Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is always a little irritating for those who are watching us and were here for the first part, but not the second part, or vice versa.
I was explaining that this government has aborted this, so to speak, in the sense that the Conservatives have not mentioned the Bedford decision much. They quoted one line from the decision to justify their Bill C-36.
It is important for hon. members in the House to clearly understand what the Supreme Court of Canada said about the three sections in question, those challenged by the claimants and the respondents/appellants on cross-appeal. According to the Supreme Court:
|| The impugned laws negatively impact security of the person rights of prostitutes and thus engage s. 7…The prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution—itself a legal activity.
Earlier, I heard one of my colleagues in the House say that she was very pleased to hear that prostitution is now illegal. However, Bill C-36 does not go that far. With all due respect to the Conservatives and some other members, the bill before us does not make prostitution illegal.
The Conservatives left a few little loopholes because they know that this bill may also be a problem. It would be interesting to debate the issue of whether prostitution can be made completely illegal in Canada. I am going to do as the courts and judges would do: I am going to reserve judgment because the question is not before the court. The Supreme Court ruling goes on to say:
|| They do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky—but legal—activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks. That causal connection is not negated by the actions of third-party johns and pimps, or prostitutes’ so-called choice to engage in prostitution. While some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so. Moreover, it makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes. The violence of a john does not diminish the role of the state in making a prostitute more vulnerable to that violence.
||...compare the rights infringement caused by the law with the objective of the law, not with the law’s effectiveness. That is, they do not look to how well the law achieves its object, or to how much of the population the law benefits [or harms]. The analysis is qualitative, not quantitative. The question under s. 7 is whether anyone’s life, liberty or security of the person has been denied by a law that is inherently bad [that is the heart of the matter]; a grossly disproportionate, overbroad, or arbitrary effect on one person is sufficient to establish a breach of s. 7. [The test is stringent.]
||...the negative impact of the bawdy-house prohibition (s. 210) on the applicants’ security of the person is grossly disproportionate to its objective of preventing public nuisance. The harms to prostitutes identified by the courts below, such as being prevented from working in safer fixed indoor locations and from resorting to safe houses, are grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption. Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes. Second, the purpose of the living on the avails of prostitution prohibition in s. 212(1)(j) is to target pimps and the parasitic, exploitative conduct in which they engage. The law, however, punishes everyone who lives on the avails of prostitution without distinguishing between those who exploit prostitutes and those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes, for example, legitimate drivers, managers, or bodyguards.
I was a little worried by some remarks I heard on panels I participated in. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in particular suggested that, at any rate, a brothel, even though it is kept by people who are consenting, is not a place we want to see, that it is a nuisance and a form of exploitation. That is not quite what the Supreme Court tells us.
|| It also includes anyone involved in business with a prostitute, such as accountants or receptionists. In these ways, the law includes some conduct that bears no relation to its purpose of preventing the exploitation of prostitutes. The living on the avails provision is consequently overbroad. Third, the purpose of the communicating prohibition...is not to eliminate street prostitution for its own sake, but to take prostitution off the streets and out of public view in order to prevent the nuisances that street prostitution can cause. The provision’s negative impact on the safety and lives of street prostitutes, who are prevented by the communicating prohibition from screening potential clients for intoxication and propensity to violence, is a grossly disproportionate response to the possibility of nuisance caused by street prostitution.
I have often heard that from sex workers. They told us how important it is for them to communicate. As strange as it may seem for those who are not part of that industry and have never even gone anywhere near it, it is important for those women to be able to have a kind of reference system. In some places, they talk to each other in order to make sure that they are not putting their lives in danger.
|| The law is therefore not minimally impairing. Nor, at the final stage of the s. 1 inquiry, is the law’s effect of preventing prostitutes from taking measures that would increase their safety, and possibly save their lives, outweighed by the law’s positive effect of protecting prostitutes from exploitative relationships. The impugned laws are not saved by s. 1.
Allow me to quote the Supreme Court's most important conclusion. The government always likes to read this sentence and this sentence only: “It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach…”. Sometimes, it says the rest of the sentence very quickly: “…reflecting different elements of the existing regime”.
In fact, however, the paragraph reads as follows:
|| Concluding that each of the challenged provisions violates the Charter does not mean that Parliament is precluded from imposing limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted, as long as…
This is the most fundamental point. The Supreme Court of Canada has not told the government that the Minister of Justice can do whatever he likes and that as long as he comes up with something different from what is in the current Criminal Code, it will be fine, that is his perfect right. That is not what the Supreme Court said. It says that it is not precluding the government from imposing limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted, as long as it does so in a way that does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes.
As a result, since setting limits on prostitution is a complex and delicate subject, it is up to Parliament to act, should it choose to do so. That is the door that the Supreme Court has left wide open for Parliament. The Criminal Code already includes provisions prohibiting the exploitation of minors. We are going to hear a lot of talk about that from the Conservative benches, since they will want to prohibit that. However, it is already in the Criminal Code. Given that human trafficking is prohibited by the Criminal Code and that it has been recently improved with the bill that my colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul introduced, we can refine it all.
