fundamental point I observed as a probation officer before I came to this parliament attempting to bring social services to bear to individuals caught up in this sad cycle is that street prostitution itself is the wide open door for the young to become involved. That is my main point.
It is an issue of crime prevention. Runaway children can too easily stand on a street corner and get involved in prostitution as a way to support themselves. The wide open door and the legal and social tolerance of street prostitution is a major source of the national problem, how it is fed and kept going.
My experience in attempting to help young people in conflict with the law and those who were on the street made me acutely aware of how the summary conviction status of communication for prostitution was so much in conflict with all of our concerns and expenditures to help street kids preserve the peace and safety of our neighbourhoods.
Politicians on the Liberal government side have in the past been very sanctimonious about juveniles and prostitution. NDP members also talk about the awful violence against sex trade workers and claim to be concerned about children on the street. Yet historically they have resisted suggestions to mitigate against allowing kids to be on the street supporting themselves through the sex trade.
This is not a new problem. Today we in parliament after years of talk are still dithering about this matter. Past Liberal justice ministers have not responded to my requests. Moreover, previous Conservative governments were no better. There were reports and plenty of consultation but during their tenure the whole prostitution file was not effectively dealt with. Even worse the NDP appeared to support prostitution itself through the advocacy of what it affectionately called sex trade workers. I believe the NDP would like to unionize them and give them police protection right on the street as well as employment insurance.
I come from a different perspective, one that is rather pragmatic. We may not like prostitution in society. We also may not like the overwhelming violation of rights it might take to eliminate most of it. Nevertheless, as parliamentarians we also do not need to pave a golden street for the sex trade to flourish. Therefore, as an interim measure we need to pass my bill so we can get on with the more important comprehensive measures that the government claims it is considering and that the justice department has been studying for years.
Prostitution is exploitive and a lot of other crime and degradation seems to go with it, especially the drug trade and drug abuse. All these tragedies are tied together so there are practical reasons to have the public communications section of the code made as flexible as possible in its application.
The police are also using sections of the code to sometimes issue what is called a no go order for repetitious, obnoxious and aggressive prostitutes who are leading the trade and shepherding others into the trade to be subject to geographic prohibitions of not entering into common strolls. If the recognizance is breached it becomes an offence and is easier to enforce than gathering new evidence under section 213 every time. These restrictions are time limited and tied to the process of other charges, hence, of limited value.
Although section 213 is gender neutral, gathering evidence against buyers is somewhat difficult. Police are unlikely to assign much of its precious police time resources to respond to a problem if the offence is only a summary one and after the expenditure of thousands of dollars in enforcement routines only results in an occasional charge and nets the perpetrator a $100 fine which becomes just another cost of that kind of nuisance.
Flexibility rather than a heavy-handed approach is what I am promoting. The change would allow, if needed, to fingerprint and photograph if cases were proceeded with through the optional indictment process. It would be used as needed and would form part of a broader tool kit of resources that would support crime prevention objectives. It would greatly enhance breaking the cycle of lifestyle for some youths and more effectively get them into community remedial programs. My change would support social programs that focus on deeper causes.
We must have the political courage to intervene so that the inherent discretion that lies throughout the justice system can flexibly respond to the individual need.
In the 1995 interim report of the federal-provincial-territorial working group on prostitution the results of national consultations indicated several recommendations to combat prostitution, one of them being the change to section 213. The deputy minister of justice of the day established the working group in 1992 from the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The most important factor for change was not to punish prostitutes but rather for identification purposes. In many cases prostitutes use false identification. Many in Vancouver and Toronto are not Canadians and are not in the country legally. It is a serious immigration problem which my bill would address.
The Identification of Criminals Act states that fingerprints and photographs cannot be taken when a person is charged summarily. With fingerprints and photographs police would be able to track down runaways and to clear the backlog of outstanding arrest warrants of prostitutes who have used false identities. It would solve some serious crimes. It would send a most necessary and needed message to the community, to both customers and sellers, that such acts are not to be taken lightly and that they are not in society's interest. We would not likely have some 50 dead street workers in Vancouver if my provision had been in place over the last few years.
The response from the working group on this matter stated that the identification of prostitutes, along with the use of false identities, was considered a serious problem by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, one which might have been solved with such amendments. The ability to fingerprint and photograph would make it easier to identify and prosecute repeat offenders.
Something most people are not aware of is that many street prostitutes are runaways living under false names and identities. They become involved and perhaps trapped in a dangerous subculture. Parents of these children desperately want to find a way of tracing their children's whereabouts but because of false identities little can be done. They desperately want to find a way to bring their children home.
The research that has been done on street prostitution suggests that decisions to enter into the prostitution trade are decided in the time of youth. In 1984 the Badgely committee on sexual offences against children and youth found that of all the prostitutes interviewed 93% of females and 97% of males had run away from home.
In another report, a 1990 journal of Canada's Mental Health , authors Earls and David found that the average age of female prostitutes leaving home was 13.7 years.
People who support the sex trade say it is really not a big problem and that politicians are blowing it out of proportion. I have three comments from those affected by street prostitution. The first is from a Vancouver resident:
When prostitutes operate openly in a neighbourhood, all women in the area become targets for cruising johns in cars or on foot. Soon every female from 8 to 60, from your daughter to your mother, will have been on the receiving end of some sort of disgusting advance from a stranger while walking to the store or playing in the park.
The second is from a Toronto resident:
My apartment has become a refuge from streets which become enemy territory every night, streets where I am approached by drug traffickers, accosted by cruising johns and insulted by hookers; streets where menacing groups of young people take over the corners to haggle over drug prices and yell out to people in passing cars.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee in 1989 the former mayor of Toronto and current Minister of National Defence stated:
I support these changes to Bill C-49 as well as other recommendations our police are putting forward to help us once again regain control of our streets, namely that this offence be changed from a summary offence to a hybrid offence requiring that those arrested be fingerprinted and photographed, which is important in dealing with runaways who can change their identities and their names, and others who are trying to avoid prosecution, and that it remains, in addition to that, within the absolute jurisdiction of a provincial court judge.
The Minister of National Defence clearly stated that such a small change to the criminal code could make a huge difference in the fight against street prostitution. I hope he will be a man of principle and lean on his cabinet colleagues to help me so that we can all do the right thing.
In 1995 the justice minister introduced an omnibus bill that touched on the criminal code changes to prostitution. Unfortunately section 213 was not changed. Today communication offences are still mere fines or slaps on the wrist. Street prostitutes are not afraid of being caught nor are they deterred in any way to give up this dark and sad way of living. Their controllers are also allowed to continue their exploitation.
I advocate the passage of my bill for several broad reasons. There are symbolic sociological and national policy reasons why we should do this.
In addition, the local communities most affected are aghast at the lack of action to preserve the safety of their neighbourhoods. We can do it for them. We can do it for our children. It is important that we act on behalf of victims, whether those trapped in the lifestyle or those in the community.
Administratively we need to provide more flexible tools for police officers so they may exercise discretion in dealing with local variances and emerging problems. Moreover, we need to narrow the door which permits kids to get involved in prostitution in the first place and provide other legal ways to get them into social services.
In closing, I ask members of the House not to obfuscate and confuse what I am talking about. I ask them not to get off track by talking about the generalities of prostitution in society, violence against women, developing legalized brothels or any of the related topics not appropriate to the narrow proposal I have brought forward to the House.
My bill is a small technical amendment which could help victims and bring safety to our neighbourhoods. I hope it will receive non-partisan support in that light. It is time we had the political courage to act. Our communities which have sent us here expect no less.