Every so often, Canada’s progressives in the media remind us that despite their claims of being purveyors of compassion, they are in reality just small and hateful men incapable of understanding complex issues. A prime example of this is radio host Charles Adler, who had a minor meltdown this week over an exchange between Alberta MP Arnold Viersen and NDP MP Laurel Collins of BC.
After a speech about the horrors of sex trafficking and the responsibility of government to intervene on behalf of the victims by Viersen, Collins responded by asking Viersen “to consider listening to the voices of sex workers. Sex workers are saying that sex work is work.” She then went on to criticize Bill C-36, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex in order to target pimps and johns.
Viersen responded: “Mr. Speaker, I would respond to that by asking the honorable member across the way if it is an area of work that she has considered and if that is an appropriate—” here he was interrupted by indignant shouts—”I think this makes the point. I do not think any woman in this country ever chooses this as a job. This is something women are trafficked into and something we have to work hard to end in Canada. Prostitution in Canada is inherently dangerous, and we must work hard to ensure that all Canadians have a safe place to live in this country. We do not want to see our women and girls forced into prostitution.”
Opposition MPs erupted, demanding an apology (which Viersen gave), and the media picked up the story and ran with it. Twitter blew up. Ironically, the outrage precisely proved Viersen’s point: After all, if sex work is just work as Collins claimed, why would it be so offensive to ask someone if they’d ever considered it? If being a prostitute is much like being a florist, or a lawyer, or a construction worker, why should people be so angry at Viersen’s question? Anyone who thinks about it for longer than thirty seconds knows: It is because prostitution is not like other work. Even those who do know accept this position intellectually understand that instinctually.
Mr. Adler, unfortunately, is one of those folks who has not thought about this for longer than thirty seconds, and he leapt at the opportunity to do what he most loves to do: Sanctimoniously attack conservatives. Conservatives, he thundered on Twitter, “missed a moment. If I were Andrew Scheer, I would have booted Viersen from caucus. If I were Peter MacKay, I would have called on Scheer to do that. CPC had a golden opportunity to say to Canadians, ‘Trash is not welcome here. We are taking out the trash.’” In case you were wondering, yes—that is Charles Adler, the man who cannot stop bemoaning the political tone of Conservatives, the dehumanization of others, and the coarsening of our politics, calling the MP who has done an enormous amount of work to fight the sexual exploitation of women “trash.”
I will include the text of Viersen’s full speech on sex trafficking, which preceded his exchange, at the end of the article—but in the meantime, it is interesting to consider that the outrage at Viersen came primarily from ignorant name-callers like Adler leaping at the chance to score political points rather than from those who actually work to combat sex trafficking. Gioia Stover, for example, had this reaction:
In his speech, MP Viersen spoke so well against the violence that we are witnessing against women in the sex trade. He should be applauded for speaking on behalf of a woman who is now voiceless, because she is dead. It is unfortunate that things were allowed to become personal during the question period. It is unfortunate that the NDP MP felt offended over his question to her. I believe it was very respectful of MP Viersen to apologize so quickly, showing that no offense was intended. However, the fact that she did get offended, that her party felt they needed to protect her reputation, that her reputation even came in to question, implies that on some level, even those attempting to defend the sale of sex as a viable work choice in Canada must not actually believe it to be so. However, let us not lose focus on the real issues that MP Viersen raised. Exploitation and violence are inherent in prostitution. Women and girls are not commodities and cannot be treated as such. We cannot endorse a society that creates a class of women that are able to be purchased for sex by men who believe they have the right to objectify and harm those who are for sale.
The left-wing group Edmonton Women and Allies Against the Sex Industry responded on Facebook to the backlash, noting in part that: “The reaction alone to Viersen’s question is proof that no one else thinks ‘sex work is work,’ either.” Women Read Women tweeted a similar response: “If ‘sex work is work’ as she claimed, then why is it wrong for him to ask if she’s ever considered doing it herself? The disturbed reaction to his question shows it’s common knowledge that sex trafficking is violence against women.” (Although, admittedly, perhaps not common enough for Mr. Adler.)