The Supreme Court did not necessarily require the government to introduce something in the coming year. However, if it did not do anything, the three sections deemed unconstitutional would die a natural death because they put the health and safety of sex workers in danger.
What did the government do? It took a hammer and started hammering at random, saying that it would make a few changes so that everyone would think it was solving the problem with prostitution. I would have liked to at least feel that the Conservatives took this seriously when the minister talked about $20 million during his press conference.
I remember the discussions I have had with people from the Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution. They told me how important it was. I want to quote Kim Pate, who is a member of the coalition:
|| Decriminalizing the women and holding accountable the men who buy and sell women and girls means nothing if women's economic, racial and social inequality is not addressed.
The Conservatives are still criminalizing prostitutes and investing a measly $20 million. It is ridiculous.
Mr. Bob Dechert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will get to that member's point about advertising in just a moment. She has it exactly wrong, as a number of commentators have. I will be happy to explain it to her. I hope she sticks around for my speech.
I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-36, the protection of communities and exploited persons act. This legislation represents the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada December 2013 Bedford decision.
Before discussing the measures proposed by Bill C-36, it is important to examine the Bedford decision, which has informed Bill C-36 proposals for law reform.
The NDP justice critic mentioned a few moments ago that we had not talked that much about the Bedford decision in relation to our bill, so I am going to do that right now. I hope she has a chance to stay and listen to my speech.
Under the current law, neither the purchase nor sale of sexual services is illegal. Instead, existing criminal offences prohibit activities related to prostitution. In Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada found three of these offences unconstitutional: first, the bawdy house offence with respect to the practice of prostitution under section 210; second, the living off the avails of prostitution offence, which is paragraph 212(1)(j) and third, the offence of communicating in a public place for the purpose of purchasing or selling sexual services, which is paragraph 213(1)(c).
The court suspended the effects of its decision for one year, until December 19, 2014. If there is no legislative response this ruling will result in decriminalization of most adult prostitution-related activities.
The Supreme Court of Canada found that the impugned offences violate section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the security of the persons who sell their own sexual services, by preventing them from taking measures to protect themselves while engaging in a risky but legal activity. Such protective measures include independently selling sexual services from a fixed indoor location, hiring bodyguards and drivers, and negotiating safer conditions for the sale of sexual services in public places.
Specifically, the offences were found to be grossly disproportionate or over-broad with respect to the legislative objectives, which are to combat neighbourhood disruption or disorder and to safeguard public health and safety; to target pimps and the parasitic exploitative conduct in which they engage, which is living off the avails of the offence; and to take prostitution off the streets and out of public view in order to prevent street prostitution nuisances, which is the public communication offence in paragraph 213(1)(c).
The objectives of existing criminal law prostitution provisions as described by the court focus on the nuisance aspects of prostitution, with the exception of the living off the avails provision, which was found to target exploitative conduct. As I mentioned, construing these objectives and these offences narrowly led to findings that they were unconstitutionally over-broad and grossly disproportionate in relation to their objectives.
The Supreme Court of Canada was nonetheless clear that Parliament is not precluded from imposing limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted as long as it does so in a way that does not infringe on the constitutional rights of those who sell their own sexual services. That is precisely what Bill C-36 would do. It would criminalize the harmful conduct associated with prostitution while respecting the constitutional rights of all Canadians.
To start, Bill C-36 would make prostitution an illegal activity by criminalizing half of the prostitution transaction. This is done to show that the people who are trapped in this awful trade, largely women, are victims. It is showing compassion toward them.
Whenever prostitution, which involves the purchase and sale of sexual services, takes place, a criminal offence would be committed by the purchaser. This would be the first time in Canadian criminal law that purchasing sexual services from an adult has ever been criminalized.
The preamble in Bill C-36 explains why it is making prostitution illegal. It is a clear statement of the objectives of the Bill C-36 proposals for law reform, clarifying that Parliament sees prostitution as an inherently exploitative activity that always poses a risk of violence. Members of both the Liberal Party and the NDP have said that they agree, that it is exploitative, and that most of the people trapped in this awful trade are being exploited. Prostitution would no longer be viewed as creating merely neighbourhood disruption or disorder or street nuisances.
The preamble explains that prostitution is not only viewed as a form of exploitation of those subjected to it. It also recognizes the social harm caused by the normalization of sex as a commodity to be bought and sold, and it clarifies the importance of protecting human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups, including women and children, and especially aboriginal women and girls.
Accordingly, Bill C-36 seeks to denounce and prohibit the demand for prostitution and to continue to denounce and prohibit procuring others for the purposes of prostitution and the development of economic interests in exploiting others through prostitution. We hope these measures, over time, will reduce the incidence of prostitution in Canada and the exploitation of those who are trapped in this business.
