A former sex worker whose gang rape was used by a Conservative MP to make a convoluted defence of his government’s prostitution bill has told the politician there is no need to apologize, even though critics have lambasted his words as offensive.
Robert Goguen, who represents a Moncton riding, telephoned Timea Nagy after a Commons committee meeting this week in which he had asked her whether her freedom of expression would have been violated had the police rescued her while three men were raping her.
“I said to her, ‘Listen, if you were in any way offended, I apologize,’” Mr. Goguen said on Wednesday. “And she said ‘No, it’s not necessary.’”
Mr. Goguen’s attempt at redress was confirmed by Robert Hooper, the chairman of Walk with Me Canada Victim Services, an organization for sex trafficking survivors that Ms. Nagy founded. Mr. Hooper and Ms. Nagy were both on the line when the MP called to ask if his question had disturbed her.
“I can see why he came across insensitive,” Ms. Nagy told a news conference. “If you look at the clip as it is … yes, there is a chance that there are other women that are offended,” she said, but only because it was taken out of context. “I feel like the media took it as a sound bite.”
Ms. Nagy supports the legislation the Conservatives have tabled to replace prostitution laws the Supreme Court struck down last December. And she said she understood what Mr. Goguen was trying to say, even if it was poorly delivered.
“I signed up to be a witness on a very tough topic,” Ms. Nagy said. “I opened the floor to questions about my rape experience.”
At a meeting of the Commons justice committee on Monday, a representative of the Criminal Lawyers Association told MPs the bill would likely not survive a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because the restrictions it places on public communications violate the right to freedom of expression.
Mr. Goguen then turned to Ms. Nagy and said: “You were describing a scenario where you were being raped, I believe, by three Russians. Let’s suppose the police authorities would’ve broken in and rescued you. Would your freedom of expression have been in any way breached?”
Ms. Nagy did not immediately understand the question, so he repeated it with slightly different phrasing. After other witnesses explained it, she replied: “No.”
Mr. Goguen, who was described by witnesses as “smirking” throughout the exchange, later told reporters he was just trying to make a “poke” at the previous witness. Somehow, he said, his words were misconstrued.
But critics did not let him off lightly.
In an opinion piece written for The Globe and Mail, Emmett Macfarlane, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, called the remarks a “new low” in Canadian politics. And Kate Heartfield, an Ottawa Citizen columnist, said Mr. Goguen should be kicked out of the Conservative caucus for his “stupid and cruel use of a victim of gang rape to help him score a cheap rhetorical joke.”
Françoise Boivin, the justice critic for the New Democrats, who was at the committee meeting, said she did not think Mr. Goguen meant to demean Ms. Nagy, but politicians must remember to be sensitive, especially when questioning victims of crime.
But Sean Casey, the Liberal critic, said: “It was appalling. You could hear a pin drop in the room as he tried to extract a political point through this victim of a horrific crime.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Emmett Macfarlane was a professor at the University of Ottawa. He is a professor at the University of Waterloo. This version has been corrected.