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House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was excise.

Topics

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I hope the hon. member will not be too shocked when I inform him that is not a point of order.

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was talking about the taxes on cigarettes being a disincentive. I think especially of those in my knowledge who have succumbed to illnesses caused by cigarette smoking, both heart disease and lung cancer. Those are not good ways to die. It would be a lot better if the use of tobacco were reduced. Whether taxation is the way of doing that I do not know. Generally the principle in my mind is we ought not to use tax policy to drive social behaviour. I think that is an improper mix.

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 22nd, 2002 / 1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

moved that Bill C-304, an act to amend the criminal code (prostitution), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting Bill C-304, an act to amend the criminal code (prostitution). First reading was deemed to be March 19, 2001. In the summary of the bill it states:

Under this enactment, the offences related to prostitution that are provided for in section 213 of the Criminal Code from now on will be either indictable offences or summary conviction offences.

My private member's bill is deceptively simple. It is a minor technical point in the criminal code, but it is my belief that the clarity and improvement it makes can bring a significant positive result for communities to take back their streets, for local merchants to have their sidewalks back again and for parents to renew their confidence in the safety of local schoolyards.

However, the main reason I am bringing the bill forward again is that it addresses the main point of the ease of access for juveniles to get involved in the sex trade in the first place. My bill would mitigate against children getting involved in the beginning. It is about crime prevention.

Bill C-304 would amend section 213 of the criminal code to change the kind of process available against a person being investigated for talking in a public place about buying or selling sex. It would change the street prostitution section.

I propose making the existing offence a hybrid or electable offence so that an investigator can proceed either summarily or under the rules of the list of indictable offences. Critics wrongly get hung up on the theoretical higher penalty from the indictable route, which of course is never applied, rather than the process and identification tools which is what the bill is really all about.

In Canada it is a criminal code offence, a crime to buy and sell sex in a public place such as a street corner, a taxicab, a bar, a pub or a hotel lobby. That is the law. We have had a national conversation about whether that kind of activity should be controlled by criminal sanction and, consequently, it is a crime.

It is also a crime to live off the avails of prostitution, to be a helper or employer to benefit from the trade, or to keep a place of prostitution. Involving juveniles is a very serious crime. However, existing rules for the streets seems to approve in a backhanded way.

The private act of prostitution itself is not a crime. I do not know why it is not a crime, as the history of abuse, exploitation and degradation associated with those who tend to become sex trade workers appears to be condoned here in a double standard. However, that is a completely different debate and beyond the scope of what I am trying to do here today.

I am sure that I will hear from my critics a reference to that false argument to cover their own lack of courage to act, and their lack of understanding of street realities. I have observed that a helpful procedure is to respond more directly to the street trade in prostitution. Capacity creates its own demand. If there were no buyers there would be no sellers, and if there were no sellers there would be no buyers.

We have a societal problem. Mitigating against exploitation is historically the Canadian way. We must provide the legal symbols which provide the appropriate social context for citizens to voluntarily do the right thing, while we defend the helpless and help them, rather than allow them to be exploited.

My proposed change is important for broad societal reasons. There is a national problem of street prostitution across the country that did not exist in such a pervasive way just a few years ago. Since the advent of the charter and the repeal of vagrancy laws the legal capacity has created its own demand. Whenever we create a loophole for the perverse the legal vacuum is soon filled.

Street prostitution goes far beyond just being a local nuisance. Wherever it takes a foothold the surrounding communities soon learn that the drug crowd follows, as does breaking and entering, theft from cars and an attraction of those with criminal histories. All these become entangled in the culture of the street. These trends develop wherever prostitution is openly traded. It is a money producing activity that supports organized crime, the drug trade and the foreign trade in people. It is a sad fact that our pathetic law gives an opening for international operatives to exploit.

Communities are victims too. Mothers do not appreciate walking their children to school over needles and condoms along the schoolyard fence. Merchants should not have to patrol their front sidewalk and doorways cleaning up after the night trade.