It also seeks to denounce and prohibit the commercialization and institutionalization of prostitution, particularly when it occurs in businesses such as strip clubs, massage parlours, and through escort agencies, which is largely the case in my city of Mississauga. Finally, the bill seeks to protect communities from the harms associated with prostitution, including related criminality and the exposure of children to the sale of sex as a commodity. These are robust objectives that go far beyond what the Supreme Court of Canada found were the objectives of the existing criminal offences governing prostitution, thereby fundamentally altering the premise of any future charter analysis.
The new offences would have to be constitutionally analyzed through an entirely new lens, one that sees prostitution as a gendered practice, implicating the equality of women and minorities, one that sees prostitution as a practice that exploits those who sell their own sexual services, and one that sees prostitution as causing both community and social harm.
The Supreme Court of Canada expressed concern that the existing offences prevent the selling of sexual services from fixed indoor locations, which the court found to be the safest way to sell sex. If members read the decision, that is exactly what the three appellants, Bedford, Lebovitch, and Scott, asked for. They had all been in the business. They had all been owners of escort agencies, and they had all said, “When you're out on the street, you get beaten. There's no way to properly protect yourself”, and they asked the court to give them the ability to do it safely indoors.
Notably, Bill C-36 criminalizes purchasing sexual services but not selling sexual services. Furthermore, it immunizes from prosecution those who sell their own sexual services with respect to any part they may play in the new purchasing, material benefit, procuring, and, I will point out for my friend, advertising offences. I would recommend that she take a look at proposed paragraph 286.5(1)(b) contained in Bill C-36, and she will find there a specific exemption for that.
It has been misunderstood by a number of commentators in the media. John Ivison and Andrew Coyne of the National Post and Tim Harper of the Toronto Star, got it wrong. They failed to read that provision of the bill, and therefore, based their articles on the absence of the ability of a sex worker to advertise her own services. I would say that Mr. Harper was corrected subsequently by his own colleague, Tonda MacCharles, in a later article and also on CTV's Question Period. Don Martin of CTV also got it wrong. They just failed to read the bill.
I hope they will be listening today and have a chance to take a look at that provision and perhaps comment on how this bill does not prevent sex workers from properly advertising their services in a safe way. This means that persons who sell their own sexual services cannot be prosecuted when they sell sexual services from a fixed indoor location, whether independently or co-operatively. As long as the only benefit received from selling sexual services co-operatively in one location is the safety of proximity to others and each person receives only the profits from their own prostitution, no offence is committed. This approach comprehensively responds to the Supreme Court of Canada's safety concerns about the ability to sell sexual services indoors.
The Supreme Court of Canada's second major concern was that existing offences prevent those who sell sexual services from hiring bodyguards and others who may enhance their safety, but we all know the risks associated with allowing the development of economic interests in exploiting others through prostitution. Third parties may start out as bodyguards or drivers and then over time become abusive pimps who will stop at nothing to maximize profits by exploiting the prostitution of those who work for them, especially women and children.
Bill C-36 carefully balances the Supreme Court of Canada's safety concerns with the need to ensure that exploitative third parties are criminalized. It achieves this goal by criminalizing receiving a financial or other material benefit that is obtained or derived from the purchasing offence, limiting the scope of the offence through legislated exceptions and ensuring that the exceptions do not apply in exploitative circumstances.
The legislated exceptions ensure that persons who sell their own sexual services have the same ability to interact with others as anyone else. The bill would not criminalize those who legitimately receive material benefits from the prostitution of others.
Specifically, the exceptions clarify that the offence would not apply if the person who receives the benefit is in a legitimate living arrangement with a person who provides sexual services, such as a spouse, child, or roommate; if a person receives the benefit as a result of an obligation owed to them, such as where financial support is provided to a disabled parent or where a gift is purchased with the earnings of prostitution; and also if a person receives the benefit in return for goods or services offered on the same terms and conditions to the general public, such as an accountant, a taxi driver, or a security company that offers goods or services to anyone.
In addition to all of that, there is a specific exemption if a person receives the benefit in return for a service or good that is offered informally, such as babysitting or even protective services, as long as the benefit is proportionate to the value of the good or service the person performed and that they did not counsel or encourage prostitution. In short, an arm's-length relationship is required.
This is in the proposed new paragraph 286.2(4)(d) of the bill. It would provide for the sex workers, who my friend is concerned about, to hire a bodyguard on commercial terms to provide security in that safe place. That is why this bill stands on all four corners with the Bedford decision, in my view.
These exceptions reflect existing case law that carves out exceptions to the current living on the avails of prostitution offence. The legitimate living arrangement and the legal and moral obligation exceptions find their origin in the Ontario Court of Appeal's 1991 Grilo decision, which was cited as an authority on these issues by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Bedford case. The exception related to goods and services offered to the general public originates in a line of cases, starting with the 1962 House of Lords decision in Shaw.
The exceptions respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's concern that existing laws do not permit those who sell their own sexual services to take safety measures, such as hiring bodyguards and drivers. However, as I have said, Bill C-36 would strike a careful balance. The exceptions I have just described would not apply if the person who receives the benefit uses violence, intimidation, or coercion; abuses a position of trust, power, or authority; or provides any intoxicating substances to assist or encourage the other person's prostitution.
