MPs cautioned after Victoria’s Laurel Collins asked if she’d ever considered sex work

Victoria NDP MP Laurel Collins says when a Tory colleague asked her in the House of Commons on Tuesday if she ever considered sex work, it was an attack on all women.

“Ultimately this isn’t about me … it’s about how women across Canada continue to face misogyny and violence,” said Collins. “He would have never asked that question to a man and I think that demonstrates misogyny that we see in our society … we need that to end.”

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Alberta Tory MP Arnold Viersen and the New Democrats’ Collins were debating a Conservative motion calling for a review of the National Parole Board after a murderer on day parole allegedly killed a sex worker.

Eustachio Gallese, who had been sentenced to life for killing his partner, was out on day parole when he allegedly killed sex worker Marylene Levesque, 22, in a Quebec City hotel room.

Considered a potential threat to women, Gallese was required to report all relationships with women to his parole officer, but was allowed to meet sex workers “only for the purpose of responding to [his] sexual needs.”

“That idea is inherently misogynistic,” said Collins. “We need to bring attention to the murder of Marylene Levesque. It’s a horrific story and Canadians are rightly concerned about the decisions that led to it.”

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

Collins asked Viersen to consider whether previous Conservative legislation criminalizing many elements of the sex trade could have been a factor in Levesque’s 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 but rather one women are “trafficked into.”

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

Collins said in an interview she was “shocked and just, yeah, a bit furious.”

Deputy speaker Bruce Stanton, a Conservative, then cautioned 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 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 toward the member for Victoria,” he said.

Collins said she is glad Viersen apologized but that he should extend it to all women and reconsider denigrating sex work.

“I would encourage him to talk to sex workers and listen to their voices,” said Collins. “Denigrating sex work and criminalizing the things that actually keep sex workers safe and contribute to their safety is a huge contributor to why we have increased violence towards women.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

> To see the full debate, go to the ParlVu site. Viersen starts speaking at 12:53.

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