Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-36, which amends the Criminal Code in order to create an offence that would prohibit purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose.
I am very familiar with this bill because I am a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In July, our committee studied this bill for five consecutive days and heard from 75 witnesses.
We find that this bill does not comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and therefore we will oppose it. The government should have sent Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court to ensure that it is constitutional. The Minister of Justice said that he expected that Bill C-36 would face a legal challenge. As usual, the Conservatives' bills are designed to garner votes, not improve our society.
We consulted many legal experts, stakeholders and sex workers, as well as the authorities concerned by this legislation. Everyone agrees that Bill C-36 does not stand a good chance of getting by the Supreme Court.
There are many sex workers who choose this profession of their own free will. They must be protected from abuse. However, they are not the ones I am concerned about. What I do worry about is the government's lack of action on fighting poverty, which is the main factor that leads to sexual exploitation.
The measures announced by the Conservatives to help prostitutes exit the sex trade are inadequate. Sweden has adopted the model that criminalizes the buyer of services. Some wrongly claim that Bill C-36 is the Canadian version of the Swedish model. In Sweden, these legislative measures go hand in hand with extremely important social measures. The Swedish model cannot work if the authorities do not have the necessary resources to help people in need because, quite frankly, the main cause of prostitution is poverty.
Many women who have no way out turn to prostitution to survive. Those situations give rise to abuse and violence. What have the Conservative and Liberal government done to fight poverty? Nothing at all.
On the contrary, over the past five years, only 20% of Canadians have seen an increase in their incomes. The other 80% have seen their real income shrink. Households in Canada have the highest level of debt in the entire OECD. It is a disaster. Young people are paying more than ever for tuition and are incurring more debt than ever before. To make matters worse, for the past few years, the federal government has been refusing to invest in social housing. By 2030, $1.7 billion in federal funding for social housing will have been lost. This amounts to 85% of the federal housing budget.
In Canada, more than 620,000 social housing units were provided through long-term agreements, with a lifespan ranging from 25 to 50 years. These agreements allow social housing providers to financially support their tenants to ensure that only about 30% of their income is spent on rent.
In 2014, the federal government is still refusing to renew these agreements as they expire.
If we do not change course by 2030, over three-quarters of the federal education budget will have been cut. However, social housing is one way of getting people out of poverty and out of prostitution. For instance, by spending less than 30% of its income on housing, a needy family can invest more money in education. That is why we will continue to call on this government to renew federal funding for social housing, in order to preserve rent subsidies and provide funds for necessary renovations. Furthermore, to help women get out of prostitution, more needs to be done to treat substance abuse problems. Once again, we are up against this government's failure to act.
The Minister of Justice promised $20 million for treatment and prevention as part of Bill C-36's implementation. However, that amount is not even enough to meet the needs of existing organizations throughout Canada. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, witnesses criticized the cuts made to women's centres. This is on top of the funding cuts to mental health services and other medical services, as well as the absence of sufficient legal aid.
If the government is serious about fighting sexual exploitation, it has to allocate substantial resources. It has to provide these women with income support, as well as education, training and treatment for drug addiction. That is the only way to combat prostitution because criminalizing johns, which Bill C-36 would do, will not put an end to sex work. All that will do is further marginalize it. Marginalization is what leads to exploitation and violence. If johns are criminalized, they will be afraid. They will ask sex workers to meet them in out-of-the-way places. They will force them into different circumstances.
Bill C-36 will make life even more unsafe for many prostitutes. If they cannot advertise their services to persuade the johns to come to them, many more are likely to take to the streets in search of business. This bill will make it much more difficult for sex workers to safely assess and vet their clients and ensure they can meet them in relatively safe places on their own terms.
We believe that this bill is not consistent with the Supreme Court ruling or the charter. The measures announced by the Conservatives to help prostitutes exit the sex trade are inadequate. The government must refer the bill to the Supreme Court. We do not believe it is consistent with the Bedford decision.
Finally, concrete efforts must be made immediately to improve the safety of sex workers and help them exit the sex trade if they are not there by choice. The government must provide significant resources for income support, education and training, poverty alleviation and treatment for addictions for this group of people.