Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-36, the protection of communities and exploited persons act. As my hon. colleagues know, this bill is the first of its kind in Canada. It is historic. For the first time in Canada's history the buying of sexual services would be illegal. For the first time, women trafficked into prostitution would not be treated as nuisances, but with dignity. For the first time, the Government of Canada would provide robust funding to help women and youth escape prostitution and their traffickers.
I want to begin by addressing one of the key myths that is being spread by the pro-legalization lobby. What Canadians have been told over the past week in the newspapers and other media is that prostitution is a legitimate occupation for women and that it is entirely separate from sex trafficking and exploitation. This is a lie. Prostitution exploits women, youth, and vulnerable populations. It escalates gender inequalities by turning women's bodies into a commodity to be bought, sold, rented, and exploited by men. In short, prostitution provides an avenue for abuse and violence.
Research of prostitution in Canada and abroad reveals that women in prostitution, whether by coercion or by choice, experience alarming levels of violence and abuse. One of the clearest links between prostitution and human trafficking is found in a recent empirical analysis of human trafficking trends in over 150 countries. Researchers at the University of Goettingen's Department of Economics found that, on average, legalizing prostitution increases human trafficking inflows.
The inseparable link between prostitution and sex trafficking has been recognized and adopted across political lines in Canada. In 2007, the report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, of which I was the vice-chair, adopted this position. “Turning Outrage into Action” said:
Like the majority of witnesses appearing before us, we came to the conclusion that prostitution is closely linked to trafficking in persons.
That is our own parliamentary report. It goes on to say:
We believe that prostitution is a form of violence and a violation of human rights. The Committee feels that the prostitute’s consent is irrelevant, because you can never consent to sexual exploitation.
This position was supported by the Conservative, Liberal, and NDP members who sat on the committee. The members for London—Fanshawe, York West, and Ahuntsic all sat on the committee with me and will remember the compelling evidence that we heard from survivors.
Let me be clear. Prostitution is the avenue or means for pimps and traffickers to sell women and youth. We cannot separate this fact, and we cannot separate prostitution from sex trafficking. Prostitution is the means for sex traffickers to profit off the exploitation and abuse of others by pimps. If Canada wants to seriously reduce sex trafficking, it must target those who drive prostitution through demand, namely, the johns. It must also target those who profit from and facilitate it, namely, the pimps. That is why Bill C-36 would make buying sex illegal for the first time, and it would significantly strengthen provisions against pimps and traffickers.
It has been appalling to hear from pro-legalization lobbyists over the past weeks that criminalizing the demand would make things more unsafe for women in prostitution and that it would have devastating consequences. This argument is absolutely absurd. One study that interviewed 100 prostitutes in Vancouver found that violence is the norm for women in prostitution. Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, stalking, rape, battering, and torture are the points on a continuum of violence, all of which occur regularly in prostitution.
This violence is perpetrated by johns and pimps. Let us be realistic. When looking to buy sex, a john is not concerned with whether the prostitute is free, underage, or trafficked, nor is he going to ask. In his mind, he wants to buy sex because he has been taught that it is acceptable to buy people to be used at his disposal. That is why we want to target johns.
There has been a paradigm shift that is so important in this country. Canada's approach must recognize that prostitution itself, not just violence, is a form of violence.
For over a century, the violence and the exploitation of women and youth in prostitution have been ignored. The historical approach to prostitution in our great country has never recognized the harms of prostitution. It has focused only on hiding it from public view by incorporating offences based on the nuisance of prostitution in the Criminal Code. Regarded as public nuisances, prostituted individuals were arrested and criminalized at much higher rates than the men creating the demand for commercial sex.
This profoundly misguided approach to prostitution and the treatment of prostitutes changed in this month, on June 4, 2014. This shift in the approach to prostitution is clearly evident in the preamble to Bill C-36, which states:
....the Parliament of Canada recognizes the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity...
The preamble also highlights the goals of the new legislation:
...to protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children...
The average age of entry into prostitution in this country is between 14 and 16 years of age. These are children.
Second, the preamble says:
...it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution...
Third, the preamble says:
...Parliament wishes to encourage those who engage in prostitution to report incidents of violence and to leave prostitution.