However, the fundamental point I observed as a probation officer before I came to this parliament attempting to bring social services to bear to individuals caught up in this sad cycle is that street prostitution itself is the wide open door for the young to become involved. That is my main point.

It is an issue of crime prevention. Runaway children can too easily stand on a street corner and get involved in prostitution as a way to support themselves. The wide open door and the legal and social tolerance of street prostitution is a major source of the national problem, how it is fed and kept going.

My experience in attempting to help young people in conflict with the law and those who were on the street made me acutely aware of how the summary conviction status of communication for prostitution was so much in conflict with all of our concerns and expenditures to help street kids preserve the peace and safety of our neighbourhoods.

Politicians on the Liberal government side have in the past been very sanctimonious about juveniles and prostitution. NDP members also talk about the awful violence against sex trade workers and claim to be concerned about children on the street. Yet historically they have resisted suggestions to mitigate against allowing kids to be on the street supporting themselves through the sex trade.

This is not a new problem. Today we in parliament after years of talk are still dithering about this matter. Past Liberal justice ministers have not responded to my requests. Moreover, previous Conservative governments were no better. There were reports and plenty of consultation but during their tenure the whole prostitution file was not effectively dealt with. Even worse the NDP appeared to support prostitution itself through the advocacy of what it affectionately called sex trade workers. I believe the NDP would like to unionize them and give them police protection right on the street as well as employment insurance.

I come from a different perspective, one that is rather pragmatic. We may not like prostitution in society. We also may not like the overwhelming violation of rights it might take to eliminate most of it. Nevertheless, as parliamentarians we also do not need to pave a golden street for the sex trade to flourish. Therefore, as an interim measure we need to pass my bill so we can get on with the more important comprehensive measures that the government claims it is considering and that the justice department has been studying for years.

Prostitution is exploitive and a lot of other crime and degradation seems to go with it, especially the drug trade and drug abuse. All these tragedies are tied together so there are practical reasons to have the public communications section of the code made as flexible as possible in its application.

The police are also using sections of the code to sometimes issue what is called a no go order for repetitious, obnoxious and aggressive prostitutes who are leading the trade and shepherding others into the trade to be subject to geographic prohibitions of not entering into common strolls. If the recognizance is breached it becomes an offence and is easier to enforce than gathering new evidence under section 213 every time. These restrictions are time limited and tied to the process of other charges, hence, of limited value.

Although section 213 is gender neutral, gathering evidence against buyers is somewhat difficult. Police are unlikely to assign much of its precious police time resources to respond to a problem if the offence is only a summary one and after the expenditure of thousands of dollars in enforcement routines only results in an occasional charge and nets the perpetrator a $100 fine which becomes just another cost of that kind of nuisance.

Flexibility rather than a heavy-handed approach is what I am promoting. The change would allow, if needed, to fingerprint and photograph if cases were proceeded with through the optional indictment process. It would be used as needed and would form part of a broader tool kit of resources that would support crime prevention objectives. It would greatly enhance breaking the cycle of lifestyle for some youths and more effectively get them into community remedial programs. My change would support social programs that focus on deeper causes.

We must have the political courage to intervene so that the inherent discretion that lies throughout the justice system can flexibly respond to the individual need.

In the 1995 interim report of the federal-provincial-territorial working group on prostitution the results of national consultations indicated several recommendations to combat prostitution, one of them being the change to section 213. The deputy minister of justice of the day established the working group in 1992 from the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The most important factor for change was not to punish prostitutes but rather for identification purposes. In many cases prostitutes use false identification. Many in Vancouver and Toronto are not Canadians and are not in the country legally. It is a serious immigration problem which my bill would address.

The Identification of Criminals Act states that fingerprints and photographs cannot be taken when a person is charged summarily. With fingerprints and photographs police would be able to track down runaways and to clear the backlog of outstanding arrest warrants of prostitutes who have used false identities. It would solve some serious crimes. It would send a most necessary and needed message to the community, to both customers and sellers, that such acts are not to be taken lightly and that they are not in society's interest. We would not likely have some 50 dead street workers in Vancouver if my provision had been in place over the last few years.

