Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join third reading debate on Bill C-36, the protection of communities and exploited persons act. This bill would ensure that the Supreme Court of Canada's Bedford decision does not result in the decriminalization of most prostitution-related activities when the Supreme Court's one-year suspension expires on December 20.
Both the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs studied Bill C-36 this summer and heard from numerous witnesses, many of whom agree that decriminalization of prostitution would result in an increase in the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable groups in our society.
We have heard much about the proposed prostitution reforms of Bill C-36. These reforms reflect a fundamental paradigm shift toward treatment of prostitution for what it is: a form of sexual exploitation of, primarily, women and girls. We know that those who suffer socio-economic disadvantage are targeted by prostitution. We know that prostitution involves high rates of violence and trauma.
The committees have heard those stories from courageous survivors who came forth to tell their stories, stories that are supported by relevant research. This bill responds to this evidence. Its objectives are to reduce the incidence of prostitution, discourage entry into it, deter participation in it and ultimately abolish it to the greatest extent possible.
Bill C-36 contains other related amendments as well. I would like to focus on these aspects of the bill.
The bill recognizes that prostitution is linked to human trafficking. In fact, research shows that jurisdictions that have decriminalized or legalized prostitution have larger sex industries and experience higher rates of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. This is not surprising. Allowing the purchase and sale of sexual services results in an increase in demand for those services, and an increase in demand results in an increase in supply.
Research tells us who is at risk of meeting that demand: society's most vulnerable, those who are disadvantaged by sex, youth, poverty, race, drug addiction, a history of abuse. This group is equally vulnerable to the coercive practices of those who would exploit them for their own gain.
Prostitution and human trafficking exist along a continuum. For example, a person may decide to sell their own sexual services to pay rent, feed their children or just survive.
That person may be recruited or forced to work for those who would exploit her, or she may seek out the protective services of those same people, thinking that they will protect her when engaged in an inherently dangerous activity.
The concern is that it is in the economic interests of those so-called protectors to exploit the prostitution of those they claim to protect. What may have been originally conceived of as a mutually beneficial relationship can quickly become exploitative and abusive.
Traffickers use all manner of practices to keep their victims providing the services from which they profit. They threaten their victims and their victims' families, they assault, they sexually assault and they forcibly confine them. They leave their victims with no choice other than to provide the services demanded of them.
Bill C-36’s reforms would assist in preventing this trajectory by criminalizing those who fuel the demand for sexual services and those who capitalize on that demand.
When prostitution-related conduct becomes human trafficking-related conduct, the bill would increase the penalties to ensure that traffickers would be held to account for the horrific human rights abuses in which they engaged.
Specifically, Bill C-36 would impose mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, any time a person commits any of the human trafficking offences against a child.
Although the Criminal Code currently imposes mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking children, it does not impose MMPs for receiving a material benefit from child trafficking or for withholding or destroying documents to facilitate child trafficking. Bill C-36 would fill this gap. MMPs of two years and one year respectively would apply to this conduct, which is consistent with the MMPs proposed for child prostitution.
The bill would also impose MMPs for the offence that prohibits human trafficking. Individuals convicted of human trafficking would receive a minimum sentence of five years if they committed kidnapping, aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault or if they caused the death of the victim, and four years in all other cases.
This is consistent with existing penalties for child trafficking of six and five years in these same circumstances. Bill C-36 properly addresses the continuum of criminal behaviour associated with the provision of sexual services for consideration.
The fact that prostitution may, and does, result in human trafficking for sexual exploitation underscores the importance of prohibiting prostitution. The bill would ensure that the penalties for all of these related offences would be commensurate with the harmful conduct they censure.
Bill C-36 would also amend the definition of weapon in section 2 of the Criminal Code.
This amendment would ensure that offenders who possessed weapons of restraint, such as handcuffs, rope or duct tape, with the intent to commit an offence or to use such weapons to commit a violent offence would be held to account. Specifically, the amendment would clarify that.
First, possession of a weapon of restraint with intent to commit an offence constitutes criminal conduct under the offence prohibiting possession of weapon with intent to commit an offence.
Second, using a weapon of restraint to commit an assault or sexual assault would constitute criminal conduct under the offence prohibiting assault with a weapon or the offence prohibiting sexual assault with a weapon, depending on the facts of the case.
This approach would provide greater protection to all victims of these offences, including those who would sell their own sexual services. We know that sexual assault and assault are offences to which sellers of sexual services are particularly vulnerable.
Bill C-36 is more than just a response to the Bedford decision. It is also a response to the complex web of criminal conduct associated with prostitution.
It would provide law enforcement with powerful tools to address the many safety and societal concerns posed by prostitution.
Most importantly, it sends a strong message that Canada does not tolerate a practice that targets the most vulnerable in our society and places them at risk of suffering unspeakable and unimaginable human rights abuses.
Bill C-36 would clarify that it would not acceptable for those with money and power to buy sexual services from those without money and power.
I stand in support of this message and of a society that does not tolerate the many harms and abuses associated with prostitution. It will come at no surprise that I stand in support of Bill C-36.