Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act
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.