The response from the working group on this matter stated that the identification of prostitutes, along with the use of false identities, was considered a serious problem by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, one which might have been solved with such amendments. The ability to fingerprint and photograph would make it easier to identify and prosecute repeat offenders.

Something most people are not aware of is that many street prostitutes are runaways living under false names and identities. They become involved and perhaps trapped in a dangerous subculture. Parents of these children desperately want to find a way of tracing their children's whereabouts but because of false identities little can be done. They desperately want to find a way to bring their children home.

The research that has been done on street prostitution suggests that decisions to enter into the prostitution trade are decided in the time of youth. In 1984 the Badgely committee on sexual offences against children and youth found that of all the prostitutes interviewed 93% of females and 97% of males had run away from home.

In another report, a 1990 journal of Canada's Mental Health , authors Earls and David found that the average age of female prostitutes leaving home was 13.7 years.

People who support the sex trade say it is really not a big problem and that politicians are blowing it out of proportion. I have three comments from those affected by street prostitution. The first is from a Vancouver resident:

When prostitutes operate openly in a neighbourhood, all women in the area become targets for cruising johns in cars or on foot. Soon every female from 8 to 60, from your daughter to your mother, will have been on the receiving end of some sort of disgusting advance from a stranger while walking to the store or playing in the park.

The second is from a Toronto resident:

My apartment has become a refuge from streets which become enemy territory every night, streets where I am approached by drug traffickers, accosted by cruising johns and insulted by hookers; streets where menacing groups of young people take over the corners to haggle over drug prices and yell out to people in passing cars.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee in 1989 the former mayor of Toronto and current Minister of National Defence stated:

I support these changes to Bill C-49 as well as other recommendations our police are putting forward to help us once again regain control of our streets, namely that this offence be changed from a summary offence to a hybrid offence requiring that those arrested be fingerprinted and photographed, which is important in dealing with runaways who can change their identities and their names, and others who are trying to avoid prosecution, and that it remains, in addition to that, within the absolute jurisdiction of a provincial court judge.

The Minister of National Defence clearly stated that such a small change to the criminal code could make a huge difference in the fight against street prostitution. I hope he will be a man of principle and lean on his cabinet colleagues to help me so that we can all do the right thing.

In 1995 the justice minister introduced an omnibus bill that touched on the criminal code changes to prostitution. Unfortunately section 213 was not changed. Today communication offences are still mere fines or slaps on the wrist. Street prostitutes are not afraid of being caught nor are they deterred in any way to give up this dark and sad way of living. Their controllers are also allowed to continue their exploitation.

I advocate the passage of my bill for several broad reasons. There are symbolic sociological and national policy reasons why we should do this.

In addition, the local communities most affected are aghast at the lack of action to preserve the safety of their neighbourhoods. We can do it for them. We can do it for our children. It is important that we act on behalf of victims, whether those trapped in the lifestyle or those in the community.

Administratively we need to provide more flexible tools for police officers so they may exercise discretion in dealing with local variances and emerging problems. Moreover, we need to narrow the door which permits kids to get involved in prostitution in the first place and provide other legal ways to get them into social services.

In closing, I ask members of the House not to obfuscate and confuse what I am talking about. I ask them not to get off track by talking about the generalities of prostitution in society, violence against women, developing legalized brothels or any of the related topics not appropriate to the narrow proposal I have brought forward to the House.

My bill is a small technical amendment which could help victims and bring safety to our neighbourhoods. I hope it will receive non-partisan support in that light. It is time we had the political courage to act. Our communities which have sent us here expect no less.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-304.

In a nutshell, subsection 213(1) of the criminal code makes it an offence to communicate in a public place with any person for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Currently the offence under section 213 of the criminal code is punishable on summary conviction. The sentence is a fine of not more than $2,000, imprisonment for six months, or both.

