One person who wasn’t offended by Robert Goguen’s questions

Timea Nagy responds to the controversy
The chamber of the House of Commons is seen during Question Period Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

While Liberal MP Sean Casey thinks Robert Goguen should be removed from the justice committee over the parliamentary secretary’s questions of the other day*, Timea Nagy, the woman to whom Goguen posed his odd questions, told a news conference this afternoon in Toronto that was she was not offended.

Here is a transcript of her statement to reporters.

Two days ago, MP Robert Goguen asked me during the justice and human rights committee hearing on Bill C-36 if I would have felt my freedom of expression and rights to life, liberty and security would have been infringed if I had been rescued during a rape that occurred … I have reviewed the testimony several times and had an opportunity to reflect on his questions. While Goguen’s questions were awkward, I understand that certain journalists took it upon themselves to come to rescue me and defend me and stated that the MP was insensitive and treated me very poorly. I understand that the headlines made it to the newspaper and the public is outraged at him, at the MP, and I understand that thousands and thousands of people took it to Twitter.

I can totally understand why it seems insensitive and I appreciate the support, however the journalist who started this scandal did not take the time to come and ask me how I felt, but when we asked him why he didn’t interview me, his simple answer was, why should he?

I believe that MP Goguen’s question was awkward, but it was taken out of context. I was not personally offended. Earlier in the hearing, [Leonardo] Russomanno [of Canada’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association] suggested that freedom of expression needed to be protected for sex workers. Mr. Goguen’s question, I believe, was asking me if I felt that I was exercising my freedom of expression and my right to life, liberty and security during the time I was forced into prostitution. He asked if rescuing me and arresting my assaulters would have infringed on my rights and freedoms. My answer was and it’s still, no.

The truth here is this, where there’s no freedom at all, freedom of expression is completely irrelevant. The very state of being forced into prostitution means one’s most basic freedoms are completely stripped away. Freedom of expression and right to life, liberty and security are the issue of this legislation. But my position is that all these rights and freedoms are removed from women and men who are prostituted without any choice and ability to live and all the research points to that fact, this is the vast majority of people who are in prostitution today.

Mr. Goguen is being accused of politicizing this issue for his own agenda and my comment to that is that I signed up to be a witness on a very tough topic, I’ve been speaking on my personal experience for the last four years and I knew that I was going to become in a witness in the House of Commons, which I believe is a political setting, so I was fully aware that politicians will be asking me questions about the situation, so I don’t necessarily agree with that point either. Unfortunately, while we are out there trying to make Mr. Goguen this absolutely insensitive human being, I would like to just point out that I have been asked way worse questions and I have been revictimized way worse by the media and by other MP leaders in the past.

Nagy allowed that other women might have been offended, but suggested Goguen’s comments had been taken out of context. She also thinks he had a “valid” point.

All of the context for Goguen’s questions is here in yesterday’s post. Whether or not his comments were offensive might be a mostly subjective question, whether he had a valid point is perhaps something that can be more readily debated.

Nagy argues that “where there’s no freedom at all, freedom of expression is completely irrelevant” and maybe Goguen’s point was something like that. But is that really the point so far as C-36’s Charter compatibility is concerned? The Charter issues raised by Leo Russomanno concerned whether or not Bill C-36 would make it more dangerous for prostitutes to solicit clients. Is that not a relevant question to pursue? Even if you imagine it’s irrelevant for those who are working as prostitutes against their will, is it not relevant for those who are sex workers by choice?

Regardless, I think I stand by my description of Goguen’s questions as stupid. In considering those queries earlier this week, Chris Selley observed that “while the subject matter of the question was remarkably ugly, its intellectual structure, its dumb-dumb destruction of straw men, is just standard parliamentary boilerplate. We’re offended by it no matter what the subject at hand.” That seems about right to me.

*As a parliamentary secretary, Goguen might be barred from the committee in the first place, at least if you imagine that House committees should be independent of the government.