12/18/2014 08:43 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST

MP Joy Smith Should Focus on the Constitution, Not "Pimps and Johns"

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MP Joy Smith's December 10 editorial declares it "appalling" that 25 members of Toronto City Council asked Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to refer the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) to the Ontario Court of Appeal to consider its constitutional validity. However, Smith completely ignores the councillors' constitutional concerns.

Smith attempts to reframe the topic away from PCEPA's constitutionality. Her original news release was titled "Hey Toronto Councillors -- Please Stand Up for Marginalized Women"; her published editorial on the Huffington Post Canada suggests that "Toronto Councillors Should Not Protect Pimps and Johns." Both of these titles misrepresent the councillors' aims in favor of a villains-and-victims narrative in which Smith and her allies play the heroes.

Contrary to Smith's implications, the councillors' clearly state their wish to "determine whether the contents of this new legislation are constitutional". Moreover, they explicitly indicate their desire "to promote measures that increase public safety and that materially improve the living conditions of marginalized residents".

Whereas the councillors' letter to Wynne is clear on these points, Smith's implication that the councillors aren't standing up for marginalized women seems disingenuous and her suggestion that they "protect pimps and johns" is altogether impertinent.

Smith's reply doesn't even mention the Constitution or Charter. In imposing her preferred frame of "survivors of prostitution" versus "pimps and johns," she fails to address the crucial point of the councillors' letter.

As a constitutional question, the councillors' request not only serves the interests of marginalized women; it supports all Canadians' rights. In that context, it seems irresponsible -- appalling, even -- that an MP would reply to Toronto's elected officials without even acknowledging their constitutional query. Justice Minister Peter Mackay's recent editorial also promotes the "prostitution and exploitation" frame while ignoring the Constitution and Charter.

Toronto's city councillors are hardly alone in asking these questions. The "grave concerns" Wynne expressed in referring the law to Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur echo the worries of more than 100 groups who have expressed opposition to PCEPA. Smith dismisses their concerns as "fear mongering by pro-legalization lobbyists". While ignoring important constitutional questions, she belittles the complaints of PCEPA's opponents without addressing their substance.

In contrast, both Smith's and Mackay's editorials imply broad support for PCEPA. "Law enforcement agencies, communities and women's groups have welcomed our approach," she writes. This may be true, but it's also doubtful that PCEPA's supporters represent a strong majority of Canadians, as indicated by the results of the Conservative Party's own consultation and survey.

This is not the first time Smith seems to have exaggerated Canadians' support for PCEPA. On May 5, when promoting Bill C-36 (which created PCEPA) in the House of Commons, Smith claimed to possess 55,000 postcards supporting her position. This refers to a postcard campaign she coordinated with three allied groups: London Abused Women's Centre, Sex Trade 101, and EVE. "There are 36,000 signatures on petitions and over 50,000 signatures on postcards," she reiterated in Parliament on June 12.

However, just four days later, on June 16 -- just after Bill C-36 passed second reading -- Smith's office issued a news release, which says:

"MP Joy Smith has tabled petitions containing almost 20,000 signatures from Canadians supporting the approach taken by Bill C-36. MP Smith has also received 10,000 postcards from Canadians reflecting the same elements."

In just four days, 36,000 signatures became 20,000, while 50,000 postcards were reduced to 10,000. Which version of Smith's accounting are we to believe? Were the numbers she presented to parliament accurate? If not, how does she explain the numbers she reported twice in the House of Commons?

If Smith and her Conservative Party colleagues expect Canadians to support PCEPA, we need honest answers to the constitutional questions as well as accurate information about public opinion consultations deployed to promote the law. Changing the subject to ignore these questions clouds the conversation; this serves nobody's interests.

Finally, Smith has now re-published her editorial as a petition on the Conservative Party web site. The petition reiterates Smith's typical tropes, concluding with a leading prompt: "Pimps and Johns are criminals -- sign if you agree".

Smith clearly values these postcard campaigns and online petitions, but Canadians would be better served if she would stop ignoring constitutional questions and begin accurately accounting for public support and opposition regarding PCEPA.


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