Evidence of meeting #98 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prostitution.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kara Gillies  Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
Lanna Perrin  Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Work Drum Group, Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
Lori Anne Thomas  Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Linda MacDonald  Co-Founder, Persons Against Non-State Torture
Jeanne Sarson  Co-Founder, Persons Against Non-State Torture
Bridget Perrier  Co-Founder and First Nations Educator, Sextrade101
Natasha Falle  Co-Founder and Director, Sextrade101

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform

Kara Gillies

I'm hesitating for a moment because there are many different models and approaches to regulating sex work in different areas across the globe. I will say that some of the models, like those to which you're referring, are what can generally be called legalized models. Legalized models create very strict and limited circumstances under which certain people are able to work, as opposed to, say, the model in New Zealand, whereby it's not about creating really oppressive conditions; it's about removing the criminal law and allowing existing employment, occupational health and safety, and public health laws to come into play instead.

Any legal model needs to be tailored to a particular legal context and to a particular country. What may or may not work in Germany, for example, may or may not work here. Part of the problem, though, is that there is a conflation of trafficking with sex work, and then when one tries to address both of them together, one ends up with sometimes disastrous outcomes.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

If I can turn to you, Ms. Thomas, with regard to the low rates of conviction for human trafficking, there are all kinds of reasons for that. We've already heard some of those reasons today.

Are there any changes to the Criminal Code that you would see as beneficial in order to assist the prosecution in making out these charges, or is it fine the way it is because people plead out to lesser charges and it helps the prosecution get a conviction that way? I'm concerned that if it's not being utilized in an effective manner, then perhaps there should be changes.

May 22nd, 2018 / 4:50 p.m.

Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers

Lori Anne Thomas

Looking just at the human trafficking as distinct from the prostitution, I think it is fine the way it is, because for one thing, the case law has also indicated that in terms of the offence itself there is a big difference between the application of human trafficking and, in contrast, procuring without the aggravating factors that are generally present with human trafficking. In that way, I think it's fine.

The only thing I would add is an exception to remove the mandatory minimum, because I think the mandatory minimum prevents those who are less culpable from having sentences that are more aligned with their actual culpability. Also, there should be one to allow a defence of duress when there is some psychological harm, but not in the same way as is currently stated in the criminal law, which requires that if there is an opportunity for the person to call the police, than the person is no longer able to afford themselves the application of a duress defence. I think there should be a consideration for those who may be under a psychological duress which still means that they may not call the police even though there's an opportunity to call the police or to seek protection.

There are people who plead guilty to human trafficking just to get the minimum, but those who go to trial can easily, if there are the aggravating circumstances that have been defined by the criminal law and by the code and if those are presented...I can let you know that those people will be convicted.

That is why plea bargaining sometimes works in getting to the lesser offence, because sometimes you'll have the victim testifying at preliminary hearings and asserting things. If the victim is consistent and looks to be holding up well under any cross-examination, that is something that probably won't go to trial in the superior court, because the evidence is enough to convince somebody that we have a very strong witness here and you're not going to be successful at trial.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

The circumstances of the offence would obviously matter on sentencing, and any aggravating factors, such as a human trafficking element, would require a higher sentence as well.

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers

Lori Anne Thomas

That's correct.

In addition, even if—and I want to be clear—somebody pleads to the lesser offence of procuring, for example, they will still read in the aggravating factors. If they are serving a penitentiary sentence, that will be something that follows along with them when they go to have their parole hearings. The aggravating factors, even if not the actual human trafficking offence, that apply will still be read in.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Thanks very much.

Ms. MacDonald and Ms. Sarson, thank you for coming back to our committee. I know you were here on a different matter before, but I appreciate your thoughts on this.

Just so that I understand, when we're talking about human trafficking in the context of torture, are there people actually being trafficked for the purpose of being tortured? Is that what you're saying, or are you saying that human trafficking in and of itself is torture?

I just want to be clear on that.

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder, Persons Against Non-State Torture

Linda MacDonald

No, what we're saying is that families who have children to torture and to groom to endure torture deliberately traffic them for profit and for pleasure. They are a specific group. That's the knowledge that we have, our expertise: the families traffic them.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Do we have any idea of how prevalent that is in Canada?

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder, Persons Against Non-State Torture

Linda MacDonald

No, because there's no law and there's no research and data in this country to have it clearly identified. We've talked to many women in Canada and other countries, but we don't know the breadth of it.

I can say that the London Abused Women's Centre is now collecting data on torture, and they have been for the last two years. The incidence of reporting torture has gone up the longer the staff have been trained to know how to understand what torture is and how it's being identified.

It's our understanding that if all the violence centres in Canada were trained, we'd probably hear a lot more stories about torture in this country.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Thank you.

Can I ask one more quick question?

