Prostitution Bill Sets Aside $20 Million to Support Sex Trade Workers

Prostitution law is back in the news, almost a year after the Supreme Court released its dramatic decision in Canada v. Bedford. The Court found the main provisions of Canada’s prostitution law (found in the Criminal Code) unconstitutional, struck them down and gave the government one year to introduce a law that doesn’t offend the Constitution. Now, Justice Minister Peter Mackay has introduced Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which the Conservative government believes will meet the challenge. Others are not so sure. The Bill received second reading on June 16, 2014, and is now before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and pre-study with the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The justice committee will meet the week of July 7 to hear testimony on the bill.

According to the government:

“The comprehensive and ‘made-in-Canada’ approach to address prostitution includes two essential parts-criminal law reform, in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada v. Bedford, and support for vulnerable persons to help them leave prostitution. This two-pronged approach aims to criminalize those who fuel and perpetuate the demand for prostitution by purchasing sexual services, and to protect those who sell their own sexual services, vulnerable persons, and Canadian communities from the harms associated with prostitution. These harms include sexual exploitation, violence, and related criminal activities, such as human trafficking, organized crime and drug-related crime.”

In brief, the Bill would amend the Criminal Code to:
(a) Prohibit purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose;
(b) Prohibit receiving a material benefit from the commission of an offence referred to in paragraph (a);
(c) Prohibit advertising sexual services for sale and authorize the courts to order the seizure of materials containing such advertisements and their removal from the Internet;
(d) Modernize the offence that prohibits the procurement of persons for the purpose of prostitution;
(e) Prohibit communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a place where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present;
(f) Ensure consistency between prostitution offences and the existing human trafficking offences; and
(g) Specify that, for the purposes of certain offences, a weapon includes any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will.

Bill C-36 would also set aside $20 million for organizations that support sex trade workers and assist them with leaving the sex trade.

The Bill is based on the premise that sex work is inherently objectifying and exploitative, particularly of women and children. It aims to punish johns and pimps rather than prostitutes, prevent commercialization of prostitution, and keep children and adolescents away from sex work.

With a majority government, the Bill will likely pass without much change, possibly before Parliament breaks for summer. But there will surely be court challenges soon after. The main objection is that the new law might make sex trade workers less safe than the previous arrangement.

Joe Amon, the director of the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch stated:

“International health and human rights agencies and experts have all concluded that criminalizing sex work and related activities threaten sex workers’ health and rights. In December 2012, UNAIDS, WHO and the UN Population Fund called for governments to work toward decriminalizing sex work and removing unjust laws and regulations against sex workers.”

Others challenge the broad and vague language of the Bill and question how the funding will be spent.

It seems clear that the public debate about prostitution and other sex work will continue, and opinions and the law will evolve.

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