House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prostitution.

Topics

Veterans AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, across the country, Canadians are disappointed with the government's decision to ignore the social covenant we hold with our Canadian Forces members and veterans.

In recognition of the sacred obligation owed to all Canadian men and women brave enough to accept the ultimate liability in the service of our country, they call on us here to urge the Minister of Veterans Affairs to reopen the nine regional centres he closed; immediately implement the recommendations of the Veterans Ombudsman which are now a year old; fill all open positions for mental health professionals; and finally, act on investigations into military suicides.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Malpeque had three minutes remaining in his debate.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, before question period, I outlined the government's attempt to push forward Bill C-36 on the basis of optics rather than the reality of the world.

I outlined as well the fact that the government has failed to listen to evidence provided at committee on the safety and security of those involved in the sex trade, and on the constitutionality of the bill. I feel the new law will end up where the old law did, and that is, it will likely be tossed out.

Let me quote what a couple of other people said.

John Ivison in the National Post wrote that the member for Central Nova's role:

—as Attorney General of Canada requires him to be the guardian of the rule of law. He is mandated to protect the personal liberties of Canadians and advise Cabinet to ensure its actions are legal and constitutional.

By introducing a new law on prostitution that is all but certain to be struck down by the courts, he has failed on all counts....

This bill is likely to make life even more unsafe for many prostitutes. If they can’t advertise their services to persuade the johns to come to them, many more are likely to take to the streets in search of business.

What he is speaking to is the safety and security of citizens. We cannot judge morally, but the fact of the matter is that it is responsibility of government to protect the safety and security of individuals. This bill does not do that. It makes it worse.

The other statement is by Michael Den Tandt for Postmedia News. He said:

Because C-36, in its effect, will be no different than the laws it is intended to replace, it is bound to wind up back at the Supreme Court – where it will quite likely be tossed, just as the old laws were tossed. So, why bring it forward?

He went on to say:

Calculated for political gain it may be; that doesn’t make it right. Until it is overturned, C-36 can only put prostitutes at greater risk. It is irrational, misguided and recidivist social policy, in a country that has gotten used to better.

There are several other quotes that came up at committee. I would refer members and Canadians to look at some of the statements made at committee with respect to the constitutionality of this legislation. There was an analysis provided at the committee on constitutional concerns. Individuals should look at that.

This law is not doing what it should do. It is very problematic. I ask the government to reconsider it. Let us just do it right.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments by the hon. member for Malpeque.

I wonder if the member shares my concern that this legislation is likely to be thrown out by the Supreme Court. It is going to make sex work more dangerous, and there will be a whole bunch of harm done in the period of time of maybe two to four years before this question is back before the Supreme Court.

Does the member share that concern?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I work with this particular member on the public safety and national security committee, and I will admit that over time I have begun to realize that we do share many of the same concerns.

He is absolutely right in this case. I do not know if the Department of Justice or the ministers or the government backbenchers on the other side just did not allow themselves to meet with people who are in the sex trade because they are opposed to it—and it is acceptable to be opposed to it, for sure—but these individuals in the sex trade are fearful of what this bill would do. It would drive prostitution, the sex trade, underground, make it much more risky for those individuals involved, and certainly risk their public safety.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke of the analysis that took place during committee. I was wondering if he could provide more detail on that analysis and on what was provided, especially regarding any pending judgments by the Supreme Court on this particular piece of legislation.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I will quote from the analysis:

The concern of the Charter and the Court is not whether prostitution is good or moral, the concern is the right to safety of all Canadians, which the Charter enshrines. C-36 also creates some new issues of constitutional validity.

At the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, legal experts suggested that there are a number of charter issues. They relate to life, liberty, and security of the person; they relate to equality rights; they relate to freedom of expression; they relate to the presumption of innocence; and they relate to cruel and unusual punishment. Legal people have all identified those areas as concerns with regard to constitutionality.

