Justice Minister Peter MacKay

Groups applaud bill that would make purchase of sex illegal

  • June 5, 2014

OTTAWA - An array of groups that oppose prostitution are applauding the introduction of Bill C-36 June 4 that criminalizes the purchase of sex, targeting johns as well as pimps and traffickers. 

Johns could face penalties ranging from a $500 fine to five years in prison for purchasing sex; if the prostitute is under 18, the john could face up to 10 years in jail.

The bill would also criminalize the selling of sex or communicating to sell sex in areas where children could reasonably be expected to be present, such as near schools, recreation centres, malls or residential neighbourhoods. 

“Most Canadians view prostitution as a dehumanizing phenomenon that puts people at risk,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay told a news conference shortly after tabling Bill C-36 in the House of Commons. “It is important to note that the sale and the purchase of sex has never been illegal in Canada. That changes today.”

MacKay noted the Supreme Court of Canada’s Bedford decision only struck down laws around prostitution. The decision did not rule out laws that would make prostitution itself illegal. 

“No model that involves full criminalization or legalization will ever make prostitution a safe endeavour,” MacKay said. “There will always be an inherent danger in this degrading activity.”

“(MacKay) has done what various groups requested, which was to apply effectively a variation of the Nordic model,” said Catholic Civil Rights League President Phil Horgan. The Nordic model criminalizes the johns and pimps but not the prostitutes themselves who are considered victims and offered help to leave the sex business.

The league intervened in the courts at all stages of the Bedford case as did REAL Women of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship.

“The explicit criminalization of purchasing of sexual services is something that is new and may withstand court scrutiny though it’s surely to be challenged by one group or other,” said Horgan.

“There is no doubt that the government faced a difficult challenge in creating this new prostitution law which, as stated in the preamble of the Act, was to 'protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children,' ” said REAL Women of Canada in a statement.

“The great need there is to protect vulnerable prostitutes whom the government quite correctly regards as victims,” said REAL Women national vice president Gwen Landolt. “I think they met that challenge. It’s not perfect but it’s the best they could do under the circumstances to protect society as well as the prostitutes.” Landolt said she would have preferred both the sale and the purchase of sex were made illegal. 

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which intervened before the court, commended the government for crafting the bill to prevent prostitution from being decriminalized.

"In crafting this legislation, the government has taken a big-picture view of the issue of prostitution and courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women's bodies, or that any person's body can be considered a consumer good to be bought, sold or traded," said EFC policy analyst Julia Beazley. "The law is a teacher, and this law will teach coming generations of boys that it is both unacceptable and criminal to buy sex."

MacKay also announced the bill would be accompanied by $20 million in new funding to help prostitutes exit the sex trade.

“Any effort to put an end to the plague of prostitution in our country can only be commended,” said Catholic Organization of Life and Family (COLF) director Michele Boulva. “Prostitution is not only a grave attack against the dignity of any woman, any man or any child caught up in this type of sexual exploitation, but also it undermines couples and destroys families.

“Sex workers’ life and security will not be appropriately protected in Canada until the day we help them to exit this toxic milieu,” she said.

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada pointed out the sale of sexual services “dehumanizes the seller and is not, in the vast majority of cases, a choice freely made.”

“The effects of this exploitation ripple outward to affect all of society — including those who know that exploitation is occurring in their community,” said the IMFC. 

"We're encouraged that this legislation shows special concern for children, by taking aim at child traffickers," said IMFC Executive Director Andrea Mrozek. "Hopefully this will prevent at least some at-risk youth from being lured into prostitution."

The IMFC applauded the bill’s provisions to criminalize the communicating for the purpose of selling sex near where children 18 and under might be found.

"It's important that we protect childhood," said Mrozek. "Criminalizing the purchase of sex while offering help to those who are being exploited is a sensible approach and a necessary one if we aim to create safe communities."

Bill C-36 also makes it illegal to advertise the selling of sexual services either in print or online and gives police extensive tools to track down offenders. 

“(The bill) will give courts the powers to authorize the seizure of materials,” said MacKay. “It will give courts the ability to ban such advertising in order that it be removed from the Internet . . . and require the provision of information that would identify and locate the persons who posted it.

“There will be ability to pursue those who are behind the advertising,” he said. “As for the places where we know very often prostitution does take place including strip clubs and massage parlours, the police will have the same powers they do now to carry out investigations, surveillance operations that are aimed at again going after those who are perpetrating the offences around the selling of sexual services,” the Justice Minister said.

Landolt said she is grateful for the advertising prohibition, noting how online advertising has “grown by leaps and bounds.”

Conservative MP Joy Smith, an expert on human trafficking who lobbied for a made-in-Canada Nordic model prostitution law, issued a statement saying, “For the first time, prostituted/trafficked women will not be treated as a nuisance but treated with dignity.”

“We have turned a corner in the fight to end human trafficking and prostitution,” she said, calling it “an historic day for Canada.”

Both Landolt and Horgan, however, expect the bill to be challenged on a number of Charter grounds, ranging from freedom of expression, to freedom of association, to equality provisions.

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