Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak on Motion No. 192. The motion proposes the creation of a special committee of the House “to review the solicitation laws”, that is, the criminal law regarding prostitution-related activities,“in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce exploitation of and violence” done to sex trade workers.
First, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver East for having introduced the motion so that we can have this debate on what is clearly a very important issue. It is no secret that public concerns in the area of prostitution-related activities are growing with respect to the safety of the prostitutes and the harm caused to communities. It should also be noted that careful consideration of prostitution-related criminal law issues is important and is consistent with the government's commitment to vulnerable people, children included, and their protection.
I want to stress that the intent of the motion is admirable in that it tries to find a way to help a group of vulnerable persons and communities in our society that have consistently been marginalized, as the previous speaker indicated. However, I cannot emphasize enough that prostitution is a complex and multi-faceted problem. It must be addressed on many fronts, including legislative reform, community support, social interventions and other related issues.
In addition, the various impacts of prostitution on sex trade workers and on communities must be addressed in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, including other federal departments and agencies, provincial and territorial governments, particularly their departments responsible for dealing with justice-related issues and those responsible for social services and child welfare issues, and last but not least, municipal governments across the country.
Having said that, I wonder whether a special committee would be the best vehicle to elicit the collaboration of all these partners that must be involved in any attempt to address these issues. Clearly the cooperation of all these partners would be necessary to properly and usefully address all facets of prostitution-related issues.
I would like to take a few moments to give a somewhat brief and general outline of some of the government's past accomplishments and its ongoing work on this issue.
The Department of Justice has already undertaken various initiatives to address the issues linked to street prostitution, including the safety of sex trade workers and the reduction of harm to communities. For example, past legislative reform has included Bill C-27, in 1997, which amended the Criminal Code to create a new offence of aggravated procuring, to facilitate the use of police decoys for the apprehension of customers of prostitutes under the age of 18 and to make available special protections to young persons testifying against their exploiters, that is, such things as a screen, closed circuit television or videotaped evidence.
Another example of legislative reform is Bill C-51, in 1999, which amended the Criminal Code to extend the list of offences for which an authorization to intercept a private communication can be granted to include prostitution-related offences. This allows law enforcement to use electronic surveillance to investigate organized and telephone prostitution rings.
In relation to crime prevention and community-based projects, the Department of Justice has supported a number of initiatives, particularly throughout phase two of the national strategy on community safety and crime prevention, a $32 million per year program for safer communities. One initiative, for example, was the production of the “Stolen Lives” video, which documents the difficult lives of young sex trade workers in Vancouver and Calgary. Another example is the Department of Justice funding of some $489,000 to Victoria's Capital Region Action Team to address problems linked with youth prostitution in the Victoria area.
In the international arena, Canada has been involved in addressing the trafficking of women and children. For example, we have actively participated in the negotiation of the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child relating to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 2000. Canada signed the optional protocol in November 2001.
As an example of working with our partners on this important issue, a federal-provincial-territorial working group on prostitution was established in 1992 by the federal-provincial-territorial deputy ministers of justice and reviewed legislation policy and practices concerning prostitution. It was co-chaired by the federal Department of Justice. Its final report was released in December 1998. It made recommendations on both legislation at the federal and provincial levels and on possible partnerships between government agencies. It underscored particularly the need for enhanced collaboration between justice and the child welfare systems.
As another concrete example of our partnerships in action, the federal Department of Justice co-hosted with the British Columbia child welfare services a national meeting of justice and child welfare officials in November 2000. Follow-up action to this national meeting has included the establishment of a network of justice and child welfare officials to allow for the prompt sharing of information on all issues related to children and youth involved in prostitution.
Additional follow-up action is overseen by the federal-provincial-territorial deputy ministers responsible for social services. Also, work is still being done, particularly to study issues and impacts relating to the possibility of decriminalizing street prostitution.
The Department of Justice will continue to build on past achievements and to work with its partners, including provincial, territorial and municipal governments and departments and agencies involved in justice related issues and in social services and child welfare issues.
Needless to say, this is a very complex matter and for all these reasons I support the intent of the motion in principle. However at this time I do not believe that a special committee of the House is the effective way for the development of recommendations and proposed changes to reduce the exploitation and violence done to sex trade workers.