I would like to make one other point. One of the members from Manitoba spoke on human smuggling and the fact that some people are forced into the sex trade. That is absolutely true, and that is repulsive.

I did a study on human smuggling and individuals who get forced into the trade. The problem is that be as it may, this bill would not prevent that from happening. In fact, the bill would worsen the safety of those individuals, and that is what we have to be concerned about.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to pick up on what my friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca talked about in terms of the constitutional provisions, or lack thereof, in this bill.

We have asked the Minister of Justice a number of times in the House of Commons to provide Canadians with any evidence that this measure has been through a constitutional check. For those watching, the reason this is so important is that the current government has become very good at writing laws that are unconstitutional. We go through the whole exercise of drafting these bills and going through the committee process, where the Conservatives ignore the witnesses and ram the bill through anyway. Then, lo and behold, it gets a constitutional challenge, a charter challenge, and it fails.

If the minister is so concerned about all the victims of this particular crime, then we would think he would want to have legislation that would improve their lives and their lot in life. That means they need legislation that actually becomes law and maintains itself as a law.

This question is for my friend. Did the committee at any point see evidence from the Government of Canada, the Conservative Party, that shows that this bill would in fact survive a constitutional check and actually become law in this country, and remain there?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, no, I certainly have not been made aware of that constitutionality reference or check.

The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is absolutely right. That constitutional reference would have ensured that this House of Commons would pass a measure that is likely not to be turned down by the courts and do it right, a measure that would not, as the member said earlier, put the safety of individuals in greater jeopardy for several years.

I would actually make the accusation of the government that it is doing this for political purposes, because it sounds good. The Conservatives are doing it for political optics, and in the process they are risking the safety and security of individuals, people whom they may not like but who are Canadians regardless.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today to speak to the House on Bill C-36, which, as members of the House know, is the government's response to what is known as the Bedford decision. That is a decision of the Supreme Court from last December that struck down several Criminal Code provisions related to prostitution, such as solicitation and living off of the avails.

It seems that my friends in the House, rather than looking at the substance of this bill, started looking at future charter challenges. They should look at what the Supreme Court did. In fact, it invited Parliament to step in and fill the void caused by its striking down of some of these provisions under the charter. It gave Parliament one year to come up with adequate rules to address the social harms that are caused by prostitution.

All members of the House would agree that when it comes to human trafficking and exploitation, there are vast and immense risks for Canadians within prostitution and the sex trade. It is important for Parliament to make sure that the public good and public safety are protected.

What happened was the creation of the Canadian model. After consultations within the department, with stakeholder groups, and with people who have worked with women who have left the sex trade, the Canadian model was our government's response to the invitation from the Supreme Court of Canada to make laws to protect vulnerable Canadians.

I will take a few moments to talk about the main pillars of Bill C-36, which is our response.

First, it would criminalize demand. This is recognizing that in the vast majority of cases, the prostitutes—mainly women, but some young men as well—are victims. Law enforcement resources and criminal justice resources should not be focused on them but on exploitation, so the first pillar is to try to stem demand by focusing on the johns and criminalizing that activity.

The second is to criminalize exploitation in prostitution. We have heard some members of Parliament talk about human trafficking, the traditional pimps, and the people who lure young women into this trade and entrap them in it.

The third is a restriction on advertising sexual services and their sale. An important distinction in the Canadian model is the criminalization of communication in public places for the purposes of prostitution when children could reasonably be expected to be in those public places. This bill would ensure that certain public areas would not see the sex trade on a daily basis.

There are increased penalties for child prostitution. I am sure that all members of the House agree with that provision of Bill C-36.

There is a clear message in the bill to immunize prostitutes and sex workers themselves, recognizing, as I said earlier, that most often they are victims in this trade.

Finally and, perhaps, most importantly, the seventh pillar that I take from Bill C-36 is direct aid. There would be $20 million to begin with to help with transitional work for some of the vulnerable people who feel that there is no way out of the trade that they might have been lured or exploited into. Some of the exceptional Canadians, volunteers, and groups working with them would receive this money to help people transition.

