Mr. Speaker, the three prostitutes, or former prostitutes, were seeking a ruling declaring that three Criminal Code provisions—provisions that criminalize various prostitution-related activities—infringe on the rights guaranteed under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 210 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to keep a common bawdy-house or being found in one. Section 212(1)(j) makes it an offence to live wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person. Finally, section 213(1)(c) makes it an offence to communicate in public for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.
The three people involved argued that these restrictions on prostitution put the safety and lives of prostitutes at risk by preventing them from implementing certain safety measures that could protect them from violence, including hiring security guards or screening potential clients.
They also alleged that section 213 (1)(c) infringes on the freedom of expression guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that none of the provisions are saved under section 1. They won. The Supreme Court ruled in their favour.
Do not think that the Canadian government sat back and did nothing. It was quite the case and it took more than a year to hear it, present it, prove it, and so on and so forth. There was social evidence to consider.
The Supreme Court focused specifically on the subjects in question. At the end of the day, it found that the act of driving this activity underground put the lives of these people at risk. All those who support Bill C-36 call these people victims. In this context, the risk could not be justified by the clauses in question. The Supreme Court therefore decided to strike them down.
The Supreme Court found that this compromised the right guaranteed under section 7 of the charter. The court ruled that the restrictions increased all the risks to which the claimants expose themselves when they engage in prostitution, an activity that in and of itself is legal.
My heart ached when I heard the stories shared by some victims of human trafficking, which is covered by section 279 and subsequent sections in the Criminal Code. Police officers came to testify in committee and I asked them questions. Absolutely nothing prevented them from conducting the necessary investigations, finding the traffickers, arresting them and prosecuting them to the full extent of the Criminal Code. If we need longer sentences for human trafficking, then that is something to work on. In fact, that is being done with some of the bills introduced by the member opposite, which I fully support. That is the real problem.
Street prostitution, which is what we are discussing, perhaps started with human trafficking. We need to give resources to police officers. Instead, the government is choosing to lecture everyone. It is making cuts to police forces and border services, and it is asking the various police forces to reduce their budget, but this comes at a high cost to our country. The government is not making any sense.
All of the police officers told me that the tools were there. The only tool they thought they could use was the power to give an exemption. That is what they do. We cannot be blind or stupid here. They stopped short of saying what constitutes prostitution as a whole. Even I do not know what it means. Are we talking about the sale of sexual services? Is it the act itself? Does it include escort agencies? Strip clubs? I have so many questions that they did not want to answer.
I heard the member opposite say that she took note of what we were saying. I am taking note of what the government is or is not doing. I am taking note of the fact that statistics were hidden from us for months. The government did not want to tell us what Canadians thought about this issue, even though Canadians themselves paid for the survey. I am taking note of the fact that, according to the minister, a consultation was conducted on the Internet. However, we do not know how many people responded. A hundred? Two hundred? I am also taking note of the fact that most of the people the minister had more personal consultations with felt the same way he did.
That is understandable; however, we are talking about the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and an unequivocal decision by the Supreme Court that clearly explains the situation and what it entails. Parliament was not given carte blanche and told that it had a year to introduce Bill C-36 or the court would do it for us.
That is not at all what the Supreme Court said. The court stated that the government had a year to introduce a bill, if it so wished, but that the bill must comply with the decision that was handed down. In other words, if the life of even one person were endangered, that would be enough to conclude that the proposed provisions are illegal.
Numerous experts told us that there was a problem. The minister himself came to tell us that he expected his bill would be brought before the Supreme Court. I have lost count of the number of times I asked the minister if it would not make more sense to refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court. Given what even the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul said, we cannot risk making a mistake and then realizing, a few years down the road, that we have created a quagmire.
The Manitoba minister came to tell us that he would not enforce the legislation this way. We create laws, but it is the provinces and territories and the police that then enforce them. How will they do that?
A whole variety of people came to talk to us. There were members of feminist groups and police officers. They came from all walks of life. Their problems are different, and that is understandable. Time and again we heard about the Nordic model, and I thought it would be discussed here. I think that most of the groups I spoke to before Bill C-36 was introduced expected that the Nordic model would be proposed. Many think that it is the solution to the issue of prostitution and that it has an impact on human trafficking.
I want to believe that. That is what everyone was telling us. It was unanimous. However, we cannot forget that the government is aiming to completely eradicate prostitution one day. While I hope that does happen, I also wish the government good luck. If that is what the government wants to do, I would suggest that it put its money where its mouth is.
