MPs warned to watch their words after MP asked if she’d ever considered sex work

MPs warned to watch their words after MP asked if she'd ever considered sex work

OTTAWA — Members of Parliament are being told to think twice about how they’re framing the ideas they advance in the House of Commons after a Tory MP asked a New Democrat whether she’d ever considered sex work.

The admonishment from the deputy speaker was aimed at Alberta MP Arnold Viersen.

Viersen and the New Democrats’ Laurel Collins were debating a Conservative motion calling for a review of the National Parole Board after a murderer on day parole allegedly killed sex worker Marylene Levesque in Quebec City.

Viersen called the board’s decision to allow him to see a sex worker appalling, and suggested among other things it sends a message that buying a person is acceptable.

Collins asked to him to consider whether previous Conservative legislation criminalizing many elements of the sex trade could have been a factor in the death.

That’s when Viersen asked Collins whether sex work was an area of work she’d considered — aiming, he said, to show that sex work isn’t a career choice like any other.

His question drew immediate gasps and NDP MP Jack Harris rose to call it unparliamentary and insulting.

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 rose first to say he meant no harm to Collins, who represents the riding of Victoria, and suggested he was trying to make a point about sex work never being a choice, but the result of violence and human trafficking.

He later rose to offer a full apology.

“I would like to apologize unreservedly for my comments towards the member for Victoria,” he said.

On social media, Collins said she was glad he apologized.

“I’m glad Arnold Viersen apologized to me, but I invite him to extend his apology to all women,” she wrote.

“Denigrating sex work and criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2020.

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