Another indicator of this fundamental paradigm shift is in the location of the new offences in our Criminal Code. Previously, before this bill, all prostitution-related offences were located in part VII of the Criminal Code, under “Disorderly Houses, Gaming and Betting”. The new offences target the purchase of sexual services and target pimps. These offences will now be located in part VIII of the Criminal Code, under “Offences Against the Person and Reputation”. This is a distinct acknowledgement that the act of buying sexual services is an offence against an individual. It is an offence against the most vulnerable individuals in our society, who are enslaved by a violent pimp, poverty, or drug addiction.
It is for this reason that this new approach will be supported by $20 million in new funding, including support for grassroots organizations that help individuals exit prostitution. It is essential that with new legislation we provide support to organizations that help women escape prostitution from all circumstances.
As a nation, we are at a crossroads in this country at this moment, but this is not an experiment in which we can play with the lives and freedoms of future generations. The other option for Canada is to legalize or fully decriminalize prostitution. This approach will also lead Canada into a fundamental paradigm shift to regulate prostitution like any other industry.
It is an appalling shift that would have a severe negative impact on women and youth. I am shocked that such legislation has been advocated by prominent members of the NDP front bench and adopted as party policy. That is also what I am listening to this morning from the Liberals.
Legalization has also been adopted as an official party policy by the Green Party of Canada, to the dismay of many of its members. On a blog post on the official website of the Green Party, Green Party blogger Steve May offers the following critique of this Green Party policy:
I believe it is the wrong policy for our Party at any time, but especially at this time when so many voices, such as Victor Malarek's, are now just starting to be heard about the fiasco which sex trade legalization has caused elsewhere in the world.
We do not have to wait 10 to 20 years to see how legalization of prostitution works out. We only have to look to countries that legalized prostitution 10 to 15 years ago. Let us look at Germany, where prostitution has been fully legalized and regulated as an industry since 2001.
The deputy chairman of the German Police Association stated:
...politicians have shot themselves in the foot by implementing this law. Even though it was well intended, it has only strengthened the criminals.
Some prosecutors, also from Germany, have admitted that it made their work in prosecuting trafficking in human persons more difficult.
Also, in 2013 Germany's leading online paper, Der Spiegel interviewed a retired detective, who stated:
Germany has become a centre for sexual abuse of young women from Eastern Europe, and a playground for organized criminals from all over the world.
German police and women's groups now view legalization as little more than a subsidy program for pimps that makes the market more attractive to human traffickers.
Today there are over 400,000 prostitutes filling brothels located along the borders of that country. Brothels openly advertise “sex with all women as long as you want, as often as you want, any way that you want”, “sex, oral sex, oral sex without a condom, three-ways, group sex, gang bang”. Women are reduced to a sexual commodity to be used by sex buyers and disposed of when they are done. This is the future that the official opposition, along with the Green Party, is proposing for Canadian women and youth.
Let us look at another implication of the policies of the NDP and the Green Party, and now we have heard from the Liberal Party as well. If prostitution were to be legalized and treated as an industry, women would be expected to apply for all job openings before being eligible for EI, so if our daughters have just been laid off, they would be expected to apply at the local brothel before being eligible for EI. That is not the future I want for my daughters and it is not the future that Canadian parents want for their children.
We should also look at the New Zealand model, which has been brought up quite often. It is often cited by the pro-legalization lobby as a perfect example of decriminalization. However, this is far from the reality of the facts.
The National Council of Women in New Zealand stated that “The only winners from the prostitution reform act 2003 are men” and that they are “still seeing girls as young as 13 and 14 years old on the streets selling their bodies”.
The council also said that researchers found that human trafficking in children had increased since 2003, especially in ethnic minority groups. Over 10 years after decriminalization, New Zealand's aboriginal populations were still significantly overrepresented and among the most vulnerable in street prostitution. We know this is also true for Canadian aboriginals, and it would only increase under legalization.
In 2012, the Prime Minister of New Zealand stated that he did not think the act had achieved a reduction in street and under-age prostitution at all.
A shift toward the legalization or normalization of prostitution in Canada is advocated by prominent NDP members and the Green Party. This would be disastrous for women's equality and for our aboriginal populations and other populations. It would turn the clock back years for women's equality.
When Bill C-36 was tabled a week ago in the House, I was stunned to see how many journalists became constitutional legal experts overnight. They seem interested in speaking to the well-paid representatives of the pro-legalization lobby, who decried the bill as the worst thing that could ever happen to women in prostitution. We should not kid ourselves. Huge profits are made by a few people in prostitution, and the adult industry stands to lose a lot of income.