The amendment proposed by the hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby would classify the offence as a hybrid offence. Hybridizing offences results in potentially increased penalties. This offence, punishable today by a maximum sentence of imprisonment for six months, would become punishable by imprisonment for up to five years as a result of the application of section 743 of the criminal code.

When the legislation containing this provision was first introduced in the House of Commons the Hon. John Crosby was Minister of Justice. He said the purpose behind the legislation was not to deal with all the legal issues connected with prostitution but to address the nuisance caused by street prostitution. He sought to balance the concerns of law enforcement agencies, citizen's groups, women's groups and civil libertarians.

Section 213 is intended to assist in dealing with the nuisance problems experienced by neighbourhoods affected by street prostitution. Making the offence punishable by five years would be going too far. Similar offences such as causing a disturbance in a public place are summary conviction offences.

Another possible underlying purpose for making a section 213 offence a hybrid offence is, as the hon. member mentioned, to permit the fingerprinting and photographing of persons charged under the section. As a hybrid offence the Identification of Criminals Act allows fingerprinting and photographing only in the case of offenders accused of committing indictable offences pursuant to the federal Interpretation Act. Hybrid offences are interpreted in that fashion.

Some seem to believe fingerprinting and photographing would act as deterrents for persons charged under subsection 213(1). However experience has shown it is not necessarily so. In addition, converting section 213 into a hybrid offence would allow police officers to proceed with arrests whenever they had reasonable grounds to believe an offence had been committed or was about to be committed.

In the case of a summary conviction offence police officers cannot arrest until they find a suspect committing an offence. Increasing police powers would likely lead to increased enforcement and ultimately the displacement of prostitutes to more isolated and potentially dangerous areas where their lives would be at greater risk.

It is important to realize that making subsection 213(1) a hybrid offence could open the door to engaging the more onerous criminal procedure associated with indictable offences and thereby create an added burden for the courts. This would have to be avoided by explicitly keeping the application of section 213 within the absolute jurisdiction of the provincial court.

For these reasons subsection 213(1) of the criminal code should not be amended.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-304, the private member's bill put forward by the hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby.

The hon. member has spent a number of years working with youth. He has expressed a lot of concerns about street prostitution and the impact it has on local communities and on the prostitutes themselves. I appreciate his concerns and agree with the goals he has expressed today. He wants to improve safety in local communities, on our streets, in neighbourhoods where there are schools and so on. I support the goal of stopping violence against and exploitation of sex trade workers or prostitutes, particularly juveniles.

However I have a somewhat different perspective. If the goal is to stop exploitation as the hon. member said in his opening remarks, I have difficulty understanding how we could do so by making criminal sanctions against prostitutes stronger. If we want to stop exploitation why would we look at further criminalization? The hon. member says the bill is focused on the need to address the situation of juveniles on the street. However nothing in the bill is directed toward juveniles. If that is the primary goal it is not expressed in the bill.

If Bill C-304 were approved it would give more power to the police. It would give them the discretion to go from a summary offence to an indictable offence. It would give police authorities more power in the hope they could somehow solve the issue.

This is where I fundamentally disagree with the hon. member. It is a mistake to think we could deal with safety or the exploitation or juveniles on the street by handing the police more powers. For years police departments have campaigned for much stronger criminal sanctions. They have campaigned for fingerprinting as the hon. member mentioned. They were upset the day the old vagrancy laws were taken away because they were a powerful tool to round up anyone they had the slightest suspicion about. These things are a huge invasion of civil liberties. While the bill's goals may be good, the narrow mechanism it proposes for dealing with offences pertaining to prostitution under the criminal code is the wrong way to go.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East. As I am sure many members know, we have a most horrible situation unfolding in the national media. People are aware that 50 women, mostly prostitutes, have gone missing. Many are aboriginal women. The hon. member said if his bill had been in effect the women may not be missing or dead. If it had been in effect it would not have improved their safety whatsoever. It would have pushed them into a more criminalized lifestyle.

