Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-36 at report stage. I stated in the last session that the bill would likely be unconstitutional. This was confirmed by virtually all of the legal witnesses who testified at committee with the exception of the minister and those employed by his department.
Let there be no doubt that this unconstitutional bill will pass the House because the Conservatives hold a majority of the seats in the House. Once it has completed its perfunctory process here at report stage and then third reading, the legislation will proceed to the Senate. That chamber is also controlled by the Conservative majority, and it was decided that it would undertake a pre-study of the bill, meaning that even before the legislation is passed in the House, the Senate Conservatives were holding hearings. Senator Linda Frum was quoted in the media today confirming that any changes to the bill were highly unlikely.
Please allow me to provide an overview of what has transpired with the issue of prostitution, including an overview of the legislative process to date.
As it currently stands, prostitution is legal in Canada and has been since 1892 when the Criminal Code was first enacted. It was the activities surrounding prostitution that were illegal until the Supreme Court ruling in Bedford. Specifically, the Criminal Code outlined communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution and operating a common bawdy house, otherwise known as a brothel.
By way of background, it is critical to reference the famous Bedford case, the reason we are here today. In its landmark court case, a group of sex workers brought forth a charter challenge arguing that those three aforementioned provisions of the Criminal Code put, in the view of sex workers, their safety and security at risk, thereby violating their charter rights. In its landmark decision last December, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with those sex workers and struck down those three Criminal Code provisions, determining that they violated section 7 of the charter, which protects life, liberty and security of the person.
The Supreme Court suspended the ruling from coming into force for a period of one year to give Parliament the opportunity to enact new legislation if it chose to do so. This past June, the Attorney General introduced Bill C-36, a legislative response to the Supreme Court's ruling.
As I have stated, prior to the committee hearings in July, I share the consensus view of legal commentators who strongly believe Bill C-36 is unconstitutional in whole or in part. I do not believe the legislation complies with the Supreme Court ruling. Nor do I believe it complies with the charter. Furthermore, I indicated that the legislation might very well put sex workers at a greater risk of harm or worse.
The Conservatives claimed that they consulted widely about the bill without providing evidence of these consultations. They further claimed that they checked that Bill C-36 was charter compliant, again, without producing evidence in the form of legal opinion despite repeated requests.
The Conservatives rejected a request to refer the question of the bill's constitutionality to the Supreme Court of Canada. They claim to have relied upon evidence in the form of an online survey of Canadians. This survey is really a pretty obvious effort to provide cover from the inevitable critique that they once again defaulted to ideology in crafting the bill. This survey is passed off as evidence by Conservatives.
The Conservatives fail to mention how unscientific online surveys are, especially when the possibility of organized interest groups target the survey in order to skew the results. Is this really what Canadians want from their government, conducting surveys with inherent flaws as the basis for making serious changes in law, or even more worrisome, as the basis of responding to a Supreme Court's decision? Yet we have the spectacle of the Minister of Justice waving around this survey as some sort of conclusive evidence of the current thinking of Canadians.
Then there is the $175,000 Ipsos Reid poll the government commissioned seeking the actual views of Canadians about prostitution. Time and again, the Liberal Party and my colleagues in the official opposition called on government to release that poll, a real poll, to Canadians and to do so before the parliamentary hearings, held this past July. The minister steadfastly opposed releasing the contents of that poll, despite the fact that the information contained might have been helpful to the justice committee's deliberations. In fact, at committee, when questioned about releasing the data from the poll, the only substantive comment came from a Department of Justice official, who said the poll contained useful information in crafting the bill.
Let us recap again. The Conservatives create a ruse. They create a scientifically unreliable website-based survey and use that as evidence. At the same time, they have in their possession actual evidence from their Ipsos Reid poll, evidence that they refuse to release to Parliament or to MPs serving on the justice committee. At the parliamentary hearings last July, I asked the minister about this poll and why he would not release that evidence. Allow me to highlight the exchange because most members would not be familiar with some of the exchanges at committee.
Here is an excerpt from the official parliamentary record of that exchange.
I asked the minister:
I want to come back to [the member for Gatineau's] question with respect to the $175,000 survey or poll that was done by Ipsos Reid. You have indicated that we're going to be able to see it once these hearings are over. Mr. Minister, you have the power to allow us to see that sooner, do you not?
The Minister responded:
The survey itself was not particular to this question of prostitution only, and so there is a normal six-month time period that is invoked for when that polling information will be released. I should note for the record...that you're aware there have been other surveys done and other polling information available that has been released or is in the public domain.
Mr. Minister, do you have the power to abridge the time in which we see this $175,000 Ipsos Reid survey? Do you have the power to give that to us before we examine all these witnesses?
The Minister responded:
There is a six-month timeframe that we will respect.
So you have the power, but you're deciding not to exercise it?
I didn't say that. I said we'll respect the six-month timeframe.
I asked him:
Do you have the power to abridge it?
We'll release it when the six-month timeframe is up.
Is that a yes or a no?
We'll release it when the six-month timeframe is up....
I asked him again:
You won't tell me whether or not you have the power to abridge it, but if you do, you're not going to exercise it.
What I'm telling you is that you'll have the information when the six-month period is up.
There it is: Conservative obstruction in full view. The Minister of Justice repeatedly refused to release that evidence before the justice committee, evidence he knew completely contradicted the government's line about Canadians' views on prostitution. We can only conclude that information, that evidence, was purposely withheld from Parliament and concealed from MPs serving on the justice committee. It was withheld because that evidence tore a gaping hole in their false narrative.
We now know that shortly after the parliamentary hearings on Bill C-36 were completed, some brave whistleblower leaked the contents of the Ipsos Reid poll to the Toronto Star. It is very clear why the Conservatives did not want the Ipsos Reid poll made public. Contrary to the misinformation of the Conservatives, the evidence in the poll suggested Canadians were very much split on the subject.
As I have said before, the Conservatives are entitled to their own ideology and their own opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. Withholding key evidence from the committee was deliberate, and that should trouble any Canadian who values honesty and integrity regardless of what side of the prostitution debate she or he may fall on.
I will leave it at that for now. I look forward to the third-reading debate, where I will go over and highlight what the justice committee heard at our hearings in July.