On Tuesday, February 4, 2019, in Ottawa, a heated House of Commons debate took place on the legalization of sex work. During the debate, Alberta MP Arnold Viersen asked his fellow MP from British Columbia, Laurel Collins, whether she has ever considered going into sex work herself. A video of the question has since gone viral online.
Viersen of Peace River-Westlock has been an MP for the conservative government of Alberta since October 2015. Laurel Collins got elected as an NDP MP for Victoria just last year; before that, she was a City Councillor in Victoria.
Before the now-viral sex work question, the House was debating a Conservative motion related to a sex worker’s murder in Quebec.
Collins was asking her fellow members to listen to the voices of sex workers, claiming their work environments were criminalized under Bill 36.
In a video posted by CBC, Collins stated, “sex workers are saying sex work is work,” suggesting that sex work should be treated like any other type of job.
Viersen then took the mic and asked her if sex work is an “area of work she has considered” and questioned if her argument was appropriate for the discussion.
His question was immediately met by a round of boos.
Completely inappropriate comment, Mr. Viersen. https://t.co/MgOHLJpa7b— Jeff Jedras (@Jeff Jedras)1580840227.0
Viersen has since apologized in the House and on Twitter, which he confirmed in a tweet. Collins accepted his apology, though she asked him to “extend his apology to all women”, read her tweet.
She stood firm on her views around sex workers, mentioning on Twitter that “denigrating sex work & criminalizing the very things that would keep sex workers safe contribute to increased violence.”
Earlier today, I stood in the House of Commons to apologize unreservedly to @Laurel_BC for my comments during the d… https://t.co/0NPGXt9uC6— Arnold Viersen, MP (@Arnold Viersen, MP)1580844963.0
I’m glad @ArnoldViersen apologized to me, but I invite him to extend his apology to all women. Denigrating sex work… https://t.co/3rTHDxWv5u— Laurel Collins (@Laurel Collins)1580847485.0
As seen in the video, Viersen stands still while the crowd boos, then adds, “Mr. Speaker, I think this makes the point. I do not think any woman in this country ever chooses this as a job. This is something they are trafficked into.”
Indeed, there have been quite a few reports of sex trafficking across the country, with one particular case including a large group of minors.
The House was deciding if they should review the parole board for their role in the murder of Marylene Levesque, explains the National Post. 22-year-old sex worker, Marylene Levesque, was allegedly murdered by an inmate out on parole, says CBC.
The video of Viersen’s comments has caused quite a stir online. Some people are accusing the Conservative MP of being misogynistic and saying he should resign, other comments defend him.
Seeing how Viersen represents the Conservative Party, which claims all but one riding of Alberta, many reactions are targetted towards the party as well.
“He’s supposed to be representing #Albertans not embarrassing us.” said one tweet.
Seriously what is wrong with #Alberta #Conservatives? On what planet would this be an acceptable thing to say to a… https://t.co/nVcjBKWD6c— The Red Jackal 🇨🇦 (@The Red Jackal 🇨🇦)1580879412.0
“Actions speak louder than weak apologies,” wrote another user.
@ArnoldViersen @Laurel_BC Not good enough. Actions speak louder than weak apologies. Now go educate yourself and sp… https://t.co/j93oL331eJ— Sarah O. ↙️↙️↙️ (@Sarah O. ↙️↙️↙️)1580845487.0
Someone else commented, “Sex work is work they say, but not one of them would suggest that as a profession to anyone they cared about. Women need another way out of poverty.”
Regardless of the controversial online reactions that have ensued in the wake of Viersen’s comments, Viersen and Collins have seemingly patched things up on social media and will look to deliberating the motion without further interference or distraction.
Narcity has reached out to Arnold Viersen and Laurel Collins for comment and we will update this story when we receive a response.