One of the problems we are facing is that when women on the street involved in the sex trade are subject to abuse and violence the police are often the last people they go to for protection because there may be warrants against them. They are already in a criminal environment.

Bill C-304 is the wrong way to go. During this important debate about the laws pertaining to prostitution we need to have an honest examination of the issue.

I have written to the Minister of Justice. I called on him to look at and expand the work of the working group on prostitution. I called on him to bring forward the idea of a special committee that would publicly look at the issue. I called on him to recognize there are hypocrisies in the law as it stands today. As the hon. member pointed out, prostitution is not illegal. It is illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution, keep a common bawdy house and so on, but in reality engaging in prostitution through an escort service or body rub parlour is completely ignored. Although it is “illegal” there is no public attention to the issue and no outcry about it. It points out the hypocrisy of our laws.

Rather than the bill before us today I would like to see an examination of the criminal code to look at ways to decrease violence and exploitation of women on the street. It is a huge mistake to say making the offences indictable would somehow improve the situation of the women and the safety of the neighbourhoods.

I thank the hon. member for bringing the matter forward. However I do not support the measure being suggested in the bill. I have talked to a number of colleagues who share the same opinion. I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's response. I would encourage the Minister of Justice to pay attention to what is happening in the downtown east side and to the fact that the women went missing over a period of time and nothing was done. We need a public inquiry into the police investigation that did not take place. I and many others in the community have called for it.

More particularly we need to examine the role and impact of federal laws pertaining to offences around prostitution. We need to ask whether they are contributing to an environment that makes the lives of the women more unsafe and safety in the communities harder to attain. We need to have that debate. It will not take place merely as a result of Bill C-304.

I urge the Minister of Justice to respond to the very real concerns coming out of the community. He should to look at the work done by the working group on prostitution. He should recognize the double standards that exist in the law today and say yes, we must stop the exploitation of juveniles. We should call it what it is. It is the abuse of children and we should have strong criminal sanctions against it. However making it a generally indictable offence would not offer a solution. If anything it would create a more unsafe situation for local communities and women on the street.

I thank the hon. member for bringing the bill forward. Regrettably, it is something I cannot support.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess I have a very different point of view from that of the member for Vancouver East or I would not have seconded the motion by my colleague, the member for New Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby.

I have witnessed some things in the last few years that I find very disturbing. I believe this private member's bill will help to rectify those things.

One of those was the government's decision a few years back to drop the bona fides as they are referred to on refugee claimants or immigration claimants for exotic dancers. As I recall at the time the reason given was that it was too much paperwork.

It is a very easily proven fact that a lot of the women who were brought in for positions as exotic dancers were in fact brought in for the sex trade. That has continued and there has been nothing done to stop it.

If my colleague's private member's bill were to pass and the government could obtain fingerprints, it would solve a lot of problems. Not only would it solve a lot of problems for those women who are being brought in for the sex trade, but it would also solve a lot of problems for many parents in this country.

As a mother I have been very fortunate as my children have never caused me any difficulty at all. I cannot imagine being put in a position where my child has run away from home. If my child had run away from home and I was one of these parents wondering what had happened, knowing that my child was out there somewhere probably involved in the sex trade, the fact that my child could be fingerprinted under this proposed legislation would give me great comfort. There would be a way to trace the child. There would be a way to find out if the child had been arrested for prostitution or where the child was. That would allow for intervention.

I have very few concerns about the points made by the parliamentary secretary of the possibility of the sentence going from one year to five years. If we look at the way sentencing is being done for horrid crimes, the sentences are very light and inconsequential. I do not really think we are going to have problem with the judicial system suddenly deciding that if a person has been picked up for prostitution and is fingerprinted, that the person is now going to get a sentence of five years. In some cases if that were to happen it actually might be a life saver for the women. They would have an opportunity to be educated to do something other than prostitute themselves when they went back out into society. However, I do not think that is going to be a concern. I think the sentencing will remain at one year or less.

