A Conservative MP is under fire after asking a Victoria MP if she has ever considered sex work during a debate on the recent killing of a sex worker in Quebec.
The Conservative Party of Canada put forward a motion Tuesday asking the House of Commons to “condemn the decision of the Parole Board of Canada” in connection to the killing of Marylene Levesque, 22, who was found dead in a hotel room outside Quebec City on Jan. 22.
It’s alleged she was killed by 51-year-old Eustachio Gallese, a convicted murderer out on day parole who was allowed to meet women “only for the purpose of responding to [his] sexual needs,” according to documents.
The parole board and the Correctional Service of Canada are investigating the incident.
In the House on Tuesday, Peace River-Westlock MP Arnold Viersen questioned why Gallese was allowed to interact with women despite his violent history.
“[The Parole Board] should not have been encouraging him to break the law,” Viersen said, pointing to Bill C-36, a law implemented by the Conservatives in 2014 which criminalizes the buying of sexual services.
“In their minds, the parole board was protecting some women that they deemed more valuable while sending a convicted murderer to prey on those who were most disadvantaged and vulnerable.”
In response, Victoria MP and New Democrat, Laurel Collins, asked Viersen to listen to the voices of sex workers.
“Sex workers are saying that sex work is work,” she said, before asking him to consider whether Bill C-36, which has been widely criticized by advocates for disallowing sex workers to protect themselves, may have played a role in Levesque’s death.
She said the bill “criminalized work environments, the establishment that sex workers go to feel safe, that criminalized their ability to hire security.”
Viersen then asked Collins whether sex work “is an area of work that she has considered,” before being cut off by another MP yelling “shame” in the background.
Viersen argued this proves his point that sex work is never a choice women make.
His question drew immediate gasps and NDP MP Jack Harris rose to call it unparliamentary and insulting.
Deputy speaker Bruce Stanton stood and warned the room, saying that the issue requires great “import and sensitivity” and asked the politicians to be “conscious of their comments in this regard.”
“Take care in how these arguments are framed,” Stanton said.
Viersen later rose to offer a full apology.
“I would like to apologize unreservedly for my comments towards the member for Victoria,” he said.
I’m glad @ArnoldViersen apologized to me, but I invite him to extend his apology to all women. Denigrating sex work & criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence. #SexWorkIsWork https://t.co/rTMExXdoy4
— Laurel Collins (@Laurel_BC) February 4, 2020
On social media, Collins said she was glad he apologized, and that she “invite[s] him to extend his apology to all women.”
“Denigrating sex work and criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence,” she wrote.
– with a file from The Canadian Press