Photo by Michael Swan.

Catholics called to respond to prostitution consultation

  • February 20, 2014

OTTAWA - Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller has asked the British Columbia government to reconsider its decision not to prosecute Canada’s prostitution laws.

B.C. is one of several provinces that have decided not to prosecute some or all prostitution offences after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down as unconstitutional three prostitution-related offences last Dec. 20, despite the Court’s suspending the decision for one year to give Canada an opportunity to craft new laws. B.C. has joined Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Newfoundland in either selective or non-enforcement of the present laws.

"We cannot ignore the fact that women, men and children are being objectified,” said Miller. “It is a shameful state of affairs and it's going on under our very eyes. Any decision not to enforce laws that protect these victims is indefensible."

The archbishop announced Feb. 17 the Vancouver archdiocese is putting together a “team of stakeholders” to examine the best legal framework to respond to prostitution and human trafficking. The archdiocese’s Office of Service and Justice will co-ordinate the committee which will include representatives of the Church’s ministry to women and youth and street ministries.

"Prostitution and human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century and it's occurring in our own country and in our own city," Miller said, adding Canada is a "source, transit and destination country for women, men and children, many of them aboriginal, trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour."

Also on Feb. 17, the Justice Department launched an online consultation on the prostitution laws, prompting the Catholic Civil Rights League to ask its members across Canada to respond. The consultation includes an online survey that asks Canadians questions concerning whether they think the sale or purchase of sex should be illegal.

“I’m trying to encourage as wide participation as possible,” said League executive director Joanne McGarry. “It’s important they hear from people who want a law in place that will protect the best interests of women and girls.”

The survey, accessible through the web site, will be active until March 17. 

“Our government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons,” said Justice Minister Peter MacKay in a statement. “Doing nothing is not an option — we are therefore asking Canadians right across the country, to provide their input, through an online consultation, to ensure a legislative response to prostitution that reflects our country’s values.

“We will be taking action to maintain the safety of our streets and communities, for the benefit of all Canadians.”

The Justice Department web site outlines three legal approaches to prostitution: Decriminalization/legalization, where prostitution is decriminalized and regulated; prohibition, where both the purchase and sale of sexual services and pimping are illegal; and abolition, the Nordic Model that “seeks to abolish the exploitation of persons through prostitution by criminalizing those who exploit prostitutes (clients and third parties) and decriminalizing prostitutes themselves.”

McGarry expressed special concern about laws against pimping.

“Guys who hang around bus stations looking for runaways don’t worry about what they are doing if you do not prosecute pimps,” she said. “The pimping laws were there in particular for the protection of young women and girls.”

As the consultation gears up, Conservative MP Joy Smith, an expert on human trafficking, has published a report entitled “The Tipping Point: Tackling the Demand for Prostituted/Trafficked Women and Youth.”

“As a nation, we must ensure pimps and predators remain strongly sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized,” said Smith in the report. Smith advocates the abolition of prostitution and the adoption of the so-called Nordic Model pioneered in Sweden that criminalizes the purchase of sex and offers help for exploited women and youth to get out of prostitution.

Smith’s report notes UN figures show the majority (64 per cent) of trafficking victims are trafficked into prostitution. She criticizes Canada’s laws as targeting only the nuisance of prostitution and not their inherent violence against women. Any new legal regime in Canada must “recognize the violence and exploitation inherent in prostitution directly violates an individual’s right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

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