Did Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen go too far when he asked NDP MP Laurel Collins if sex work was an area that she has considered?
The question came up in the House of Commons on Feb. 4 during debate about Bill C-36 and the death of 22-year-old Marylene Levesque on Jan. 22.
Levesque was allegedly killed by convicted murderer Eustachio Gallese, who was out on day parole, and permitted to meet women “only for the purpose of responding to [his] sexual needs,” according to a Black Press news article.
Setting aside for a moment how appalling and disgusting that decision was, let’s look at the question itself.
I find the remark incendiary, but maybe not for the reasons you think.
It’s reasonable to assume that the reaction most people would have is that it’s highly inappropriate for a man to ask a woman that question, and given the reaction of gasps and someone calling out “shame,” following the question, many in parliament did.
But why is it inappropriate?
Well, out of context, the question in the very least could be seen as sexual harassment, as such a question could be viewed as a comment on her appearance, or somehow implying she’d be suitable for the work.
Is that an insult though?
If sex work is just work, as Collins stated, and there is nothing degrading or deviant about it, then how is it insulting to ask if she had ever considered sex work? Why is an apology warranted?
Viersens did later apologize, in the House of Commons, as well as posting to his Twitter.
Collins responded that although she was glad he apologized, she invited him to “extend his apology to all women,” adding that he’d denigrated sex work.
She finished her tweet with the same slogan, #SexWorkIsWork.
You can’t stand up for sex workers and say there is nothing debasing about the work itself in the same sentence as asserting all women deserve an apology because Vieren presumed to ask if she felt herself above it.
I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. To do so is incongruous and disingenuous.
I wonder which part of his comments she found denigrating — when he asked if she had considered prostitution, or when he said he’d only been trying to make the point that sex work is never a choice women make?
Seeing all sex workers as victims is condescending in a way, but to insist unreservedly that sex work is “just work” is also painting them all with the same brush, and overlooking the suffering of sex trafficking victims and those pressed into the work.
If the question was if she’d ever considered work as a maid, I wonder if that would have been insulting?
What if she’d been asked if she’d ever considered being an athlete? Or a model?
All the above are jobs that are physical and require certain physical attributes, but they have different connotations because as a society, we place different values on them.
Just as the parole board placed a different value on the lives of women who would be available for “responding to sexual needs” rather than those who would presumably fall under the undefined category of other interactions.
The parole board failed to protect Marylene Levesque.
The day parole conditions put a convicted murderer’s so-called sexual “needs” above the safety of the public.
The only reasonable conclusion is the one that Viersen made, which was that 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.”
The parole board all but encouraged Gallese to break the law and set him up to repeat the past when it allowed him to interact with women despite his history of violence towards them. It’s a gross miscarriage of justice.
Collins’ criticisms of the actual bill, which criminalizes the buying of sexual services as well as sex workers hiring their own security, is entirely another matter.
There are a myriad of reasons why women engage in sex work. No matter your stance on the morality of such a profession, however, everyone deserves to be safe, and sex workers are undeniably known to be preyed upon and abused.
Rather than penalize those that may or may not be willingly employed in the trade, going after those that create the demand may be a better solution.
An RCMP release dated Jan. 29, 2020, announced that the Grande Prairie RCMP had arrested and charged 37 men, aged 19 to 57 years old, with obtaining sexual services for consideration.
The release states the operations that led to the arrests were aimed at reducing harm that is directed at some of the community’s most vulnerable persons.
Sounds good to me.