A Conservative MP from Alberta apologized Tuesday after he asked Victoria NDP MP Laurel Collins if she has ever considered sex work during an exchange in the House of Commons.
The members were debating an opposition day motion on whether to condemn a 2019 Parole Board of Canada’s decision to renew the day parole of 51-year-old Eustachio Galese who was previously convicted of murder and is accused of killing Marylene Levesque in Quebec City last week.
Questions have been raised around the board’s work following Levesque’s death in a Quebec City hotel room last Wednesday.
Gallese, who is charged with second-degree murder in her death, was sentenced in 2006 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 15 years in the 2004 killing of his 32-year-old partner, Chantale Deschenes. She was beaten with a hammer and repeatedly stabbed. Gallese also had an assault conviction against a previous partner in 1997, the board noted.
When it extended his day parole last September, the board noted that a “risk-management strategy” had been developed to allow Gallese to meet women, “but only to respond to your sexual needs.”
During the debate, Collins asked Viersen to “consider listening to the voices of sex workers.
“Sex workers are saying that sex work is work, and I also ask the honourable member if he considers the Harper government’s decision to implement Bill 36, which criminalized the work environments, the work establishments sex workers go to feel safe, that criminalized their ability to hire security if he acknowledges that this is a factor in this death and many others,” Collins said.
Viersen responded by saying “I would just respond to that by asking the honourable member across the way if it’s an area that she’s considered and if that’s an appropriate…” before he was interrupted by boos and voices yelling shame.
“Mr. Speaker, I think this makes the point. I do not think any woman in this country chooses this as a job. This is something they are trafficked into. This is something that we have to work hard to end in Canada,” Viersen said after the heckling.
“Prostitution in Canada is inherently dangerous and is something that we must work hard to ensure that all Canadians have a safe place to live in this country and we do not want to see our women and girls forced into prostitution.”
St. John’s East NDP MP Jack Harris called the remark “unparliamentary.”
“He seems to be suggesting that the honourable member asked this question because she had a particular interest in a certain line of work. I think that’s insulting and unparliamentary, notwithstanding the fact that the parliament member recognized that sex workers that are in great danger in this country are in fact workers.”
That prompted deputy speaker Bruce Stanton, a Conservative himself, to caution MPs, saying the issue requires great “import and sensitivity” and asking them to be “conscious of their comments in this regard.”
“Take care in how these arguments are framed,” Stanton said.
Viersen responded to Harris’ comment, saying he in no way “meant to any effect on the reputation of the honourable member in question.
“What I do want to say that the very fact that I must tread delicately on this means that makes my point, I think, about the nature of prostitution,” Viersen said.
Viersen later rose in the House of Commons to “apologize unreservedly” for his comments toward Collins. He also posted an apology on Twitter.
Earlier today, I stood in the House of Commons to apologize unreservedly to @Laurel_BC for my comments during the debate on our Opposition Day motion.
— Arnold Viersen, MP (@ArnoldViersen) February 4, 2020
Collins responded on Twitter, writing she was glad Viersen apologized but she wanted to invite him to extend his apology to all women.
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
“Denigrating sex work and criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence,” Collins wrote.
She also retweeted a comment from Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan criticizing Viersen. Gazan wrote “the fifties called, they want your misogyny back.”
Hey @ArnoldViersen the fifties called, they want your Misogyny back! While @Laurel_BC fights for safety of #sexworkers , you make the horrendous murder of Marylène Lévesque into a joke! Take your comments where they belong… the garbage can! #gross #shameful https://t.co/bgncbrR3j2
— Leah ProudLakota (@LeahGazan) February 4, 2020
Collins spoke to CHEK later on Tuesday and said she felt infuriated by the comments.
“He would have never asked this question to a man. And the comments themselves are sexist. And we need to look at the deeper causes and the roots of misogyny in our culture,” Collins said.
With files from The Canadian Press