Mr. Speaker, what was just said aside, there is something that has not been adequately debated in this House, and that is using the statement “what two consenting adults do between them is not the state's concern” as an underpinning to argue that the asymmetrical criminalization that has been put forward through this bill is not an adequate response to the Bedford ruling.
That is because the concept of sexual consent is at the heart of the statement. Our Criminal Code provides a standard definition for “sex without consent” under section 273.1. Some of the provisions include:
(a) the agreement is expressed by the words or conduct of a person other than the complainant; (b) the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity;
There are other provisions.
Through case law, we have seen that a sexual assault offence is established by the proof of three elements: touching, the sexual nature of the content, and the absence of consent.
Furthermore, case law has shown that the absence of consent is subjective by reference to the complainant's internal state of mind towards the touching at the time it occurred.
Beyond this criminal definition of sexual consent is the work that groups involved with prevention of sexual assault have been doing to educate the public on the relationship between knowing and celebrating one's sexuality in order to define the boundaries of consent.
I had a transformational moment last week. I had a chance to speak with Elsbeth Mehrer of the YWCA of Calgary. I asked her, “What do you define as sexual consent?” She talked about an enthusiastic response that is exhibited by both parties.
I am also very proud of the work of the University of Calgary's consent, awareness, and sexual education club. They ran a “Consent is Sweet” campaign to bring this more accurate, in my opinion, concept of sexual consent to their student body.
Since time immemorial, empowered, educated, enthusiastic sexuality, particularly female sexuality, has been written into literature, social mores, and religious practice as an evil, something to be avoided for fear of ripping the very fabric of society. It has only been in very recent decades that western culture, particularly through the feminist movement, has enshrined a new view of consent into our consciousness, yet we still struggle to protect this, from “rapey” chants at frosh week to requests for female airport security officers to be segregated. We as a culture are still challenged with the full acceptance of empowered, equitable sexuality.
Furthermore, at the heart of this new notion of sexual consent is the concept of equality, the concept that all parties are in equilibrium from a power dynamic perspective.
I feel that as such, the “what two consenting adults do” argument is flawed, as there is an overwhelming burden of proof that a large majority of sex workers are not in an equitable position.
Be it a young worker who entered into the trade before having an opportunity to define what an enthusiastic response means in terms of their own sexuality, workers who are selling out of desperation to make the rent, to support substance abuse, to support their children or any other determinant of poverty, or workers who are suffering from mental health issues, there is not equality in the power balance between the parties. In most such situations, I would argue that true sexual consent, this enthusiasm that Elsbeth speaks about and that we are striving as a culture to enshrine, is difficult to achieve.
In demonstrating this, several studies based on surveys or anecdotal evidence from sex worker advocates and service providers suggest that the prevalence of sexual assault in the sex industry is high, particularly in the case of street-level workers.
A 2005 Vancouver study said that 78% of these workers had been raped in prostitution. Studies carried in the mid-1990s by the Department of Justice showed that physical and sexual assaults on prostitutes were commonly carried out by clients, pimps, or boyfriends.
In 2003, the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault published a briefing entitled “What lies behind the hidden figure of sexual assault? Issues of prevalence and disclosure”. It discusses the notion that women working in the sex industry are at a greater risk of sexual violence. The paper also briefly provides information about the treatment of sex workers by the courts and the judiciary in sexual assault cases.
We know that sexual assault is under-reported in general, I believe even more so in the case of sex workers. One of the issues raised in response to sex workers not reporting sexual assault is that they are afraid of being charged with prostitution-related offences as a result of making a statement. They also indicate that being exposed as a sex worker to friends and family is another reason to not report the incident to the police.
When we look at case law, defence strategies generally consist of attacking the credibility of the victim. I looked at some case law involving prostitutes, from 2004 to 2014, and these were some of the defence strategies:
The complainant consented on previous and future occasions.
The complainant is a drug addict and was under the influence when the sexual activities took place, suffers from depression, or cannot recollect the events due to memory lapses.
The complainant continued to work as a prostitute for many years after the event; therefore, she consented to the activity and was not traumatized.
How do these defences demonstrate our culture's acceptance of the value of full, enthusiastic, empowered sexual consent?
In the research completed for me by the Library of Parliament, several court cases showed the difficulty of defining consent in the context of case work. In R. v. House, R. v. Dyck, R. v. Lumsden, and R. v. Jakeer, the courts noticed that sex workers are particularly vulnerable and are entitled to the full measure of protection of the law, as is any other person. The review of cases tended to show that there was no general trend of the judicial interpretation of consent by sex workers. In this context, it seems that the consent of prostitutes is determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis.
I would like to read part of a ruling from the Ontario Court of Justice in relation to sexual assault with a sex worker.
In the circumstances of this case, although I am prepared to accept that she may have had grave misgivings and was in fact not consenting; her words and actions were such that a reasonable person might have an honest but mistaken belief as to her consent. She got into the car, asked for the money agreed upon and then apparently willingly complied with the sexual requests of these young men. I do not agree with the Crown's submission that the young men had any obligation to ask her if she was consenting to sexual contact when they entered the car. It was reasonable for them to assume that she was consenting when she met them with a request for the $30 fee before engaging in sexual activity and never by word or action indicated that she was not consenting to continue. Surely it is not the law that a client of a prostitute has to continually ask whether the acts engaged in are consensual....
I wish I had time to read this whole ruling because given rulings like this, websites which rate sex workers include comments like, “She didn't look at me when we were doing it”. “She cried a bit halfway through”.
I am not of the view that any person has a God-given right to have access to the purchase of sex or that the purchase of sex should in and of itself define sexual consent. To protect sex workers in this country, we need to stop and acknowledge that this is a fundamental flaw in any argument for the legalization of prostitution. By legalizing prostitution, we would degrade a hard-fought cultural understanding of the worth of humans and our sexuality, and make it harder for the victims of sexual assault, even those who are sex workers, to seek recompense and heal.
However, this is not to say that sex workers are in every instance incapable of giving consent. In contrast, by adopting Bill C-36 and the related funding we have announced, our country acknowledges we have the right to consent over what we choose to do with our bodies but that the burden of proof is overwhelming and shows that the majority of sex workers are degraded, assaulted, and abused. As such, we as a society and a nation recognize that the purchase of sexual services is an action we believe is criminal.
In the committee hearings, one of the witnesses spoke to the asymmetrical provisions and asked where it is that you can purchase something legally but not buy it legally, and why don't we do that with booze?
Well, a bottle of booze is not a human being. I believe that in order for us to show that we as a country have moved beyond a very limited range of sexual consent and that we as a culture believe in an empowered, willing, enthusiastic sexual consent definition, this proposed law needs to be adopted.