MPs to discuss rule changes after ‘rude’ treatment of sexual assault victims, advocates
MPs say they are ready to change the way witnesses are treated in committees after some survivors and advocates of sexual violence say they feel angry and in some cases revictimized when telling their personal stories during these meetings.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus says he believes a “dysfunctional circus atmosphere” has taken hold in a number of committees, where MPs are often more interested in postures policies than by trying to stay on topic and respectful while listening to witnesses.
This came to a head during a recent ethics committee meeting, which is examining how to protect the privacy of people who appear on websites like Pornhub.
Witnesses sharing stories and expertise on how vulnerable sex workers could be affected by the federal government’s decision to regulate the content of pornographic websites say they are shocked at how MPs disrupted the meeting after more than 40 minutes of partisan bickering.
“These women who came to give their point of view, they left, I think, very disrespectful,” Angus said of the April 19 meeting.
The committee is investigating Pornhub and its Montreal parent company MindGeek, accused of hosting explicit videos of people posted without consent – including videos of alleged rape and child sexual abuse.
It was one of many committees that invited victims of sexual assault, exploitation and trauma to share their experiences and recommendations for change.
Members of Parliament are bound by conventions that make the process of committee meetings highly regulated, including limited time to speak. But a growing number of victim advocates believe committees should develop a more trauma-sensitive approach to dealing with vulnerable witnesses.
Sex worker advocates say invitation was ‘a fake move’
Angus said that shortly after the study was launched on Pornhub, MPs began to be inundated with requests for testimony from representatives of the porn industry and the sex trade, as well as people with links to religious groups who are anti-pornography activists.
Some MPs have even received threats of violence from people who Angus says are part of what he calls a “war of American culture on pornography.”
Meanwhile, the women who testified at the April 19 meeting felt overwhelmed, unheard of and “revictimized.”
“Inviting us was a false move,” says Melissa Lukings, researcher and sex worker rights activist with intersectional lived experience.
“All the possible hurdles were in place. They didn’t even follow the standard notification procedure, which would have allowed briefs to be submitted and translated in advance,” Lukings said.
Instead of focusing on Lukings’ testimony and asking him questions, Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan used her remaining time with witnesses to table a motion.
The motion called on the committee to “hear from other witnesses at its next meeting scheduled for a minimum of two hours”.
Shanahan said on Monday that she felt compelled to use her allotted time to table her motion not to prevent witnesses from speaking, but to prevent opposition MPs on the committee from trying to silence the voices of people like Lukings.
“We wanted to draw attention to this issue,” she said, along with further study. She said she believed a number of opposition MPs were part of an “anti-porn squad”.
Angus disputes this.
“To interrupt (the witnesses) I think it was political,” he said.
“It was like a time when we had crossed some kind of dividing line in how we treat witnesses” and we really need to think about it. “
Members open to training
The ethics committee is not the only one calling witnesses who have lived through the dark world of sexual assault and exploitation.
The Status of Women and National Defense Committees have all dealt with widespread allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who chairs the Status of Women committee, says members “did their best” to welcome vulnerable witnesses.
“I made a big effort to make sure we were flexible. Many times I gave people more time than they were allowed because of the sensitivity of it,” Gladu said.
However, some women who were invited to speak last month have raised concerns that MPs are cutting victims’ testimony midway through due to the rules governing such meetings.
“I think it’s a long-standing problem, but I think it’s particularly serious right now,” said Julie Lalonde, a sexual violence prevention educator who testified at the committee on the condition of the disease. wife on April 8.
“There is a real feeling of (politicians) asking really intense questions of witnesses, but looking very clearly at the clock while the person is speaking – so not listening carefully to what the person is saying, which then leads to not having the appropriate empathetic response. “
Discussions will now take place on how to ensure that MPs take a more trauma-sensitive approach when victims and survivors come to share their stories, Gladu said.
Gladu and Shanahan also said they would support training MPs to talk to witnesses about sensitive issues and possible recommendations in the House of Commons to better support witnesses in the future.
“I think it’s possible to change the general committee rules, because there are many types of sticky situations that committees hear testimony from,” Gladu said.
“We heard from some of the witnesses and how they felt, not only about this study, but also about other studies, so I think it deserves a discussion.”