As we know, that is very often the case. They find young girls who maybe have run away. There has been a problem at home. They find them, they give them alcohol, they give them drugs, they get them addicted. Then they are their slaves, and they put them out on the street to feed that filthy habit over and over again.
The bill would also criminalize where a person procures another person's prostitution or if the benefit is received in the context of a commercial enterprise that offers sexual services for sale, such as a strip club, a massage parlour, or an escort agency in which prostitution takes place. We know those types of businesses are often run by criminal organizations, such as gangs and the Mafia. That is the kind of behaviour we want to criminalize. It is not what the women who are exploited are doing, but the people who are actually exploiting them.
This approach would make it very clear that the exceptions to the material benefit offence would not be available if exploitative conduct commonly practised by pimps is involved. Such an approach responds to the Supreme Court of Canada's safety concerns while at the same time providing protection from the exploitation that involvement in prostitution generally always causes.
The Supreme Court of Canada's final concern was that persons who sell their own sexual services be able to take steps to negotiate safer conditions for the sale of sexual services in public places. Existing laws criminalize all public communications for the purpose of either purchasing or selling sexual services. The Supreme Court of Canada found that this offence prevented those who sell their own sexual services from being able to negotiate safer conditions for their transactions in public places.
On the other hand, Bill C-36 proposes, first, a new offence that would criminalize communicating in any place for the purpose of purchasing sexual services, and second, a separate offence that would criminalize communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services, but—and I have to emphasize this—only in public places where children could reasonably be expected to be present.
Prohibiting all communication associated with the purchasing of sexual services is justified by the new legislative objective of reducing demand for sexual exploitation. In short, purchasing sexual services constitutes exploitative conduct. Attempting to purchase by communicating for that purpose is equally problematic. Prohibiting communication for the purposes of selling sexual services in public places where children can reasonably be expected to be present, on the other hand, in my view strikes a careful, justified, and reasonable balance between the interests of two vulnerable groups: those who are exploited through prostitution, and children who may be exposed to the sale of sex as a commodity and to the dangers associated with prostitution, such as the presence of drugs, pimps, and persons associated with organized crime.
My colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, mentioned earlier that when she was a school teacher, there were pedophiles and pimps who hung around the schoolyard. They would approach young girls and try to entice them either to get in a car with the pedophile or to get into business with the pimp, and that is the kind of thing we are concerned about.
Bill C-36 does not prohibit persons who sell their own sexual services from communicating for that purpose in any public place other than when children could be harmed by exposure to prostitution.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada's Bedford ruling is clear that prostitution offences are intertwined, meaning that the offences impact on one another. Greater latitude in one measure, such as permitting prostitutes to obtain the assistance of security personnel, for example, might impact on the constitutionality of another measure, such as forbidding the nuisances associated with keeping a bawdy house.
The regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. I agree with the Supreme Court of Canada's conclusion that regulating prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. Bill C-36 recognizes this complex need by striking careful balances between sometimes competing interests.
In conclusion, the new legislation proposes an entirely new, made-in-Canada response to prostitution. It tackles the demand for prostitution to reduce its prevalence, thereby protecting those who are exploited through prostitution from the risk of violence caused by their involvement in it.
The new purchasing offence, together with modernized prostitution offences criminalizing third-party involvement in the prostitution of others, sends a clear message: prostitution is dangerous and exploitative and harms society itself. No parent would wish to see their children enter the world of abuse and exploitation that constitutes prostitution.
Legislative approaches that view prostitution as an exploitative practice that victimizes those who are subjected to it have recently received growing international support. I note that France's National Assembly passed a bill in December 2013 that would implement such an approach, and I understand that the bill is currently before France's Senate.
Ireland's parliamentary justice committee recommended implementation of this type of approach in June 2013. The European Parliament recently endorsed such an approach in February 2014, and a United Kingdom parliamentary report recommended this type of law reform in March 2014.
Canada is not alone in its concern about prostitution's harms. These harms are real and require concerted effort to address. The government is committed to working with its provincial and territorial colleagues who enforce criminal law toward ensuring that prostitution's harms are not left unchecked.
Enacting Bill C-36 is the first step toward addressing prostitution's harms. Accordingly, I encourage all members of this House to join me in support of it.
Ms. Isabelle Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I must inform the House I will be sharing my time with my colleague, friend and neighbour, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.
I rise today to speak to 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.
In fact, this is legislation to regulate prostitution in our country. I am pleased to rise and speak to this issue because it is something that is of great concern to my riding. Prostitution exists in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. It think it is an important issue and one that is of great concern to many people in my riding. Some of those people have come to talk to me about it over the past few weeks.
To give some background on this, in December, the Supreme Court ruled on the provisions of the Criminal Code that prohibit keeping a common bawdy-house, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.