The media largely ignored the front-line agencies that work with women in prostitution, the families of victims, and, most importantly, survivors themselves. I want to share their voices and experience with the House.
Katarina MacLeod, a survivor, says:
As an ex-prostitute who spent 15 years being raped and degraded daily, I had no one to turn to and there were no resources. ... Prostitution damages your mind body and soul. This why I am in total support of Bill C-36 which offers these woman an exit strategy....
This is from the daughter of a prostituted woman:
I was very relieved to hear that Bill C-36 is going to be implemented. ... I am glad our voices are being heard. My mother was a prostitute and I want no women or her children to have to experience that damage. I am in agreement with bill C-36 since it will be getting at the root of this issue, which is the people who purchase sex. As well as providing help for the women to exit this lifestyle, which is very necessary.
This is from the parents of a young woman who was brutally beaten by her pimp and later found murdered. They wrote to the Minister of Justice saying:
...it is our belief and our experience that tells us that if buying sex and selling others for sex was illegal, our daughter would still be alive and would be living a fulfilling and satisfying life. We strongly urge you to use this opportunity to enact new laws that would severely penalize those who buy sex, (the johns) and sell others for sex, (the pimps). Please act to protect the vulnerable and stop the exploitation and violence against young women and girls.
I want to note that front-line agencies and women's groups have raised a concern about the clause that would prohibit the selling of sex around public places where youth can be found, like schools and community centres. Some have said that the intent of this clause is focused on preventing youth from being solicited by johns, and this is a very good thing.
However, front-line agencies—who, I must emphasize, are strongly supportive of everything else in this bill—are concerned about unintended consequences that the clause could have on vulnerable women in prostitution. These are valid concerns, and I hope they will bring these concerns and suggestions forward when Bill C-36 is studied at committee.
It is my hope that Bill C-36 will be supported by members on all sides of the House. Having spoken to many MPs privately, I know support for the approach proposed in Bill C-36 does indeed cross party lines. There are many good people on all sides of this House who are supporting this bill. As parliamentarians, we share a collective desire for Canada to be a leader on human rights in the international community.
Proponents of legalized prostitution claim that it is the only option for a progressive society. I disagree. A truly progressive society encourages the equality and dignity of women, not the prostitution of women. I want to build a Canada that targets predators and pimps, helps vulnerable individuals escape prostitution, and upholds the dignity of women. We can do better for women and youth, and we must.
We have always heard about the Bedford case, and we hear voices across the way saying, “Oh, it is going to have a constitutional challenge.” I must remind those members that it was actually the Supreme Court that sent it to Parliament to build something new. This is what the Supreme Court said: “It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach, reflecting different elements of the existing regime”.
The Supreme Court of Canada did something very wise. Instead of bringing down the law and saying, “This is the law”, it allowed 12 months for Parliament to reflect. I have to tell the House that thousands of people are watching these speeches today. Thousands of people are listening to individual MPs and what they are saying. Thirty-one thousand responses came. In my office today I have postcards that I have not even talked about. There are 36,000 signatures on petitions and over 50,000 signatures on postcards. This is Canada; I do not know all these people.
I have worked with sex workers and trafficking victims for a very long time. Since this bill was tabled, I have had a myriad of emails. Very many people want to come to the committee and support Bill C-36. They talk about maybe making little tweaks so we could do better.
The country is listening. The country is listening to the fact that here in Canada, members on all sides of the House have to ensure that we target the johns and ensure without a doubt that we provide programs and exit systems for prostitutes and trafficking victims, because behind the scenes the story that does not get out is about the bullying, the terrible threats, the coercion.
I heard from one 16-year-old girl whose boyfriend paid for a lot of things for her and then said, “You owe me $4,000 and you have to service Glen in the next room”. He was a trafficker. She was not going to do it. She said, “You're my boyfriend. I don't have to do that”. He said, “Yes, you do. I know where your sister goes to school. I know where she does her sports activities. We will get her if you don't do this”, and so that 16-year-old did it.
She got out. She is out of the trafficking ring now, and she is speaking out. We hear these voices all across this country.
This Parliament has to be responsible and support Bill C-36.