Madam Speaker, as I begin, I would like to beg the indulgence of the House for one moment to mention the tragic loss of life in my riding Friday night in the community of Sooke, where flooding appears to have taken the lives of Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen. We will learn more about the details of this incident as time goes on, but I believe we also need to look into the larger context of climate change, more severe storms, clear-cut logging and all of these things contributing to more severe flooding in my riding. We want to see if there was a connection to that loss of life.
Many volunteers came out to search when these young men went missing on Friday night, which is a tribute to the strength of volunteerism in the community of Sooke, and I thank all of those volunteers who helped in the search.
Turning to the question before us this morning, I will begin by expressing my condolences to the family and friends of Marylène Levesque for this loss, which is a loss not only to them but to all Canadians.
The NDP will be supporting the motion put forward by the Conservatives today, because obviously we need an investigation as to how something like this could happen in Canada. This tragic incident raises questions about the specific decisions of the Parole Board and parole officers in this case. These are important questions, because our parole system, by and large, serves the public well and helps to guarantee public safety in this country. However, when something clearly goes so far off the rails as to result in a tragic incident such as this, we have to have answers about what happened in our system.
How could this have been allowed to happen when the perpetrator had a previous conviction for the murder of his wife and was under supervision? How in the world did we get to a situation of another young woman losing her life at the hands of the same person for whom Canadians had taken responsibility, through our parole system, and who had been guaranteed to the public would be safe from committing further violence and further actions? These are indeed important questions.
However, the motion perhaps does not go far enough in that it does not really tackle those larger questions about the role of gender-based violence in Canadian society, about how we value women's lives and how we sometimes do not value women's lives to the extent that we should. In particular, when it comes to incidents of intimate partner violence, somehow this is seen as a lesser form of violence and the perpetrator of violence on their partner is somehow seen as less of a threat to Canadian society as a whole than are other violent criminals. This simply makes no sense to me, but it is clearly a factor involved in this case.
We also have to ask ourselves how much we value all women's lives, including the lives of sex workers.
The Parole Board and the parole officers clearly played a role in perpetuating these problematic attitudes about women and about violence toward women in our society, so yes, I support this motion, because we need to look closely at who is being appointed to those parole boards.
Do we have a sufficient number of women on the parole boards to help evaluate risk and set policies to evaluate risk? Are those people being appointed to parole boards for the right reasons? The Conservatives have raised this question. Parole Board appointments should not be a question of patronage, but a question of appointing people who represent the community and the community's values, people who can help set the very important policies that prevent innocent lives from being lost.
We also need to look at the question of the training that we provide to Parole Board members. Are we making sure that they are adequately trained in gender-based violence? Are we making sure that they are adequately trained in the rights and responsibilities that they have as Parole Board members and will not perpetuate these attitudes that sometimes value certain women's lives less than other lives in our society?
Let me talk a little more about the specifics of this incident.
There is the question we need to ask about how risk was evaluated. I will take a moment to read what was said by a UBC law professor, Isabel Grant, who I think raises some very important questions. She said:
I think that [the case] really shows the degree to which we do privilege male entitlement to women's bodies over the safety of women. I think it reflects, too, this idea that men who killed their girlfriends or wives or intimate partners don't present as much of a threat to the public as other men.
Professor Grant went on to say, “And I think that’s problematic, and it also shows how we see the safety of women, particularly the most marginalized women, and how little priority we give it,” meaning how little priority we give their safety.
We need to have this inquiry to ask those questions about risk evaluation and, in particular, how we evaluate the risk of men who have perpetrated violence on women in the past.
Then there is this whole concept that seems to have invaded this case, where the perpetrator had sexual needs that needed to be satisfied. I cannot imagine what this discussion is doing in a question of parole and risk. There is no right of men to have their sexual needs satisfied by women. No such thing exists. I cannot imagine how this became a subject of discussion on a perpetrator about whom the Parole Board had already said was not ready for relationships with women. However, it was suggesting that this person should visit sex workers for sex, as if this were not some kind of a relationship with a woman, for which he would obviously and clearly also not be ready. We have to look at specific cases and ask those tough questions of what attitudes lie behind these kinds of decisions.
Then there is the very problematic question to ask parole officers and parole boards. Since, under our current law, seeking sexual services from sex workers and paying for those services is illegal, are we really talking about a parole system that has suggested a perpetrator on parole should commit an illegal act? By its nature, the commission of that illegal act, should have cancelled his parole and returned him to custody. Are we really talking about the situation where somebody was, from within the system, advising a perpetrator to commit an illegal act? I would like an answer to that. I think all Canadians would like an answer to that very specific question.
That is why the NDP will support the Conservative motion. On those narrow questions, we have some very important answers to get and when we get those answers, we have to look very seriously at changes in policies that allowed these kinds of things to happen.