In other words, the government is going to have to put some money toward this because it has been proven, even by those who support Bill C-36, that there are two main reasons why people enter this profession. I agree with my colleague that more than three-quarters of these people, the vast majority, do not enter it willingly and do not really consent to it. The two main problems are poverty and drug addiction.
It is inconceivable that a person starving on the streets is going to jump for joy and say she is getting out of prostitution because of Bill C-36. She is not going to do that. She will not even know that the bill exists. Only the Conservatives believe that a criminal commits a crime with the Criminal Code close at hand. For goodness' sake, that is not what happens.
I am saying that the Conservatives do not have the courage of their convictions. I would like to trust them, but they voted against an amendment that would have made all prostitution illegal and a criminal offence. I told my colleague from Ahuntsic that she was wasting her time because they really do not believe in it.
The Conservatives want to pass moral judgment on consenting people. Even my colleague opposite said that a small percentage of people are in the profession voluntarily. She and I may have difficulty understanding this—in fact we may not understand it at all—but if there is consent, it is none of our business.
However, we have put these people at risk. There could be court challenges to Bill C-36. We proposed more than a dozen serious amendments to improve this bill. We constantly heard the word “victim”.
The Conservatives are smart; I will give them that. They realized that they cannot criminalize victims, since one cannot be both a criminal and a victim at the same time.
I therefore introduced an amendment that I thought made sense, based on the premise that all these individuals are victims, and that was to have all their criminal records erased. A victim should not have a criminal record for something she did while she was being victimized.
However, when the time came to walk the walk, the Conservatives voted against it. When you believe in what you are doing and you really want to eliminate prostitution, you do not vote against an amendment that calls on the minister, who is proposing a tiny investment of $20 million over five years, to report back to the House.
The Manitoba justice minister told us in committee that that was peanuts for his province. It is not enough to get people out of poverty and give them any hope of getting out of that despicable human trafficking situation.
Nor is it enough to solve the problems of substance abuse. The vast majority of people working in this industry, including aboriginal women, are not there because they want to be. Those issues need to be resolved.
For anyone who believed in the Nordic model, an expert from Sweden appeared before the committee and said that that model could not be implemented without a huge financial investment. Opinions varied widely on that. This is not the easiest file I have ever had to deal with as the justice critic for the official opposition. Everyone, however, whether they were for or against Bill C-36, said that $20 million was a ridiculously low amount.
This makes me wonder whether the government truly believes in what it is doing. The Conservatives' speeches on Bill C-36, which is supposed to be the response to Bedford, are not the legal speeches they should be. Our Conservative colleagues are not talking about the fact that under Bedford, the Criminal Code sections in question will be declared completely unconstitutional in December.
These are awful, heartbreaking stories of human trafficking. It is a scourge around the world. My colleague across the way is going on a crusade, but that is okay. I will open the doors to Gatineau for her. I talked to the people of Gatineau about this. When people find out that Criminal Code provisions on sexual exploitation, including section 279 of the Criminal Code, exist without Bill C-36, that changes things.
We do not want to put the lives of sex trade workers at risk. Everyone sees eye to eye on that, and I doubt the Conservatives are any different. If someone says it is not serious, then I have a problem with that. We have to be realistic and logical and strengthen the laws, as my colleague across the way has done with a number of bills that address human trafficking. That is what we have to focus on.
We must also give our police officers the tools they need. Do we want them to arrest the woman on Murray Street in Ottawa? Do we want them to investigate the cases my colleague mentioned without naming the riding? I hope it is not my riding. It was as though she was telling us in a roundabout way to be careful what we say.
I am speaking off the cuff, like it or not, but I am weighing my words carefully. This comes from the heart, with great feeling. I worked for months on this file while trying to remain as neutral as possible. There were good arguments on both sides. Feminist groups were saying that prostitution should not be criminalized under any circumstances because it is a form of exploitation. Other groups, such as Maggie's, Stella, the Pivot Legal Society and POWER, told me that many women are in positions of control in this industry and that this was a choice they had made. They were asking who we were to impose something else on them.
From my perspective, the role of the police is to ensure that this consent is real. They need to have the means to do that, and they do under the Criminal Code. Beyond that, this is none of our business. We certainly should not change the fact that people can, according to what they say, voluntarily choose to work in this trade and do so in safety. Now, under Bill C-36, there will be no exceptions. The purchase of sexual services will always be a criminal offence.
There are serious problems associated with this issue. The government is using sound bites and shocking stories about human trafficking, which are true, by the way, to try to tell us that Bill C-36 addresses that. However, this bill does not respond to the ruling in Bedford, and that is unfortunate.