Marathon prostitution hearings begin Monday

Marathon prostitution hearings begin Monday in special summer parliament session

  • Jul. 6, 2014 6:00 a.m.
The inside of Canada's House of Commons

The inside of Canada's House of Commons

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Political fireworks and gut-wrenching, street-level testimonials are expected to mark this week’s marathon round of hearings by the House of Commons justice committee on the Harper government’s new prostitution bill.

The government says it is racing to a tight December deadline imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada to create a new law.

NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin says she wants the government to slow down and thoughtfully craft a new, Charter-compliant law over the summer months.

The high court struck down Canada’s old prostitution law last December and gave it one year to replace it with one that would comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the government’s message this coming week is to pass the bill because there’s a sense of urgency.

MacKay will be the first witness on Monday morning at this week’s special sitting of the Commons justice committee, which will cram what would easily be a month or more of testimony into just over three days.

It’s not entirely unheard of for parliamentary committees to convene during the summer recess. The agenda this week is ambitious, with the committee expected to hear from more than 60 witnesses over 20 hours of hearings set to begin Monday and run until Thursday morning.

“It’s going to be an intense week,” Boivin said in an interview. “It’s like a train going so fast.”

Boivin said she will ask for more time for committee members to have a less frenzied consideration of the bill over the summer months, “to see if some suggestions of amendments will be pertinent, and to at least think for just five minutes.”

MacKay told reporters this past week that he’s open to amending the bill, but he signalled he won’t be too indulgent: he said the bill is constitutionally sound and is an adequate response to the Supreme Court.

“Our message is: pass the bill,” he said. “There is a sense of urgency.”

Conservative committee chair Mike Wallace said the government is feeling the clock ticking towards its deadline and wants to work hard to meet it.

“There was a discussion about asking for an extension from the Supreme Court, but the risk would be they would take their time and say no and it would be too tight a time frame,” Wallace said in an interview.

Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to MacKay, said the government wants to hear from a broad range of people affected by the life-and-death realities of the sex trade. And it wants Canadians to hear them too, during the televised proceedings.

“I know that we will hear a lot of stories from survivors of the sex industry, and I’ve heard some of them, and people will be surprised to learn how brutal a business it is — if you can even call it a business,” said Dechert.

The government is also ready to hear plenty of opposition, including one particularly vocal constituency that wants prostitution completely legalized, he added.

Dechert said that while the government is open to amendments, at the end of the day, he believes the current bill “strikes the right balance” in responding to the Supreme Court.

He said Justice Department officials, who advised the government, will be open to questioning by all parties after MacKay has finished his testimony on Monday.

The vast list of those testifying includes sex workers, indigenous women, community workers and experts from Europe.

A Justice Department discussion paper summarizes the three international approaches taken towards prostitution.

There’s the “Nordic model” of Sweden, Norway and Iceland, which criminalizes clients and third parties but not prostitutes, accompanied by social programs aimed at helping sex workers.

There’s the decriminalization or legalization of Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.

And there’s the outright prohibition of both the purchase and sale of sexual services, which is the state of play across the entire United States, with one the notable exception: the state of Nevada.

Prostitution itself was actually legal in Canada under the old law, but most related activities — including communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and running a brothel — were criminal offences.

The Supreme Court said that amounted to a violation of the basic Charter right to security of the person and was concerned that the provisions unduly increased the risk to sex workers.

The Conservatives’ new bill creates new offences for clients and pimps, but does not criminalize prostitutes themselves.

It also cracks down on advertising and selling sexual services in public places where a child could reasonably be expected to be present.

“We believe we have to focus on the demand and reduce the prevalence of it over time,” said Dechert.

But he also said the government answered the Supreme Court’s core demand — that the personal safety of prostitutes be safeguarded.

He said the new law allows prostitutes to rent apartments, screen clients, hire a receptionist or security guard, and advertise what they are offering.

The government is also pledging $20 million towards helping prostitutes leave the business, and has said it will work with provinces and territories on that.

“This is new territory for Canada,” said Dechert. “What we’re trying to do is eliminate those who exploit the women.”

Follow @mblanchfield on Twitter

Just Posted

The City of Victoria is hoping to ring in the summer by celebrating local art and offering some distanced, live music to surprise people in parks, plazas and other public spaces. (Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria)
Live, pop-up concerts and local art being showcased in Victoria this summer

People will see surprise serenades at 16 locations throughout the summer

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey are the valedictorians of the 2021 graduating class at Parkland Secondary School. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Pandemic taught lessons in perseverance for North Saanich high schoolers

Parkland Secondary School to release 2021 grad ceremony video on June 25

The 14th annual Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star (YES) awards June 3. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay celebrates its Young Exceptional Stars with outdoor award ceremony

Nine young people recognized in 14th annual awards

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read