Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is rare, and members of the House will know it, standing as the leader of the Green Party of Canada and member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands, that I have not availed myself of the opportunity to present amendments at committee stage under new rules that were adopted last fall. I have objected to the opportunity because it has not amounted to a real chance to amend legislation.


Nevertheless, on bills that I find disturbing, I have gone to every committee with amendments of a substantive nature. In the case of Bill C-36, I found I could not find a way to amend the bill in a way that would actually fix it. That is why, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that you have now read out attempts to delete the entire bill based on it being unfixable.

How do we find ourselves here? As we all know, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Bedford decision that our existing laws relating to prostitution were unconstitutional as they violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an important sentence that constitutes a fundamental principle for all Canadians: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

In the Bedford case, the Supreme Court determined that Canadian laws and the Criminal Code are inconsistent with this section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to sex workers who are threatened by current Canadian laws.

With the Supreme Court saying that our laws relating to prostitution did not adequately protect the rights of security of the person for people who found themselves in this very marginalized and difficult place in their lives and that they were even more marginalized, even more stigmatized and driven into the shadows by the status of laws over prostitution in Canada, it was up to us, as Parliament, to come up with an approach that would respect, would protect and would ensure that people in the sex trade industry were not driven into the shadows.

After Bedford, I thought we would see a response from Parliament, a response from the Minister of Justice, that took into account the message from the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ironically, earlier this morning, I attended an international symposium on the subject of gender violence and health. The symposium is taking place a few blocks from here, at the Novotel, on Nicholas Street. Researchers from across Canada are presenting research on this topic, with people from around the world. It is a collaborative social science project in Canada on gender violence and health. It was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

I was able to stay long enough, before coming here to debate Bill C-36, to hear the preliminary findings of that work being done across Canada. I was pleased to see that members from my own part of the world, from University of Victoria and from the city of Victoria Police Department had all participated in this work.

Their area of research was restricted to people in the sex trade industry who were over 19 and who were not part of the quite horrific trafficking in people who did not have rights. I want to make it really clear that in the Green Party’s stance against Bill C-36, we believe the full measure of the law should be used to crack down on anyone who is exploiting minors and people in sex trafficking. We believe laws in that area must be strengthened and that the laws are adequate, even as they now stand, to differentiate the situations between prostitution, in general, and this group of exploited workers under 19 who are trafficked internationally and lack the rights they should have under the law.

Research has been done that is being reported on just today, as I mentioned. It was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It was collaborative work done in six different cities across Canada by some of our best social science researchers, who examined the lives of sex trade workers who were not under the age of 19 or involved in human trafficking.

What the institute found as a foundational piece of information in early research is intuitive and is what the Supreme Court of Canada understood. It is that any laws that are punitive in nature, anything that in our social context that would further stigmatize sex trade work, means that the people conducting themselves in that work are more vulnerable and are less able to access the supports and protections found in our society.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision made it clear what Parliament needed to do: Parliament needed to find a way to ensure that people in the sex trade industry were not driven into the shadows and were not further stigmatized.

This is a tragedy, because we are talking about people’s lives. We are not just talking about slogans for election campaigns or going for some sort of core vote from Conservative Party supporters. This issue transcends partisanship. This is about Parliament being asked by the Supreme Court of Canada to ensure that section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is respected when we bring forth laws that deal with prostitution.

On that fundamental requirement for our laws, Bill C-36 stands as a singular failure. It would absolutely not make the life of sex trade workers more secure. It goes in the wrong direction. As numerous legal commentators have noted, this law would make the sex trade more dangerous.

Just to give a sense of why that is, I would like to quote comments made by the Minister of Justice at a press conference on the day that Bill C-36 was tabled back in June. I am going to quote from an exchange that he had with a reporter.

The Minister of Justice said:

Some prostitutes we know are younger than 18 years of age. If they are in the presence of one another at 3:00 in the morning and are selling sexual services, they would be subject to arrest.

A reporter then asked:

That would still be considered a criminal offence?

The response from the Minister of Justice was:

That’s correct. They’re selling it in the presence of a minor.

The reporter said:

Okay, so if two 17-year-old prostitutes are standing side by side in the middle of the night in what is considered a public place, they will be committing an offence.

The response by the Minister of Justice:

And selling sex, yes.

A reporter said:

That’s effectively making them stay on their own and endangering furthering their own security.

The Minister of Justice:

Not at all. We’re not making them do anything. We’re not forcing them to sell sex.

That is a response in the absence of reality. If we are to take the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bedford case seriously, then we should do everything possible to allow people in the sex trade industry to be with each other, to be near each other, to be protecting each other. There is a distinction between being on the street and indoor sex work. Anything that drives people in the sex trade industry onto the street and into the shadows is going to make their lives more dangerous.

This goes to the next piece of Bill C-36, which is likely unconstitutional: banning advertisement for sexual services and banning communicating for the purchasing of sex in particular.

Bill C-36 states that all of it would be illegal unless the sex trade workers are communicating directly. In other words, publishing their ads would be illegal. This again would force a prostitute to lose the intermediary. It would force the sex trade worker to lose the possibility of some form of screening, some way of ensuring they are not face-to-face in the shadows negotiating their situation. It would make their lives much more dangerous.

The decision in Bedford gave us guidance on this issue. The court said in Bedford:

By prohibiting communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, the law prevents prostitutes from screening clients and setting terms for the use of condoms or safe houses. In these ways, it significantly increases the risks they face.

Bill C-36 is written as though the Supreme Court of Canada has given us no guidance, as though we are blundering around not imagining the narrowness of the ways in which communicating or advertising would remain legal in Canada.

It is as though the Bedford decision gave us no guidance, because what they have come up with is aimed at a new offence of advertising sexual services and is undoubtedly going to make life more dangerous for sex trade workers.

I could go on and on, but I know my time is at an end.


I just want to say that this law will only make the lives of hundreds of sex workers more difficult and more dangerous.