The Supreme Court found that these provisions were unconstitutional, as follows:
|| [The current statutes impose] dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky—but legal—activity from taking steps to protect themselves.
Currently, under our Criminal Code, prostitution is legal but there is no help for the prostitutes who engage in this line of work.
I want to address a number of things because the bill is very complex. We want to know what the government is doing to help sex workers. We all wish prostitution did not exist. However, it does exist because there are clients, people who provide their sexual services and people who exploit others for sexual purposes.
Last year, I participated in the study conducted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the bill introduced by my colleague from Ahuntsic. A police inspector from Montreal said something fairly shocking. He said that, in Montreal, you can order a woman like you can order pizza. That is the situation we are currently facing.
As legislators, we must consider why sexual services are so readily available in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and small towns. I think it is mainly because there are customers, but also because the women are very vulnerable. Our government does not help them very much.
Rather than taking an approach that marginalizes extremely vulnerable sex workers, we should be taking practical measures to improve their safety and help them get out of the sex trade, if they so desire.
We do not have statistics on the number of women who truly want to engage in this line of work. Earlier, a Conservative member said it was 10%, but we do not really have any idea what the actual number might be. In order to find out, we would have to allocate significant resources; provide financial support to these women; and offer them education, training and addiction treatment. There are many things we could do to help these women so that they do not get involved in the sex trade. Many women turn to prostitution because of poverty, whereas others do so to support an addiction. That is a fact.
According to the measures announced by the Conservatives in this bill, they are going to allocate $20 million to help women across Canada get out of the sex trade. I think it is a bit of a stretch for the government to say that it will be able to solve this problem and help women with $20 million. The government should be embarrassed about this announcement, which was made just a few weeks ago, on June 4.
That is one of the first things I want to talk about. There is prostitution in Lachine, close to my riding office. I once went up to one of these women to talk to her. As an MP, I believe I should speak to everyone.
This woman told me that she was doing this type of work because she has two children, that it pays more than other work and that, if she could, she would prefer to have another job, so she could have a better life. It is not necessarily a job that she likes, but as a poor, single mother with two children to raise, it is a simple way for her to make money quickly. That is unfortunate.
Our society could have decided to give her a good education, to help her, to provide support for her family and to establish community groups that would help her with workshops to raise her self-esteem. For example, in my riding, the organization La P'tite Maison de Saint-Pierre gives self-esteem workshops to women. That is the kind of community group we can support in order to keep women out of prostitution. When I hear that $20 million will be given out across Canada, I wonder what that will mean for my riding. That is not very much in the way of concrete help for these women. That is really unfortunate.
I would like to delve deeper into the bill and see what it does. The bill will create new offences related to prostitution, namely purchasing sexual services. That means that we are criminalizing the people who buy sexual services. Once again, that is an attack on female prostitutes or young men, because I am told that young men prostitute themselves as well.
Groups that study various models around the world say that criminalizing the purchase of sexual services scares women in some ways. Even though the Conservatives say that selling those services on the street corner will be prohibited, let us not kid ourselves; given the means made available to address the situation, there will still be women on street corners.
Let us assume that a woman is on the street corner and that a client pulls up in his car; obviously, she will not take the time to talk to the man or to look inside his car to make sure that there are no weapons or other items that could be dangerous for her.
Right now, when that happens, women certainly take the time to look inside to see whether there is a rope or something that could harm her or be dangerous for her. Under this bill, she will not do that. Clearly, she will quickly get in the car, which will be more dangerous for her.
In my view, this provision does not help sex workers. Given that this trade does exist, we need to ask ourselves what we can do for the health and safety of these workers. According to the Supreme Court decision, we must work to ensure the safety of these workers. Whether we like it or not, this is a legal activity in our system, and it must be regulated.
The bill makes changes that have to do with receiving a material benefit, advertising sexual services and communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in a public place where children can “reasonably” be expected to be present. I have a problem with the word “reasonably”. It seems inappropriate.
I want to name some people who support us because this bill does not respond to the Supreme Court's decision.
The NDP calls on the government to refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court. It must do more to help prostitutes get out of prostitution, for example, through education, prevention and social housing. All Canadians have the right to work without the threat of violence. This bill does not solve that problem.
Steve Sullivan, the former ombudsman for victims of crime, is one of the people who agrees with us. This very credible man said:
|| Back in December, everyone seemed to agree on one point: The law shouldn’t criminalize sex workers. This bill will do just that—if they communicate...in public places where a child could reasonably be expected to be present.
Emmett Macfarlane said:
|| These provisions are not only bad policy, but they undoubtedly raise the same set of concerns the Supreme Court addressed when striking down the old provisions last December.
It is important to understand that we need to send this bill to the Supreme Court so that it can rule on whether we will end up with the same problem. We would then have to wait another year for provisions that truly help women get out of this situation.
No one here can prove to me that the Conservatives are truly helping women in our country. I do not think that this bill is proof of that either.
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate 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.
In my speech, I will read excerpts from the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court to provide some context for the decision and the government's response, which takes the form of the bill we are debating.