When we come to the broader context, we have to ask ourselves about a corrections system that had a perpetrator in custody for 15 years and failed to rehabilitate him. We all know there are challenges in our corrections system with lack of resources. We all know there are challenges raised by a very large number of people in our corrections system about offenders who have mental health and addiction problems. These are real challenges that our system has to face.
However, I would submit there are some cases where rehabilitation will fail and when that rehabilitation fails, we have a responsibility in our corrections system to keep the person in custody or to carefully supervise the individual's release. That broader question is raised again about how successful we are at rehabilitation and in the cases of violence against women especially, how seriously do we take the failure to rehabilitate men.
In the broader context of the safety of sex workers, there is what I call a very interesting twist, and I do not really like the tone of that word, in this case. Clearly the perpetrator had visited this massage parlour before, which we know from many reports. He had been banned because of his violence toward the women who worked in the that parlour. If this were a normal place of work at which violence occurred, it would have been reported to the police and would have resulted in the revocation of his parole. However, under the current legislation, a massage parlour is illegal. Therefore, it is illegal to provide a safe place for sex work to take place. We therefore have the cruel irony that the massage parlour could not report this person to the police without the risk of shutting down the safe place that had been established for sex work to take place.
Therefore, now we are into the broader question of our laws on sex work in Canada. Members in the House will know, as I have spoken on this many times, that I have worked with sex workers in my riding on a harm reduction strategy, not a judgment strategy, and a rights-based strategy, not a rescue-based strategy. It is very important that we look at this case as an example of what is wrong with our current restrictive laws on sex work. Many people say that we only criminalize the johns. That is not actually true. This is not what happened in the legislation.
We criminalize all kinds of things around sex work that makes sex work more dangerous. We criminalize the safe places for it to take place, such as brothels or massage parlours. Those really are safe places for women to perform sex work. We criminalize hiring security to provide safety, as that would be under the provision that someone is somehow profiting from sex work. while being hired to provide security.
I could go on with a list of things that we criminalize all the way around sex work. Each and every one of those provisions makes sex work more dangerous for the women involved.
I have the privilege of having the PEERS sex worker drop-in centre in my riding. Also, when I was on council, it was in my municipality. I learned from meeting with sex workers in my riding and from the staff at the PEERS centre what sex workers' organizations can do when they are empowered to provide safety to their members.
Rather than criminalizing sex work, I would like to see us take a harm reduction strategy that empowers sex worker organizations. What do I mean by that? It is more than just a nice phrase. It means, who provides “bad date lists”, as they are called? Who keeps track of the men who are violent toward sex workers? Sex worker organizations have that information. One of the functions they perform in every local venue is to make women who are involved in sex work aware of those men who are violent and dangerous. We need to support sex workers in providing the service. Unfortunately, we cannot involve the police in that at this time, because of the criminalization of all these pieces around sex work.
The PEERS drop-in centre in my riding provides many social services for women in the sex trade who are faced with housing and child care crises and who face all the same challenges that other workers face in our society. Once again, the key to all those services is not judgment about why women are in sex work, not judgment about whether sex work is a good or a bad thing, but how we can make lives better and safer for those who are already involved in sex work.
We have a charity based in Victoria called “HeroWork”. HeroWork provides volunteers to help renovate the premises of community social service organizations. Most members of Parliament will be quite aware that one of the problems our charities have is that their infrastructure is quite old and decrepit. Their workplaces are not very good places to work. Many of them are mould infested and have other real health challenges.
HeroWork selected as one of its projects the renovation of the PEERS drop-in centre. It mobilized literally hundreds of volunteers around the community to go in and makeover the drop-in centre and to make it a more welcoming and supportive place, including creating a community kitchen so it could provide meals, showers and other services to those who were involved in sex work in my community.
The interesting thing we found was that the project of renovating the drop-in centre brought volunteers from all over the community, who may not have otherwise gotten to know sex workers. This played a large role in changing their attitudes toward what happens in sex work in my community.
In this debate, it is important that we extend our thinking to whether we have taken the right approach to harm reduction in sex work and how that connects directly to the incident we have in front of us, which caused the loss of life. Many hundreds of sex workers have lost their lives in the country.
It beggars belief that those involved in our parole and corrections system could think that sending a person, who has a record of violence with women, to the most vulnerable women in our society and not expect a bad and tragic outcome, like the one that occurred in Quebec City.
First, we need to look at the specific decisions that were taken by the Parole Board in its review of the actions of the parole officer. Again, after teaching criminal justice for 20 years and having a a federal prison in my riding, I know that most of the time this system does very good work on behalf of all Canadians. Let us look at the specific decision and figure out what went wrong.
Second, I am supporting the motion, but I would like to see us expand the terms of reference, so we think about those larger issues in our society of gender-based violence, intimate partner violence and the safety of sex workers. When we have taken a look at those issues, then we will have a responsibility to act, as legislators in the House, to make this a better and safer Canada for all women, including sex workers.