Conservative MP Arnold Viersen was forced to apologize on Tuesday shortly after he asked a colleague if she had ever considered being a sex worker.
The 51-year-old was charged last week with second-degree murder in the killing of Marylene Levesque, a sex worker, in a hotel room.
Conservatives have hammered the government over the past week on why the case managers for the killer allowed him to search out women to fulfill his “sexual needs” and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said last week an investigation is taking place.
But it was a question from an NDP MP to Viersen on Tuesday that prompted him to ask whether she had thought of working in the sex industry.
“I would ask the honourable member to consider listening to the voices of sex workers,” said NDP MP Laurel Collins, who represents the riding of Victoria.
“Sex workers are saying that sex work is work, and I also ask the honourable member if he considers the Harper government’s decision to implement Bill 36, which criminalized the work environments, the establishments that sex workers go to to feel safe, that criminalized their ability to hire security, if he acknowledges that this is a factor in this death and many others.”
That legislation came into force in 2014 and criminalizes the buying of sexual services.
It also makes it illegal to have “economic interests” in sex work and criminalizes, as a result, venues like strip clubs, massage parlours and escort agencies that offer sexual services for sale.
Advocates for better protections for sex workers have argued that those restrictions make it impossible for sex workers to protect themselves and forces them to effectively work in the shadows, taking clients they have not had the chance to vet and working in isolation in cars or hotel rooms.
In response to Collins, Viersen said: “I would just respond to that by asking the honourable member across the way if it’s an area of work that she has ever considered and if that is an appropriate –”
His remark immediately prompted calls of “shame on you” from other members in the House of Commons.
Viersen, who represents the Alberta riding of Peace River—Westlock, paused briefly before continuing.
“Mr. Speaker, I think this makes the point. I do not think any woman in this country ever chooses this as a job.”
NDP MP Jack Harris rose next, calling the comment “insulting and unparliamentary.”
Viersen doubled down, saying he didn’t mean to insult Collins but thought the response proved his point.
“I in no way mean to have any effect on the reputation of the honourable member in question,” he said. “What I want to say is the very fact I have to tread delicately on this makes my point about the very nature of prostitution.”
Roughly 20 minutes later, he stood to offer an apology.
“Mr. Speaker, I’d like to apologize unreservedly for my comments towards the member from Victoria.”
Global News asked the office of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer whether it would take any actions in response to Viersen’s remarks — for example, would Scheer ask Viersen to undergo any kind of sensitivity training on the topic of sex work.
His office sent back a brief response.
“Mr. Viersen’s unreserved apology stands.”