Last December, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that section 210, as well as paragraphs 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) of the Criminal Code—which prohibit people from keeping a bawdy-house, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of engaging in prostitution—violate the charter, because they infringe upon the right of sex workers and the security of their person.
The court ruled that current laws impose:
||...dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky—but legal—activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.
The court therefore asked the government to regulate prostitution “as long as it does so in a way that does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes”.
In addition, an article in today's edition of La Presse indicates that the government seems more interested in imposing a new repressive model than in eliminating the problems identified by the Supreme Court.
Is the Minister of Justice's Bill C-36 a thoughtful and sensible response to the Supreme Court decision in the Bedford case? It would appear not. Once again, the Conservatives are using the big stick approach rather than a nuanced one. I would even go so far as to say that they are using a snowplow to remove everything in their path.
Will this bill protect the health and safety of sex workers? I do not think so. Will the bill protect women and girls caught in a cycle of dependence, violence and victimization? I do not think so. Will this bill prevent women, girls and boys from getting caught up in prostitution? I do not think so. Will this bill help support programs to assist people who want to get out of this situation? I do not think so.
I do not think so because this bill does not focus on prevention, but rather on repression. It does not consider the complexity of human nature and the reality of the society we live in, a society where appearances and money are strong lures, to the detriment of human beings and helping each other.
This was mentioned yesterday in the Winnipeg Sun's editorial:
|| Like with other criminal activity, laws prohibiting it rarely eliminates the problem....
|| While we want the government to crack down on pimps, human traffickers and people preying on the truly vulnerable, there’s nothing to suggest this law will reduce the demand or increase protections for women.
This is a newspaper that I do not often quote, but it was quite revealing.
Last winter, I attended an information session organized by station 13 of the LaSalle police. Representatives from all the community organizations in greater southwest Montreal heard from two community officers with the multidisciplinary investigations and youth coordination unit of the Montreal police service.
These experienced police officers gave us a realistic and frank description of prostitution and pimping. They want to change people's thinking about prostitutes and, above all, suggest ways to help those prostitutes who want to get out of the business. The program that they have put in place, “Les survivantes” or “the survivors”, gives female victims of this vicious circle the means to break out of it.
They also said that the image of pimping was somewhat glorified in popular culture and could be appealing to individuals who decide that the sexual exploitation of others is an easy way to make money. In their presentation, they demonstrated that prostitution was not a choice for many, but rather a lack of choice.
In our opinion, this bill, introduced by the Minister of Justice, does not respond to the Supreme Court ruling regarding the safety and protection of prostitutes. By making successive cuts to programs to prevent violence against women, the Conservatives really dropped the ball when it comes to dealing with this problem. Their systematic refusal to move forward with a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women leads us to believe that they have a very limited understanding of prostitution and violence against women.
The NDP recognizes that real action needs to be taken right away to improve the safety of sex workers and help them to get out of the sex trade, if they are not there by choice. To that end, significant resources must be allocated to income support, education, training, poverty relief and substance abuse programs for these women. We need a government that works with them to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect and support women.
I would also like to point out that clauses 46 to 48 refer to an equally controversial bill that was criticized by the new Privacy Commissioner, and that is the bill on cyberbullying. We call on the government and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to go back to the drawing board and hold real consultations that take into account the opinions of a wide range of legal experts, stakeholder groups, the appropriate authorities and the main people involved, sex workers. The minister should also refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court to get its opinion on whether the bill honours the ruling in the Bedford case.
This government, as a legislator, must ensure that the bills introduced in the House are consistent with our Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is more, the government has a moral responsibility to protect and ensure the safety of communities and workers, no matter what their occupation. We believe that the measures introduced and the announcements made by the Minister of Justice are inadequate and will not achieve the expected results.
Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate today because this is a topic in which I have been involved for many years, stretching back to before I became a member of the House.
I became involved in this issue because of the work of a group in my riding called PEERS, the Prostitution Empowerment Education and Resource Society, which runs a drop-in centre and an office in the municipality where I was a councillor. Everything that allows me to speak with some grounding today comes from my experience working with this group. I want to thank PEERS at the beginning of this speech for the time it has shared with me in helping me understand the realities of sex work in Canada.
This group is a peer-led drop-in centre and outreach program, meaning the sex workers themselves run these programs. Who better to try to work with people involved in the sex trade than those who have credibility with their colleagues to talk about those kinds of realities?
We have heard many things in the media discussion of this bill that clearly do not reflect the reality that sex workers face every day.
The PEERS outreach programs run both day and night. The night programs are extremely important for the safety of sex workers. They do everything from involving sex workers in safe sex education to providing things like condoms. They also keep a check on where sex workers are, and if they are not seen, they are checked on to find out if they are safe.
The group helps to compile a bad date list, which it disseminates, bad date list meaning those men who have used violence against sex workers. This list is compiled so sex workers can identify them and avoid becoming victims of violence.
The day program does a lot of other things.