Going back to what I was saying about the children, that is the reason I support the bill wholeheartedly.

My colleague from Vancouver East mentioned the 50 women who have been found in her riding. What a horrid tragedy. The bill probably would not have prevented those women from being killed but it might have.

If the women had been arrested and fingerprinted and one of their friends had gone to the RCMP and said “Mary is missing”, the RCMP could have started to look for Mary long in advance. They could have ruled out a few things and perhaps Mary and many of her friends would not have been killed. That may be stretching it a little, but I like to think that there would have been some sort of mechanism if the bill was in place to help protect those women from what happened to them.

Regardless of the outcome, I am going to support the bill. In my opinion, the fingerprinting and the photographing of prostitutes who are picked up would be a great help to parents. That is why I will support the bill.

If we can do anything to help parents find children who have run away and maybe give the children the opportunity to turn around and make a life for themselves, then I support it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-304 which unfortunately is a non-votable item. I always like to open my comments in private members' business by suggesting that the item should be votable regardless of whether I and my party agree or disagree with it. I strongly believe that all private members' business is important enough that it should be votable so we can stand up for our convictions as the member who put forward the bill has done.

This is a very controversial subject. It involves very complex, contradictory interests, values and issues. It is an issue that is at the heart of a lot of our own feelings about what is happening in Canada.

The bill attempts to deal with the most visible evidence of prostitution, that being street solicitation. It has become an acute problem in larger Canadian urban centres where prostitutes have transformed certain areas into unpleasant congested districts. Some argue that it also leads to other problems such as drug addiction and violent crime.

Residents and businesses have voiced concern over the noise and traffic. Children in residential areas where this occurs may be exposed not only to the sex and drug trades, but also to the litter left from the sex and drug trades.

A 1999 study by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics reported a sharp increase in the number of prostitution related incidents following two years of decline. However the increase could reflect changes in enforcement rather than in the volume of criminal activity. Most recent statistics show that there were 5,036 offences dealing specifically with prostitution in the year 2000.

The street is a dangerous place for people working in this trade. There is a relationship between violence against prostitutes, including assaults and homicides and the venue in which it occurs. Nearly all assaults and murders occur while the prostitute is working on the street.

When considering how to deal with legislation regarding prostitution under section 213, we should be cognizant of the fact that the potential for increased violence against prostitutes exists. Unfortunately, the bill does not do that.

The bill would amend section 213 of the criminal code so offences would now become either indictable or summary in nature. Presently, offences found under section 213 are summary, allowing for a maximum of six months of imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $2,000. The amendment would give the sentencing judge the option of summary or indictable charges, essentially increasing the maximum from two years less a day up to 10 years.

We would be inclined to support a shift in sentencing if it pertained to those living off the avails of prostitution or those who engage in recruitment for prostitution.

Under section 212 of the criminal code, everyone who procures, attempts to procure or solicit a person to have illicit sex with another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. This section deals specifically with those who wish to live off the avails of prostitution and would seem to have a greater beneficial societal effect in terms of sentencing.

Rather than increasing the sentence from summary to indictable for those charged under section 213, charges under section 212 would potentially address the greater issue, that of those profiting from prostitution. An increase along the lines of those found in section 212(2), which increases the term of the offence from the maximum of 10 years to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years for anyone who lives wholly or in part off the avails of prostitution of another person who is under the age of 18 years, could potentially serve as the model.

This amendment to section 213 would distort the system to deal with what some consider as much a societal problem as it is a legal problem. Those involved in the sex trade are often victimized disproportionately when compared to others. This is especially true in terms of youth involved in the practice. They are more at risk of being robbed, beaten and sexually assaulted at the hands of pimps or customers.

This is not the right approach. In fact, it takes a rather simplistic approach. Making the offence indictable does nothing to stop the problem or address the greater issue for those living off the avails of prostitution.

