Conservative MP Arnold Viersen apologized Tuesday to NDP MP Laurel Collins after asking her whether she had ever considered being a sex worker.
The comments came during a debate in the House of Commons on a Conservative motion that the House condemn the Parole Board of Canada’s decision to grant convicted murderer Eustachio Gallese day parole. He is accused of killing Marylène Lévesque, who worked in the sex industry, while on parole on Jan. 22 and faces a charge of second-degree murder.
Mr. Gallese’s parole officer and case management team had decided that the 51-year-old, who was serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend, wasn’t ready to have relationships with women, but could meet women for "sexual needs.”
In September, when the parole board decided to extend Mr. Gallese’s day parole, it said that the team’s “strategy” was worrying and advised that it be reconsidered.
During the debate in the House, Ms. Collins suggested Mr. Viersen listen to sex workers.
“Sex workers are saying that sex work is work,” she said. Ms. Collins, a B.C. MP, also asked whether Mr. Viersen acknowledged that a bill brought in by the former Conservative government, which she said criminalized the establishments that sex workers operate in, factored into Ms. Lévesque’s killing.
“I would just respond to that by asking the honourable member across the way, if it’s an area of work that she has considered," Mr. Viersen replied.
His question prompted heckling and a shout of “shame on you” from other MPs in the House.
Mr. Viersen, who represents a riding in Alberta, then appeared to conflate sex work with human trafficking, saying he doesn’t believe “any woman in the country ever chooses this as a job. This is something that they are trafficked into.”
“We do not want to see our women and girls forced into prostitution,” he added.
Mr. Viersen later apologized unreservedly for his remark to Ms. Collins. Neither MP was available to speak with reporters.
On Twitter, Ms. Collins welcomed his apology but called on him to go further.
“I invite him to extend his apology to all women,” Ms. Collins wrote. “Denigrating sex work & criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence.”
Within hours of Mr. Viersen’s mea culpa, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan was forced to make his own.
Conservative Whip Mark Strahl rose in the House to accuse Mr. Vaughan of “mocking and mimicking” Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs during Question Period.
“Mr. Speaker, whatever I did during Question Period to anger the opposite side I apologize for," Mr. Vaughan said in response.
Ms. Lévesque’s killing has prompted a federal investigation, led by the Commissioner of Correctional Services and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada. The Public Safety Minister’s office said the review will include external investigators and be transparent, and the findings will be shared.
With a report from Molly Hayes
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