And the list goes on. Another feminist group tweeted: “Either prostitution is ‘work like any other’ in which case there shouldn’t be a problem with [the question]. Or [Viersen] was making the point that prostitution is violence against women…and everyone in the room knows that really.” Rachel Moran, an anti-sex trafficking activist, responded even more emphatically: “No matter how many times I see it, it still sickens me to watch women promote prostitution as viable for *other* women, yet erupt with indignation when asked if it’d be suitable for themselves. You weren’t owed an apology, Laurel, and it’s you who owes an apology to all women.”
And I could cite other examples of female activists who, knowing the value of Arnold Viersen’s work, promptly came to his defence (including Katarina McLeod, executive director of Rising Angels and a survivor of fifteen years in the so-called sex industry.) Some commentators defended him in editorials as well. I wonder what these women, who tirelessly work on behalf of those who are sexually exploited and trafficked, think of Mr. Adler’s brave stand in defence of their right to be prostitutes.
Arnold Viersen has been a consistent champion for those victimized by the sexual exploitation industries since his arrival in Parliament, and this so-called scandal was created entirely by grifters such as Mr. Adler, who ignore the testimonies of women who have actually experienced “sex work” in favor of attacking a man who does listen to them, all so Mr. Adler can get some cheap applause. Perhaps Mr. Adler should listen to women for a change. He might find that they have something to say.
Here is the text of MP Arnold Viersen’s speech on sex trafficking in the House of Commons on February 4:
It is with heavy hearts that we come here to speak today. At the beginning of January, Marylène Levesque was an innocent young woman alive in Canada. A few weeks later, on January 22, Marylène was brutally murdered by a convicted murderer out on parole.
To say that this should never have happened is a significant understatement. Marylène should be alive today. She should never have met with Eustachio Gallese. Her death is tragic and utterly senseless. It is one more example of the preventable violence that women and girls face across Canada by men who view them as nothing more than objects and commodities to be bought and sold. Canadians are outraged. They have every right to be. They want answers.
The public safety minister told the House that a full investigation would take place and would be conducted by the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada. It is an investigation that will try to answer why this senseless murder took place, and how to prevent others.
We already know the Parole Board of Canada allowed a man with a history of domestic violence against women out on day parole. He had already brutally murdered his own wife in 2004. Prior to that, he committed violence against an earlier partner in 1997. However, despite his clear history of repeated violence, the Parole Board and Gallese’s parole officer made the shameful decision to sanction more violence by condoning and encouraging his perceived right to buy sex, thus signing the death warrant of Marylène. This is appalling. They should not have encouraged him to break the law.
In 2014, Parliament expressed grave concerns about the exploitation and violence inherent in prostitution through Bill C-36. Through this bill, the buying of sex was made illegal because of the harm and violence created by the demand for prostitution.
The goal of Parliament was to protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children, particularly indigenous women and girls. The bill did not seek to reduce the harm of prostitution, but to eliminate prostitution altogether because of the violence and exploitation inherent in it.
Prostitution creates an environment of violence and inequality for women and girls, perpetuates sexual commodification and turns the most vulnerable in our society into objects to be bought and sold. That is why Bill C-36 sought to eliminate the demand by prohibiting the purchase of sex.
Countries around the world that have legalized prostitution have seen the violence against, and the murder of, those who work in prostitution. They have seen sex trafficking increase, especially among youth. This has happened in Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The legitimization of prostitution normalizes attitudes of violence, misogyny and the objectification of women and girls.
Men do not have the right to buy sex, or to buy women and girls for pleasure. However, in this country, I dare say in this chamber, there are those who believe that prostitution should be legalized and that men should be entitled to buy sex and treat women and girls as commodities.