PEERS still continues to operate these programs despite a severe funding crunch, which has reduced the amount of money available to it and the number of hours it can run its outreach day and night programs. Its day program has been reduced to one day a week.
These services operate on a shoestring. The drop-in centre is not a glamorous place with a large-screen TV or many other things people might associate with a drop-in centre. It is a basic operation and really runs on the volunteer services of people who are either sex workers themselves or are allies who are trying to make sure that those involved in sex work are as safe as they can possibly be.
For its efforts, PEERS was recognized by the provincial Ministry of Justice with an award for leadership in crime prevention and community safety, a recognition by the provincial government of the extremely important role it plays in helping to reduce crime and keep everybody in the community safer.
PEERS is the result of an initiative of sex workers themselves, assisted by a woman who had been a long-time columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Jody, who worked with PEERS for many years, really became involved because of some of the work she was doing as a journalist. She met sex workers and found out about the difficulties they were having. She played a large role in helping to get the centre together.
I first went to the PEERS centre in my riding more than five years ago. I saw first-hand the wide range of services if offers. It plays an important role in getting access to health and social services in the community for primarily women but also transgender women and some gay men. Quite often these people lack ID because it might have been stolen or they lack a fixed address. As a result, they face obstacles to getting the services that all of us take for granted. PEERS plays an important role in helping them find housing. Victoria is an expensive community with very limited housing options. One of its important roles is to locate safe housing.
A lot of people are not aware of the fact that many of the sex workers in my community are mothers with kids to support. Whatever we think about people involved in sex work, those mothers I met were just trying to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. One of them told me that she has three kids and a minimum wage, part-time job. She cannot put a roof over their heads. She cannot clothe her kids or feed them. That is how she ended up in sex work. She continues in sex work for the future of her kids. This lady is a volunteer at the centre, who helps other people make the best of the life they find themselves in at the time. That is important because of the stigma that is placed generally on sex workers.
The drop-in centre became a place that offers support for those involved in sex work. It is a safe place they can go. There is someone they can talk to and a connection to the community to help end the isolation that many sex workers find themselves in. The centre also offers support for those who desire to leave the sex trade. A very important part of what it does is identify those who want out, who may have gotten there through circumstances that are not so pleasant. However, they end up at the centre. The centre helps them access job training programs, access education and even to the point of helping them to prepare resumés to find a different kind of employment.
All of these things go on because of the generosity of volunteers and the solidarity that sex workers in my community have shown for each other to help themselves out and to keep themselves safe.
A key part of everything that PEERS does is harm reduction, such as education on safer sex, access to addiction counselling and, as I mentioned, collecting and disseminating bad date information about violent clients in my community.
When the Bedford decision was clearly approaching last fall, I decided I needed to get better informed about the issue. I had been involved with PEERS since I was a city councillor. It had come to us to ask for a property tax exemption for its drop-in centre. I am proud to say that the community of Esquimalt unanimously voted a property tax exemption for the centre, as we would any other community service organization that was putting in these huge volunteer hours. It was not even controversial. The community agreed it was performing this very valuable role in our community.
I had been on walks with PEERS people. They do an annual walk, for which the theme is sex workers rights equal human rights. They were very surprised that I continued to go on that walk after I became a municipal councillor, and then after when I became a member of Parliament. It is not a large walk and it does not always attract the right kind of attention. However, what they are trying to do is what we in the House are trying to do: to get people to recognize that sex workers come from all kinds of backgrounds. They come from all kinds of life circumstances. They are Canadian citizens with the right to be treated with dignity and the right to live their lives free from violence.
I expected the Bedford decision would go the way it did. Having taught criminal justice for many years it seemed likely the Supreme Court would throw out these laws around prostitution, which actually made life more dangerous for those involved, As part of trying to inform myself, I met with Stella. I met with other national organizations. I met with social science researchers at the University of Victoria in my community. I learned a lot from all of those. However, where I learned the most was I asked PEERS if a group of sex workers would be willing to sit down with me and talk for an afternoon about what they thought should happen if the Supreme Court threw out the laws on prostitution.
I spent an afternoon sitting with a group of 12 women actively involved in sex work in my community. People have asked do people know sex workers, or have they talked to sex workers. I got to know these people very well and I have nothing but respect for them for the way they are trying to do their best in the circumstances in which they find themselves. Some have chosen to be there, and I do accept when they say they have chosen to be there. Some, like the single mom, have made bad choices and have made the best choice they can for their kids.
None of the women I met with were trafficked, although all of them knew of cases where that had happened in the community. However, one thing they had in common was they had all experienced violence at some point as a sex worker. Therefore, at the end of that discussion, when I asked them what the goal for legislation should be, their answer was harm reduction and safety for those involved in sex work.
When this government bill was tabled, I got a call from the people at PEERS. Like most MPs, I was not able to take it immediately because I was in the House, but when I went back and talked to them, it was a very emotional conversation. They were very, very upset with the legislation they saw tabled. Many of them felt there were some very good intentions from many people on the other side of the House, but that the bill had missed the mark for them. They felt very strongly that it would make their lives more difficult and more dangerous.