My friend from Malpeque said that this bill does not see the reality of the world. Some of the MPs in the NDP seem to think that this measure is bound to be struck down at a future date by a court because it is a Conservative ploy or some political ploy. If those members of the opposition actually looked at the substance of Bill C-36, they would see that Canada is not really out of step in trying to deal with the harms of prostitution.

In many ways, the Canadian model builds on the Nordic model, which was introduced in Sweden in 1999 and followed subsequently by Norway and Iceland. These are European countries we have strong relationships with, free and democratic societies that have tried to address the social harms of prostitution through a model that criminalizes the demand and goes after the exploiters, not the women.

In 2014, the EU and the Council of Europe actually recommended the Nordic model, on which our model in Bill C-36 is clearly heavily based, to all member countries, so I would suggest that the NDP and Liberals are the ones who need to hit the reality of the world when it comes to how to address the evils and the harms caused within the sex trade.

The bill is supported by leading figures among those who try to deal with human trafficking and exploitation. It is supported by many people who work as advocates in abuse centres and rehabilitation shelters. The Canadian Police Association firmly supports it.

Members of Parliament have been reaching out and talking to stakeholders. I met with sex workers to hear their perspective. They were very earnest in their presentations to me, and I appreciated that. I also listened to law enforcement and researched the Nordic model, as every MP should.

I would like to thank a constituent of mine from Newcastle, Tony Ryta. I have had several exchanges with Tony, a 32-year veteran with the Toronto Police Service who for decades worked with vulnerable women on the streets in Toronto. He sees the Canadian model that we are bringing in response to the Bedford decision as a way that will reduce harm. That should be all parliamentarians' goal in this place. I would like to thank Tony, law enforcement workers from across the country, and people working in shelters and with abused women for their work in getting vulnerable Canadians out of this trade.

Finally, this topic goes to the root of parliamentarians as Canadians. I am the MP for Durham, but I am also a proud father of an eight-year-old girl, who is the apple of my eye. I cannot stand in the House and say that there is any public good in creating and promoting a legalized sex trade. In fact, it is abhorrent to suggest to young women that the sex trade should be an industry that is worth consideration. I want my young daughter to sit in the House one day, perhaps on the front bench, to go further than her old man.

Young women can do anything in this country, and supporting the normalization of sex work is not in the public good.

It reminds me of philosopher John Stuart Mill, who said, “No person is an entirely isolated being”. Ms. Bedford and a few sex workers who may feel that they are empowered and that there are no social harms from their participation in the sex trade do not speak for homeless aboriginal youth in Winnipeg. They do not speak for abused women who have been forced into sex work by pimps, in some cases by ex-boyfriends. They do not speak for the vulnerable, and the vulnerable are the vast majority of people drawn into prostitution.

As parliamentarians, it is our duty to ensure that our response to the Supreme Court decision in Bedford is a response that reduces harm and that discourages people from going into a practice that has drugs and crime at its centre. I once again say that I do not think our response as a Parliament should be to normalize the sex trade as an option for many of our young people and young women. That is certainly not why I ran for Parliament.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2014 / 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have what I consider to be a rather pertinent question for my colleague.

From his speech, we can see that he truly believes that criminalization will actually help eliminate prostitution. I personally do not believe that to be true. There are many things that are against the law but are done anyway in our society. I do not think the bill will fix things. In my opinion, the only thing it will do is make people working in prostitution even more vulnerable. How are we going to protect these people?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, our laws are there for a variety of reasons. We have laws on the books that are broken, Violent offences, like murder and manslaughter, still take place, but what laws represent is, in many ways, an attempt to discourage these activities, to show society's condemnation of some conduct. In this case, we are trying to show condemnation of exploitation around prostitution.

