Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure that I rise to speak today on what is no doubt an important piece of legislation. I will talk about the issue for the first part of my debate, and then the second part will be more specifically with respect to the bill and why the Liberal Party has expressed so much concern about it.
As a number of members might be aware, I have been a parliamentarian, whether in this House or in the Manitoba legislature, for well over 20 years. There are a number of issues that come into play every so often on which I feel compelled to speak. This is one of those issues.
If members are familiar with Winnipeg North or the riding I used to represent at the Manitoba legislature, they would be aware that to drive to work I would drive down Burrows Avenue, from roughly the 1900 block all the way down to Salter Street, which is at the 300 block of Burrows Avenue. I would then turn right and head straight to the legislative building.
If there is a heart of this social dilemma that we find ourselves in, I was driving through it virtually every day that the Manitoba legislature sat. When the Manitoba legislature sat, I drove through the core of Winnipeg North, in particular the older neighbourhood of Winnipeg North.
I think of the streets where there are serious issues of prostitution, and everything around it. We are talking about streets, from Mcgregor , Salter, square blocks to Main Street, and streets like Pritchard Avenue, in part. These streets are part of a community which at one time were the pride of Winnipeg. There is so much richness and cultural diversity there today.
However, there are also some very strong social needs there. What I have witnessed over the last couple of decades is a sense of desperation, a community that in many ways is in need of government attention. When I say government attention, I am not just talking about attention from Ottawa or the province; I am referring to the different levels of government and the many different stakeholders.
There are many different non-profit groups in that little box, if I can put it that way, from Arlington Street to Main Street, from the tracks almost all of the way up to Inkster, and definitely up to Mountain, that do fabulous work in terms of trying to deal with the social issues there.
Over the years, I have observed first-hand the seriousness of prostitution and how that has destroyed the lives of our young people. I have seen prostitutes who would appear to be in the early teens, and when I say early teens, that is even questionable. I know 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds, and even younger, who get engaged in prostitution. Even though it is predominantly females or young girls, there are also males who get engaged in prostitution. It is not by choice that this is taking place; it is a destructive force that needs to be recognized.
I have always felt that the best way to deal with this social issue is to see a higher sense of co-operation from the different stakeholders, and in particular from the different levels of government.
When this bill came before the House of Commons, I was intrigued. Winnipeg North is not unique. There might be a dozen or more other constituencies similar in nature, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for us to exchange ideas, because many of the issues that need to be dealt with when it comes to prostitution go far beyond the Criminal Code.
I have heard a lot of discussion through this process. I appreciate the time various individuals put in over the summer to sit on the committee. I would often tune in from Winnipeg to catch up on what was taking place in Ottawa, and there has been a lot of debate about the criminal element of prostitution. However, not only is there a role for criminal law to play in this issue; there is also a far greater role for us to play in dealing with prostitution and human trafficking by looking beyond our criminal laws.
I have had first-hand experience and heard sad stories. A family in Tyndall Park had a young lady torn from their lives. She was murdered. She was enticed by drugs and was sucked into prostitution. From what I understand, this particular young lady was drawn into prostitution through crystal meth and the criminal element present at the time. She even had children.
Thank goodness for her parents, who were able to provide a loving, nurturing family. They never lost hope for their daughter, but sadly, she was brutally murdered.
There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of others that the system failed that young lady. There is this sense that we, collectively, need to do more. When I say “we”, it goes beyond members of Parliament, beyond elected officials at all levels, beyond bureaucrats at all levels. It goes to the non-profit groups that we refer to and to the core of our communities themselves. I saw first-hand the impact on a family and in part on a community.
Another individual I have known for a number of years tried to provide care to a foster girl. As much as this individual wanted to provide protection for the girl, the system did not allow him to provide the type of protection that he and his wife and his family wanted to provide. That foster child ultimately ended up falling victim to the criminal element and was roped in to prostitution.
