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.