Will it root out every case? Absolutely not. I would be foolhardy to even suggest that.

However, this approach, the Canadian model, looks at the successes and the approach that many countries with similar economies, similar populations, like Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and others, have tried to take to reduce the social harm.

Will it eradicate it? No, but I think it is a responsible response from this government to the Bedford decision.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member opposite a question about the fact that approximately a year ago, France's national assembly passed identical legislation. When the bill, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, went to the upper house—the French senate—it rejected the key provision, criminalization, and sent the bill back to the national assembly.

The member said that other countries similar to Canada have legislation or are going in the same direction as this legislation. However, the French senate recently looked at the key provision and realized that it was absurd and should be withdrawn from the legislation.

Can the member explain to us how Canada's approach is the same as the one being used by other countries that have similar problems?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member's discussion of France and the French experience shows that each country is trying to address the harms inherent in prostitution in a variety of ways.

This model, Bill C-36, is very similar to what Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and some others have tried. As I said in my remarks, the Council of Europe actually recommended it for its wider 47 members, as an attempt to reduce harm and to get at exploitation, specifically. It is not a perfect solution, but it is one that has been studied carefully to try to minimize the demand for services that has led to exploitation.

I would also add that we have made it a critical part of Bill C-36 that transitional funding, $20 million, would be there to help people to transition out of sex work. This is a critical part of this discussion. We have to show the vulnerable that there are alternatives and we have to support groups who are already helping people make that transition.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking today about the government's response to the Bedford decision and its amendments to sections of the Criminal Code concerning prostitution.

The summary of Bill C-36 says the following:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, (a) create an offence that prohibits purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose;

As I said earlier when I asked my colleague a question, there will always be things that are against the law but are done anyway in our society. This bill does not necessarily provide a solution because this is not how we are going to get rid of prostitution. That will never happen.

I think that in this type of situation, it might make more sense to take a harm reduction approach instead of a repressive approach like the one the government has proposed.

In addition, this bill flies in the face of the Supreme Court decision and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court asked the minister to go back to the drawing board and find a real solution. Based on my reading of this bill, I can see that the minister did not do that. In fact, he even said that he expects this bill to be challenged in court. This is really messed up. I do not understand how we even got to this point considering the number of options that could have been explored and the number of things that could have been done. There have been so many discussions about all of this that I just do not understand how we got to this point.

Many legal experts were consulted, along with stakeholder groups, sex workers, and authorities with an interest in this bill. Over 75 witnesses appeared before the committee. How did we even get to this point when most of the witnesses said that they do not believe in this bill?

When it comes to this bill and to many of the bills that have been introduced in the past three years, I have to wonder why the government is not listening to the experts. Why is it not listening to the people who are actually in the situation? I do not understand, and as an MP, I take issue with this. The minister should have gotten the information he needed and consulted people. That would have been to his credit. It is easy to consult people, to sit down with them and listen to them, but what is the point if the government does not really listen and just pushes the agenda it had from the start? It is easy to say that people were consulted, but nothing was done as a result.

We on this side of the House are pretty unanimous. We all agree that the measures announced by the Conservatives to help prostitutes get out of prostitution are grossly inadequate. They do not address the real problem. As I was saying earlier, this new bill creates new offences related to prostitution, specifically purchasing sexual services, receiving a material benefit, advertising sexual services and communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in a public place. In my opinion, the real problem is that people who work in the sex industry are being more and more marginalized.

As I said earlier, there are many illegal things that are done in our society in any case. We cannot get around that by simply criminalizing everything. This reminds me of the prohibition period in the United States. In the 1930s, there was a huge spike in smuggling and alcohol-related problems. As soon as prohibition was lifted, the problems died down. In the end, people realized that the law was unnecessary. The situation we are in right now is similar, for the Conservatives want to marginalize men and women who really could use a helping hand. We also need to remember that some people are in it by choice. I think we need to respect that.

