OTTAWA — Calgary’s police chief says the Harper government’s $20-million pledge to help sex workers get out of the industry is “woefully inadequate.”
Chief Rick Hanson offered that assessment Tuesday during the second day of hearings by the House of Commons justice committee as it examines the government’s new prostitution bill.
The government’s five-year commitment amounts to $125,000 a year in Calgary, which is not enough, Hanson said.
He called for a national strategy in which Ottawa, the provinces, municipalities and social agencies would work towards abolishing prostitution.
“We have to look at the exit strategy,” Hanson said.
On Monday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government hopes to see the new bill — which targets demand for sexual services by criminalizing pimps and johns — foster an end to prostitution entirely.
Though not part of the actual bill, the $20-million commitment is an additional government commitment to help women get out of the sex industry.
Hanson said after his testimony that he hasn’t approached the Harper government directly about increasing their funding and that includes his city’s best-known MP, the prime minister himself.
But he said the underlying causes of prostitution — from child abuse, drug addiction and domestic violence — need to be addressed, and the agencies that deal with these problems need more help.
“I don’t think the prime minister lays awake at night wondering what Rick Hanson has to think about anything, chief of Calgary, or otherwise,” he said in an interview.
“I can tell you that $20 million, when you actually spread it across five years, and you spread it across the country, it’s a start, but that’s all it is — it’s a start.”
Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan testified Monday that he’d like to see a larger federal spending commitment, since his province already spends $8 million a year on the problem.
The funds fit the so-called Nordic model of several Scandinavian countries, which the Harper government’s legislation appears designed to imitate.
In addition to making it illegal to be a client or a pimp, the approach calls for social spending to help exploited women in the sex industry.
NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said the government needs to spend more in that area.
“The Conservatives will spend more on the commercial” to advertise the bill than they will on helping prostitutes, she predicted.
“He (MacKay) wants to eradicate prostitution. But with $20 million I tend to take him not too seriously.”
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing prostitution law last December and gave the government one year to respond with new legislation.