07/18/2014 05:35 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT

The Prostitution Poll MacKay and Harper Don't Want You to See


Many Canadians may not know this, but prostitution is legal in Canada and has been since 1892 when the Criminal Code was first enacted. It was actually activities surrounding the act of prostitution that were illegal, specifically three sections of the Criminal Code that outlawed communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution and lastly, operating a brothel.

In the now famous Bedford case, a group of sex workers brought a Charter challenge arguing that those three provisions put their safety and security at risk, thereby violating their Charter rights.

In its landmark decision last December, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the sex workers, striking down the three Criminal Code provisions as being in violation of their Charter rights under Section 7 -- the security of the person provision. The Supreme Court suspended its ruling for one year in order to give Parliament the opportunity to enact new legislation, if they chose to do so. This past June, Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36 -- a legislative response to the Supreme Court ruling.

I strongly believe that Bill C-36 is unconstitutional. I do not believe the legislation complies with the Supreme Court ruling, or with the Charter. Furthermore, it may very well put sex workers at greater risk of harm, or worse. This is exactly at odds with the Supreme Court ruling in the Bedford case.

The Conservatives claim that they consulted widely about this bill, without providing the evidence of those consultations. They further claim to have checked that Bill C-36 was Charter compliant, again without producing the evidence. They also argued that an online survey "proved" Canadians oppose prostitution, while failing to mention how amazingly unscientific an online survey is when crafting public policy, particularly with such a contentious issue, when there is huge potential for organized interest groups to skew the results.

Then there is the $175,000 poll the Harper government commissioned seeking the actual views of Canadians about prostitution. Peter MacKay has steadfastly opposed releasing the contents of that poll, despite the fact that the information contained might have been helpful to the Justice Committee's deliberations. A Department of Justice Official testified that the poll contained "useful information" in crafting the bill. At the parliamentary hearings last week, I once again asked Minister MacKay about this poll. Here is the official parliamentary record of that exchange:

Monday July 7, 2014

Mr. Sean Casey:

I want to come back to Madam Boivin's question with respect to the $175,000 survey or poll that was done by Ipsos Reid. You have indicated that we're going to be able to see it once these hearings are over.

Mr. Minister, you have the power to allow us to see that sooner, do you not?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

The survey itself was not particular to this question of prostitution only, and so there is a normal six-month time period that is invoked for when that polling information will be released.

I should note for the record, Mr. Casey, that you're aware there have been other surveys done and other polling information available that has been released or is in the public domain.

I also want to provide a correction. I said there will be a technical bill presented to the committee. There will be a technical paper that was produced by the department, and that technical paper is available in French and English. I'm informed that it will be tabled with this committee by leave, and it will be provided to you so that you will have it for your deliberations this week.

Mr. Sean Casey:

Mr. Minister, do you have the power to abridge the time in which we see this $175,000 Ipsos Reid survey? Do you have the power to give that to us before we examine all these witnesses?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

There is a six-month timeframe that we will respect.

Mr. Sean Casey:

So you have the power, but you're deciding not to exercise it?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

I didn't say that. I said we'll respect the six-month timeframe.

Mr. Sean Casey:

Do you have the power to abridge it?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

We'll release it when the six-month timeframe is up.

Mr. Sean Casey:

Is that a yes or a no?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

We'll release it when the six-month timeframe is up, Mr. Casey.

Mr. Sean Casey:

You won't tell me whether or not you have the power to abridge it, but if you do, you're not going to exercise it.

Hon. Peter MacKay:

What I'm telling you is that you'll have the information when the six-month period is up.

Mr. Sean Casey:

Mr. Minister, I requested that Ipsos Reid appear as a witness before this committee, but they're not on the witness list. Did your office have anything to do with that?

Hon. Peter MacKay:

Absolutely not. We don't control the witness list. That's entirely within the purview of the committee.


As it turns out, that poll the Conservatives refused to release was leaked yesterday. The Toronto Star article wherein the details of the poll are exposed help shed some light on MacKay's reluctance to share his findings with the committee.

It is very clear why the Conservatives didn't want the Ipsos Reid survey made public before the Committee hearings concluded last week. They suggested that Canadians were overwhelming opposed to prostitution, when in fact, people were very much split on the subject.

The Harper Conservatives are entitled to their own ideology and their own opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. Deliberately, almost gleefully, withholding key evidence from the Committee should trouble Canadians who value honesty and integrity -- regardless of what side of the prostitution debate they may fall on.

Sean Casey is the Member of Parliament for Charlottetown, and Justice Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada


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