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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Zahra Rayani-Kanji of Heart Pharmacy, Sidney Pharmacy manager James McCullough, and Naz Rayani, owner and founder of Heart Pharmacy, join sisters Becky Brigham and Judy Costanzo outside the business. Sidney Pharmacy has become the sixth Heart Pharmacy outlet in Greater Victoria after its purchase from Brigham and Costanzo. Their parents, Frances and Jim Brigham, first opened the business in 1959. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney Pharmacy changes ownership, but retains family tradition

First opened by Frances and Jim Brigham in 1959, Sidney Pharmacy is now part of Heart Pharmacy

Ronald Schinners, owner of The Cabbie in the #YYJ, opened his taxi service in the West Shore last month. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
‘One man show,’ The Cabbie in the #YYJ cultivates 45,000 followers on Instagram

New taxi company brings unusual spunk to the West Shore

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has in the past warned of Öffnungsdiskusionorgien (translated as an orgy of discussions about openings), one of one of the 1,200 words added to the German lexicon as reported by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)
German lexicon grows by 1,200 words, many inspired by COVID-19 pandemic

Öffnungsdiskusionorgie (orgy of discussions about openings) among new entries

A decade into the 100-year blueprint for restoring the Bowker Creek watershed, Soren Henrich, director of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, feels positive about the future of conservation and daylighting of the creek. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ten years in, Greater Victoria’s 100-year Bowker Creek blueprint gets a boost

Victoria council passes several restoration recommendations

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ on Sooke Road

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read