I could relate endless stories that I have heard through the years. I can recall one touching one. A family overseas thought they could get their daughter over to Canada. She was told that she would be able to work in the hospitality industry. The family thought, of course, of a restaurant or a hotel or something of that nature. Once this young lady arrived, she was brought into the criminal element, which included prostitution among many other things.
There are numerous stories. I like to believe that we as a whole will do what we can to ensure that we are protecting the vulnerable people in the communities we represent.
I am a very strong advocate for the Marymound centre, which is a wonderful north end care facility that is, in essence, run by volunteers and some paid staff. They take some very troubled individuals into their care and under their tutelage to try to get them out of the rut of the dark side, out of criminality, including prostitution.
I had the opportunity to tour that facility years ago. In the Manitoba legislature and here in Ottawa I have had the opportunity to talk about Marymound as an organization that assists young girls in proving an opportunity to succeed in life. In many cases, they are taken right from the street or from dysfunctional families and brought into a situation where they can feel safe and, hopefully, get on a track that ultimately leads to a much more positive outcome for many of them.
We need to look at how we can build upon organizations with proven track records of success. When I get into discussions on crime bills, I talk a lot about how we can come up with progressive ideas that would enable governments at whatever level to support initiatives that would prevent crimes from occurring in the first place.
I would apply that very same principle here. Can government do more than it is currently doing to prevent young girls and boys from becoming prostitutes? What can government do to assist individuals who have already been captured by the criminal prostitution element and are currently in the system? What can we do to assist them in getting out of it? This is where my interest really lies, and I think government can make a difference.
I cited two specific examples. The first example I talked about was the prostitute with the crystal meth. This is someone who was already in the system. The parents had a tremendous amount of frustration in trying to find ways to get her out of the system. That was the first example that I gave.
The second example that I gave was the loving, caring family that realized their foster child was sneaking out late at night and being drawn into the system. The social services system failed, and no one was able to prevent this particular individual from falling into this brutal system.
That is where I believe we can do more. That is why I brought up the Marymound system. If we have resources like Marymound, which I am using as an example, they can help individuals who are currently involved with the criminal element and hopefully pull them out.
There are so many other things that we could be doing, such as providing educational opportunities, providing basic life skills that would ultimately lead to alternative forms of employment, and providing hope in many ways. We could look at ways to develop programs that would build self-confidence. There are all of these things.
I know the member for Kildonan—St. Paul is very much aware of the impact of the system on what could be a wonderful, bright young lady with all sorts of hope and future, and how individuals try to keep a person down through the enticement of drugs or often the beatings that take place. They are used to keep individuals in a place where they should not be.
Governments and non-profit agencies do have a role to counter that. I have made a few suggestions as to how we could move in that direction, and I would challenge the government to work in co-operation on other initiatives that will make a tangible difference.
When I was first elected, I remember Vic Toews saying to me that he wanted to see more community policing. He believed we needed to have more policing in our communities. He actually assigned a significant amount of money to ensure that there would be more police hired, but when I looked into it, I found that there was some money, but it was tied. When it was sent to my province of Manitoba, the provincial government sat on that money. For different reasons, It did not want to use it for policing, but the point is that it was sitting on that money, and in my last few days as an MLA, community police offices were actually being shut down.
Community police officers would go into schools and try to make a difference in the lives of individual young people who found it challenging to be out on the street in the first place. What was missing was the sense that we have not just a responsibility, but a higher responsibility to start working together to make sure that the job is actually getting done. That is something that is very lacking.
If there is anything I can contribute to this debate on Bill C-36, I believe it is to emphasize is a very significant point, and it is this: it is more than Ottawa and more than the provincial and municipal governments. It includes the stakeholders and so many others who need to get involved on this issue.
I would like to indicate the primary concern that the Liberal Party has with this legislation. It can be referred to as 200-plus lawyers. It is the constitutionality of the legislation.
The government has not been able to provide, outside of its own department, official legal opinions that the bill would stand a chance with the charter, and the reason we have the legislation before us today is that the current laws themselves have failed the charter. That led to the legislation before us today, but from everything we are being told, this legislation will not be able to meet the charter either.