Section 213(1) is out to confine and keep prostitution out of the public view. It does this by making it an offence for anyone who tries to engage in prostitution or for those wishing to obtain the sexual services of a prostitute by making it an offence to: stop or attempt to stop any motor vehicle; impede the free flow of pedestrian vehicular traffic or going into or out of premises adjacent to that place; stop or attempt to stop any person or in any manner communicate or attempt to communicate with any person for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.

If there is to be a lasting beneficial effect, we need to address the heart of the problem. We need to engage in preventive measures such as early intervention, educational awareness strategies, development of education tools and resources, and earlier identification of those at risk. These comments were made by the presenter and speakers from the Alliance. I could not agree more that we have to address those particular issues, the societal problems.

By making it an indictable offence, the opinion was given that it would simply be an option available to the courts, that it could be a summary or an indictable offence. Making it an indictable offence and taking people off the streets and putting them in jail for up to 10 years does not solve the problem.

I congratulate the member for bringing the matter to the attention of the House and to the attention of a society that already knows there is an issue with respect to prostitution, particularly child prostitution as we have seen in the major centres. However, this legislation, even if it were votable, even if it did go forward and even if it were put into effect would not resolve the problems and issues we face now as a society with prostitution and particularly those under the age of 18.

Had the bill been votable, the PC/DR coalition would not have supported this legislation, not because we do not think it is a major issue. We simply feel it is not the right way to change a very serious problem.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing the bill introduced by the hon. member for Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby. If I am pleased to be able to speak today, it is essentially because I find the topic interesting, although mainly a cause for grave concern.

I must make it immediately clear, however, that I am far from being in favour of the bill in question. As we all know, prostitution has always been, and will continue to be, a highly controversial subject and one that involves some highly complex interests, values and problems.

As I was saying, the merit of my colleague's bill is that it offers us as legislators an opportunity to ask ourselves some serious questions on this issue. We must admit that the federal government's inaction, or at least its slowness to act, has encouraged others to find solutions to the problem surrounding the world's oldest profession. Canadian law, on the contrary, has lent to prostitution a status of semi-legality, which has resulted in considerable confusion, for sex workers, police and the general public alike.

We all know that prostitution involves issues of feminism, individual freedom and public order. It always stirs up passionate debate.

When I read Bill C-304, however, which is aimed at amending the criminal code in order to make offences related to prostitution offences punishable by a maximum 10 year sentence, I am far from convinced that further criminalization of prostitution-related activities will solve all the problems surrounding it, particularly the impacts and consequences.

Prostitution is, of course, an international problem, and one addressed by many people before us. If there were one single and simple solution, everyone would have adopted it by now. But I am not convinced that this is the case. To quote the rather picturesque expression used by Diane Lavallée, president of the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec, “When Mars and Jupiter look upon Earth, they do not see the same reality”.

For these reasons, and because the phenomenon of prostitution is a reality in Quebec as it is everywhere else, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois has asked three MPs to provide him with some proposals relating to the specific phenomenon of street prostitution. It is important to clarify that the problem lies mainly with street prostitution, because what is out of sight is somewhat out of mind.

Accordingly, in June 2000, the members for Saint-Bruno--Saint-Hubert and Hochelaga--Maisonneuve and I launched an extensive consultation of community organizations, spokespersons for sex workers, members of the Catholic Church, police officers, and many other stakeholders.

Naturally, our consultation was limited to the Montreal and Quebec City area, and even my riding of Longueuil. In fact, though it may surprise some people, there is also street prostitution in Longueuil.

The assignment was complex but, at the same time, very inspiring. One thing is obvious and that is that indifference is not an option, because prostitution affects our children, our sisters, our brothers, our neighbours, our lives. The causes of prostitution are as numerous as they are varied and, consequently, it would be utopian to look for a complete solution to the problem.

I therefore wonder about the purpose of the bill introduced by the member and on what exactly he is relying in saying that a sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment would solve the problem of prostitution.