When we talk about what some people like to call the Nordic model, they were very clear that criminalizing one half of a transaction inevitably makes the other half dangerous. It will drive it underground and make it more difficult to identify the clients in advance, because the clients will become more secretive. All of the various objections we can imagine that involve safety were raised with me in that phone call.
Subsequently, the executive director, Marion Little, made a public statement. I want to read her public statement, because it reflects the conversation that I had with members of the board of directors of PEERS when this legislation was introduced. Marion Little said:
|| This is devastating. People’s lives will be affected, and we barely have the resources to help them now....
|| I don’t have any confidence those funds will go to experienced organizations providing unconditional care for sex workers.
That is what PEERS does. PEERS does not judge the people who come through the door. It does not judge why they are there and it does not insist that they are doing anything that needs to be changed. What PEERS says is, “How can we help with unconditional care for sex workers?” It is opposed to the legislation and worried about the $20 million of funding that the government is talking about. It is worried that it will go to organizations that have no experience in working with sex workers, or organizations not run by sex workers themselves, as PEERS is, or organizations that apply a moral stigma at the beginning of their approach to sex workers. It is very concerned about that.
I would like the government to develop an approach that better protects women and offers increased support to women who are involved in sex work. In addition, on this side we want to address all the related issues about vulnerable people who have been ignored, issues like education, addiction treatment, affordable housing, all the things that will enable people who may have ended up in the sex trade and do not want to be there to make better choices for their future. We have to address those issues that surround the sex trade and the limited opportunities that many women have to take care of themselves, which is what they want to do.
The bill before us would amend the Criminal Code to create an offence that prohibits purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose. That is a big concern that the PEERS director who I spoke with had. The bill says “any public place”. Therefore, where is it that sex workers are going to be forced to practise their trade where there are no other people? If they practise their trade where there are no other people, they are inherently placed in danger.
The bill would create an offence that would prohibit the advertisement of sexual services and authorize the courts to seize materials containing such advertisements and their removal from the Internet. Many of the sex workers I talked to use ads and the Internet to help screen clients and share information about who is dangerous and who is not.
The government is again doing what it quite often does, which is addressing a problem that really does not exist when talking about sex work around schools. I know one commentator who said he had taken his kids to school thousands of times and had never seen sex workers working, first of all, at those hours and, second, around schools. Somehow it casts this aspersion on sex workers that there are some kind of predators after our children. In fact, what I have found in my community is many of them have children of their own they are really trying to provide for.
I do not believe that this bill is consistent with the Supreme Court decision on the charter. I was very pleased to hear the member for Gatineau expressing our position that we would like to see this referred to the Supreme Court now. Let us send it to the Supreme Court. The government has the ability to do this. Instead of wasting many years of battles in court, we could get advice from the Supreme Court at this point, which would say whether this meets the test that it set in the Bedford decision. I personally do not believe it does, but the government must believe it meets those tests or it would not have introduced the legislation in the House. There should be no risk for the government in referring this to the Supreme Court if it genuinely believes that it meets the tests of the Bedford decision.
The other thing that, again, was expressed directly to me by sex workers from PEERS in my riding is that they wonder who is going to look after sex workers while this bill that would make their lives more dangerous and more difficult goes through. We would have many more years before this would get to the Supreme Court, perhaps four, five, or six years. In the meantime they feel that this would make their lives more dangerous in ways that were absolutely prohibited by the Supreme Court decision. They would be forced to undergo that violence and be subjected to those negative conditions for an additional four to five years, when all the Supreme Court really authorized was one year for Parliament to get a new bill together that respects the Bedford decision.
Again I would echo the member for Gatineau in her call that this be referred to the Supreme Court now, before it is enacted into law and before it has those damaging impacts. If the government members do not believe that, then I do not understand their reluctance to refer it to the Supreme Court. The Conservatives have certainly referred other decisions to the Supreme Court, and I know this did not always go well for them, but obviously they have more confidence in this bill.
Others have said to me that I certainly must support the $20 million that the government is devoting to assisting sex workers. I would say to that, “Yes, absolutely; I think that is a great idea.” I would like to see where that is in the budget. I would also like to see that it does not have strings attached. Again, it was the director of PEERS who said to me that she is afraid this money will go to an organization that stigmatizes the sex trade and therefore will not be able to reach the women who most need the help.
I do not sense a great appetite for the government to listen on this bill and make changes to the bill. That would be my second choice after referring it to the Supreme Court. I guess what we will be forced to do on this side as it proceeds is try to make the arguments and attract the government members' attention and have them listen to the people who would be placed most at risk by this bill, and that is the sex workers.
I want to close by thanking the sex workers in my community for helping me understand the situation of their daily lives and how this bill would actually be a threat to them. I want to conclude my remarks by saying I look forward to the day when we have a truly inclusive society in Canada that does not stigmatize any of our members and put them at risk of violence.