This line of thinking is heinous. It is evil, and a brazen attack on equality and the safety of all women and girls in Canada.
This insidious rationale was on full display in the Parole Board’s last written decision with respect to Gallese where it states:
“Although you are still single and you say you aren’t ready to enter into a serious relationship with a woman, you are able to efficiently evaluate your needs and expectations towards women. During the hearing, your parole officer underlined a strategy that was developed with the goal that would allow you to meet women in order to meet your sexual needs.”
In other words, while the Parole Board acknowledged that intimate relationships with some women were inappropriate as they would be unsafe, it explicitly acknowledged his sexual needs and affirmed his perceived right to buy sex from those trapped in prostitution. In their minds, the Parole Board members were protecting some women that they deemed more valuable, while sending a convicted murderer to prey upon those who were the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.
As this tragic case demonstrates, it perpetuates the idea that there should be a class of women who are able to be purchased for sex by men who believe they have to the right to objectify and harm those who are for sale. That is what we are talking about with this case today.
The Liberal-appointed Parole Board members thought so little of those in prostitution that they were willing to knowingly put these women’s lives in grave danger, women like Marylène. How else can we explain their words and actions, other than that they believed buying sex should be legal and therefore condoned Gallese’s perceived right to sex as if it was legal? In their minds, Gallese’s perceived right to buy sex was more important than the law.
If Parole Board members had followed the law, they would not have granted Gallese’s parole for this purpose. If they had followed the law, they would have recognized the exploitation and violence inherent in prostitution instead of supporting Gallese’s sexual needs. However, the Parole Board’s attitudes toward women and prostitution reflect what we have seen from the Liberal government over the past few years: a clear pattern of always putting the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of victims and those at risk.
We know indigenous women and girls are the most represented victim group in sex trafficking and prostitution in Canada. They make up only 4% of Canada’s population, yet make up more than 50% of the victims in Canada.
Last year the government reduced some of the human trafficking offences to summary offences, which will significantly increase the likelihood that a human trafficking offence against indigenous women will proceed as a summary conviction offence, further denying them justice. The government also eliminated the consecutive sentences for human trafficking that were adopted under the previous government. The loss of consecutive sentencing leaves victims with a continued reluctance to come forward and report a crime due to their immense fear and the psychological control that traffickers have over their victims.
In the days following this horrific case of injustice, many survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution spoke out. They are outraged and want justice for Marylène and others. I want to share with this House a few of these voices.
Trisha Baptie of B.C., a survivor of sex trafficking, stated:
“In my 15 years of involvement in the sex industry, it was never the laws that beat and raped me and my friends, it was men. It was never the location me and my friends were in that was unsafe, but the man that we were in that location with that made it unsafe. Our laws must always focus on ending the demand for paid sex.”
Casandra Diamond, a survivor of sex trafficking in massage parlours in Toronto, said the following:
…commodifying a woman’s body is dangerous, always. It sends a message that buying someone is acceptable, enshrining the power imbalance where people from average to above-average socioeconomic status purchase other humans, mainly women and girls who have below-average socioeconomic status and power.
Timea Nagy, a survivor who was trafficked from Hungary to Canada and sold in legal strip clubs and massage parlours in the GTA, stated:
To think and promote sex work as “normal work” must come to an end. The Liberal government is completely blinded and refuses to hear our side of the story. How many more deaths will it take them to listen? 10? 20? 30?
I strongly condemn the Parole Board of Canada’s decision to allow a convicted murderer to buy sex and I hope the government will also condemn this decision.
I also call on this government to stop allowing prostitution to be legitimized.
Legitimizing prostitution and downplaying the seriousness of sex trafficking will lead to more violence against women and increased discrimination toward those most at risk in our country. Legitimizing prostitution creates two classes of people, those who can be commodified and sold and those who should not be.
There are some things in Canada that are just not for sale. For example, my vote is not for sale. Democracy is not for sale. People should never be for sale. Women and girls in Canada deserve better.