It must not be forgotten that prostitution in itself is not illegal. The criminal code is somewhat vague, because it is the activities associated with prostitution which are illegal. The problem lies in when prostitution is allowed, and under what conditions.

We—the committee—therefore decided to develop certain possible solutions, which we put forward. I wish to take the opportunity of this debate to tell the House about them.

The most important involves decriminalizing, for a period of five years, action related to prostitution, specifically the sections of the criminal code having to do with keeping a bawdy-house, procuring, and sexual services. At the end of that period, the federal government, the provinces and the municipalities would conduct an exhaustive evaluation of the effects of this temporary decriminalization.

In this way, municipalities could be given responsibility for putting in place a framework for the exercise of prostitution by setting up an organization responsible for drawing up regulations and enforcing them.

However, since people who engage in prostitution are often addicted to drugs, the committee also recommended to include additional resources to fight drug dependency. To this end, the federal government will have to make available to the provinces a fund to help and support drug addicts.

Finally, one of the last important factors is the status of sex trade workers. In order for the decriminalization of prostitution and its regulatory framework to be truly effective, we must go further in the recognition of the rights and citizenship of these workers. Therefore, the various governments would have to amend the various legislation that would promote such a recognition.

These are essentially the solutions we can envision. However, hon. members are certainly aware that the Bloc Quebecois is not alone to have examined this issue. Many other reports have been published.

In 1985, the Fraser committee concluded that even though most were opposed to increased criminalization of prostitution and its related activities, a large number supported measures to alleviate their nuisance aspects.

The same committee concluded its analysis with the following observation: the problem of prostitution cannot be solved through isolated criminal provisions. On the contrary, we must ensure that all the provisions dealing with prostitution are part of a systematic set. The committee examined three strategies to fight prostitution: criminalization, decriminalization and regulation.

Another report on prostitution was tabled in December 1998 by a federal-provincial-territorial working group, which also concluded that the criminalization of prostitution, or the activities surrounding it, was not an appropriate solution.

The approaches that seem to receive unanimous support are those involving social measures, because it must be realized that there are many factors leading to prostitution, such as drug addiction, poverty, human misery, precarious jobs and so on.

Yes, we must regulate prostitution and ban it in certain areas and under certain conditions, but we must also help sex workers walk away from that trade by providing them with adequate tools and a proper environment. It is not by increasing jail penalties that we will eliminate this plague.

I humbly hope that I have demonstrated this.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to smile at the hand-wringers. They are responsible for how things are right now out there on the streets. It is a surprise for me to hear the Liberal government defend the previous discredited Conservative government on this matter.

Just as I predicted we have heard talk today of too severe penalties. They discount the issue of the identification process. They discount how kids get involved in the trade in the first place and stay there. My critics just do not get it. The confluence of the interrelatedness of victimhood and of juveniles all the way to the international organized crime aspect is missed. They are arguing for the maintenance of the status quo. They say that they do not like how things are out on the street, yet they stand in the way of change.

What Canadians know today is the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc defend the current legal context of the situation. They say that they cannot act but they have no solution. In fact these parties are part of the problem and they must accept the current consequences of what it is like out there on the street because of their attitudes.

People who are watching this debate today must be aghast. We have a serious national problem. Let it be known that on this day the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc are not prepared to act. In fact they condone the current street dynamic by defending the status quo. They are not prepared to support the social services that we are expending to try to respond to this issue. They have no answers.

It is interesting to always bring in the non-related arguments to respond to their cover of embarrassment for their responsibility of how things are now. The answer is not a lot more talk, conferences, a comprehensive approach and all that we have heard in the House before. We should just make this minor change and see what happens. This is to respond to a current crime prevention problem, keeping the kids off the street because it is the wide open access to how most get into the trade. It would also respond to the international trade in people.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you seek consent to have my bill made votable to spur action and debate. It is for the children.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent to make the bill votable?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being 2.22 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, April 8, 2002, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28 and 24.

(The House adjourned at 2.22 p.m.)