Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in this debate on the motion put forward by the member for Vancouver East. I also want to congratulate her for her work on the very serious issue of the sex trade.
This is a very constructive motion before the House. It is worded in a way that gives members of Parliament an opportunity to come together to develop strategies based on the evidence and research done to date. It provides an opportunity to bring guidance and direction back to the House in terms of legislative or programmatic changes.
I am surprised that there has not been a more clear indication of support from government members speaking today for the motion. It seems to me that when we acknowledge and recognize a serious social concern and problem in our society and when we have constructive recommendations for pursuing that problem, we should come together and supports actions based on that kind of understanding. It is surprising to me that there has not been an outpouring of support today from all sides for the motion so we can get down to work and do as other members have said, and that is to get involved in action. Study after study has been done. Research project after research project has been done. Now is the time for action.
The member for Vancouver East has been vigilant and persistent in raising issues around the invisibility of the sex trade worker, particularly from the point of view of the missing women in downtown Vancouver's east side. We need to draw on the experience of members like her to recognize the gaps in policy and the need for action.
Not only is this a serious problem and concern in the City of Vancouver. It has been clearly identified as a priority for the community of Winnipeg. I want to acknowledge the work of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg which recently conducted a series of consultations and information sessions to produce a report entitled, “Exploitation in the Sex Trade: What Can Communities and Agencies Do Together?”, released on March 8. It offers a number of recommendations that ought to be sent to a committee of the House for consideration and deliberation.
This study, like so many others, clearly has acknowledged that this is not just a simple problem for which there is a simple solution. We are talking about a very complicated and complex matter that has come about as a result of multiple causal factors, which have already been identified today in the House. The issues of drug abuse, gang involvement and difficult economic circumstances, particularly deeply entrenched poverty, are clearly factors as to why women are involved in the sex trade. This requires a concerted, comprehensive approach on the part of all of us.
The recommendations that flowed from the Winnipeg consultations are very significant and ought to be studied immediately by this place. Recommendations ought to be brought forward by way of changes to legislation and program initiatives. I want to reference a few of them for the House. These recommendations were made by talking as a community.
The first recommendation is that sexually exploited children and youth ought to be removed from the streets as quickly as possible and taken to a safe place, not from the point of view of emphasizing punishment, but to pursue treatment, to provide safety and alternative programming and to help at the earliest stages possible because nothing is more shocking for all of us than to see, hear and read about very young children aged 6, 7, 8, and 9 years old engaged in the sex trade.
The second recommendation out of the Winnipeg Social Planning Council, and this has been referenced by the Conservative member who just spoke, is that johns found guilty of procuring sexual favours from children and youth ought to be prosecuted for child sexual abuse.
The third recommendation is that we find ways as policy-makers and legislators to partner with Child Find so that we can share information pertaining to children and youth who are missing with children and youth who are clearly identified in terms of the sex trade and sexual exploitation.
Another point, and my colleague from Vancouver has said this time and time again, is that we need a concentrated program around providing community based safe houses because if we do not ensure that we as a federal government support provincial and municipal initiatives in this regard we will never have the kind of network of safe houses that are needed to really make a difference. When people talk about safe houses, they mean support for former prostitutes and including them as staff members. It means linking these safe houses with drug rehabilitation programs. It means access to cultural programs, staff to assist prostitutes transitioning into the mainstream, access to child care services, and so on.
Let me also say that the Winnipeg effort has recognized the need for training of the people involved in law enforcement in this regard so that we provide appropriate cultural awareness and training to police officers, RCMP, judges and crown attorneys so that all are prepared, ready and equipped to deal with this very serious social ill.
It has also been recognized that we absolutely have to place an emphasis on apprehending those responsible for fuelling the industry of prostitution, not blaming the victim and focusing on solicitation but understanding that the johns, pimps, drug dealers, business owners, those who knowingly prey on people who are vulnerable and use them to make money to improve their financial situation. That has to be the target of our efforts today.
Finally, the Social Planning Council and other activists in Winnipeg have recommended that we have an active outreach program so that we can reach sex trade workers on the streets, talk to those who are vulnerable and identify from them the solutions that will make a difference.
There is enough research and knowledge from the communities that we represent. It is time to take that knowledge and information, that research and analysis and get it into an active working committee of the House of Commons that can prioritize and sort through jurisdictional questions and come back to this place with recommendations for legislative changes, for changes to the Criminal Code and for programs that actually make a difference in helping women, youth and children get off the streets, out of the sex trade and into areas where they can serve our society with dignity and with pride.