One of the measures announced was a $20 million investment to help prostitutes get out of the sex industry, but that is not enough to solve everything. Concrete action is needed. We need to properly consult the people involved. What do these people really need? Do they want to get out or are they there by choice? Where are we headed? This bill does not address these questions at all.

We also need to commit significant resources: income support, education and training, poverty alleviation, which I can never stress enough in this House, and substance abuse treatment for those in this group.

Rather than taking an approach that further marginalizes people who are already vulnerable, the government should instead work in partnership with those people to bring in a strategy to protect and support the men and women who are in this situation.

What we need is a nationwide discussion and genuine consultation on prostitution, on women's safety and on the fight against organized crime. That is what needs to be tackled.

According to Statistics Canada, 156 prostitutes have been murdered since 1991. That is 156 too many. If the practice were a bit more regulated, this type of crime could likely be prevented or at least reduced.

It is much more difficult to obtain recent statistics on other crimes related to prostitution, such as assault and rape, because the people involved are marginalized. It is like trying to collect statistics on homelessness. It is more difficult because these people do not always fill out a census form.

However, John Lowman, a professor at Simon Fraser University and expert on prostitution, has indicated that the data on crime against prostitutes are overwhelming. This type of crime is the problem that we need to deal with.

Forcing these women deeper into the shadows will put them in even more danger and these numbers will grow. That is not what we want. The government needs to protect its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable among them, as is the case here.

Prostitution has always existed and it will continue to exist, whether we are for or against it. We therefore need to regulate it and protect the health and safety of these workers.

In my opinion, Bill C-36 fails to do that and puts many lives in danger.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague across the way and she is focused on sex trade workers being marginalized. There are different models around the world and some have been somewhat successful, like the Nordic model. Canada's proposal is similar to the Nordic model, in that it focuses on the johns and the pimps as opposed to the prostitutes. It is one of the few models that actually work, in that it makes it much safer. It still is a very high-risk vocation. As the member pointed out, it likely would never disappear.

However, I have heard from a number of my constituents who support the Nordic model and have encouraged Canada to consider the Nordic model. Our government has a made-in-Canada model, but it is very similar. Would the member support the Nordic model and if not, why not?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not support such a model. As I said in my speech, I am much more in favour of harm reduction than repression. I do not believe that repression can work in a society, either from a safety perspective or from a perspective of preventing the marginalization of the most vulnerable individuals.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated my colleague's speech. I think that her conclusions are of particular interest. We often hear from the other side of the House that the bill before us is based on the Nordic model. Quite frankly, that is far from the truth. It is outright criminalization of prostitution. Unfortunately, the bill does not in any way respond to the Supreme Court ruling.

I was wondering whether my colleague could comment on the fact that the Conservatives are not listening to the Supreme Court. The NDP has said many times that we should respect Supreme Court rulings and rely on them in order to take the right approach when drafting our bills.

Does my colleague agree that the bill before us does not reflect the Supreme Court ruling and requires drastic changes to gain the support of Canadians?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. The bill needs to be greatly improved. As my colleague mentioned, it does not really follow the Nordic model. That model is not ideal either.

As I was saying, there has to be real consultation. We must listen to the people involved in this situation and consider what they say. That is very important. We must also work with the Supreme Court, which does a great job. As legislators, I find that we are really in no position to disregard the Supreme Court and say that we are going to move forward nonetheless. That is not the ideal way to go about this.

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate with great interest. We know the Supreme Court has struck down our existing rules and we know we need new rules. We have come up with what we believe is a solution that would deal with this.

However, from what I hear from the New Democrats, is their position that we should legalize it? They speak very nice words and have very generic kinds of comments, but I have not heard what they believe we should do. Is the hon. member saying legalization?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, we need a regulated system and consultation. I have said this over and over again. I am almost tired of hearing myself say that. We must consult the people to know what they need, and we have to regulate this profession to protect the health and safety of the men and women who make their living from prostitution.