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Yes, a quick question.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Ms. Falle and Ms. Perrier, thank you for being here. I know there's a divergence of opinion here about the approach, but I want to commend you for the work you do.

I think, Ms. Perrier, you said that you've helped over 400 women and girls get out of the situation of being trafficked and being oppressed. Thank you for that work. What I'd like to know, though, is how funding of your type of organization works as far as your operations go. Is there anything more that government can do to support any type of organization that is doing work to support women and girls in this fashion?

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and Director, Sextrade101

Natasha Falle

Yes, we are a volunteer coalition, so any money that's raised is raised through speaking engagements, consultation, and training. That money goes into helping the women to exit through gift cards, grocery store cards, midnight safety plans, emergency exit strategies. That's basically where our friends come.

We've had some events where we've raised some small amount of money, but other than that we do not receive any government, provincial or federal, money whatsoever.

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and First Nations Educator, Sextrade101

Bridget Perrier

We have a huge coalition of volunteers who will go in and remove someone from a situation or if we have a girl who's setting up and finally able to secure housing or whatever, I put the call out. I work on subcontracting through indigenous organizations to work one-on-one with survivors. I train the staff and all that—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Okay.

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and First Nations Educator, Sextrade101

Bridget Perrier

—but I also speak internationally.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

That's probably my time, so we'll have to—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

It's definitely your time.

Now we'll move to ask short snappers. To some members of the committee who have shorter questions, just let me know that you have them and I'll be happy to recognize you.

We're going to start with Mr. MacKenzie.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

I appreciate the fact that you're here and I appreciate that there are differences.

Ms. Falle, you had something you wanted to add to Mr. Rankin's question and I don't think you had an opportunity to.

4:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and Director, Sextrade101

Natasha Falle

Thank you.

I believe it had something to do with not being able to.... There was some mention that there was some fear of calling the police, and I want to say that the women who we support report otherwise. They say that they believe that the laws are actually giving them more leverage, because they now know that they can call the police and they will not be charged. They feel that gives them more control in a situation with these strange men.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Thank you very much, and I do appreciate what your comments are about the police. I don't think they're bad people in this situation.

We did hear from the two ladies who ended up in this industry, if you will.

How did you end up in that same industry? Was there somebody coercing you? Were you forced into it in some respect or did you walk into it?

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform

Kara Gillies

I was 17 years of age and I found myself on my own. I struggled for a bit trying to find employment as somebody who was below the age of employment in many more traditional fields and I started working on the street. I entered into it with a lot of trepidation and a fair amount of fear and yet I found for me, quite quickly, it was something I was competent at and I was comfortable with. Then I moved on to work in strip clubs, massage parlours, and other agencies.

While I recognized that I had a lot of limitations in my life at that point, I also had the opportunity not just to survive but to thrive. For me as an individual, sex work has been really valuable, not just in terms of my economic well-being, but in terms of my social circles, my connections, and how I've been able to move forward. I recognize that's not true for everyone.

I do think it would be true for more people if we didn't have the legal and social repression that we experience, because I can say as somebody who is out as a prostitute, I face a huge amount of stigma and disparagement and that can be hard to manage, but for me, on the balance, it's been worth it.

5 p.m.

Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Work Drum Group, Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform

Lanna Perrin

I was 16 when I moved out on my own. I had no father at my home. My single mother had extreme mental health issues. I didn't feel comfortable, so I moved out on my own, and the welfare cheques that I got didn't last until the end of the month. I was in school. When I went to the soup kitchen, I met other girls my age who were able to go out on the corner for a few hours and make a few hundred bucks, and that's what I started doing.

When I got older I went into a few different massage parlours and agencies. Some of them were good and some were bad. I've had different experiences. I am not a sex addict. I am not coming from trauma. Currently, I hold a position at PASAN which is a prisoners' HIV and AIDS agency where I run an indigenous program. I work 35 hours a week there.

I work five hours a week doing on-the-ground, street-level outreach with backpacks, talking to sex workers who are working on the streets. I do hand drumming for the Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto a couple of times a week. I live a pretty normal life. The only thing that is not normal about it is when I was young, I made some bad choices. I have shit credit.

I live in Toronto. I make over $3,000 a month and it's not enough to pay rent for me and my four children. We live in a motel room.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Okay, thank you very much.

All of you are very articulate. I think you expressed yourselves very well, but I think we would also recognize that there are two extremes, two differences, and what I think we, as a committee, are trying to wrestle with is to deal with the two extremes and take out the force, the violence, and all those things. To get there is going to be a struggle for all of us and we recognize that, but if we didn't hear from both sides we could very easily walk away and think there's only one side to the equation.

I know it's difficult, but I believe the whole committee appreciates the fact that you are here, and you have educated us.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you, and well summarized, Mr. MacKenzie, and much appreciated.

Ms. Khalid.