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MP Joy Smith has been one of the strongest proponents in the fight against human trafficking. She argued in favour of prostitution Bill C-36 as a way to combat trafficking. Photo by Deborah Gyapong.

Prostitution Bill C-36 passes third reading

  • October 9, 2014

OTTAWA - Prostitution Bill C-36 passed third reading in the House of Commons Oct. 6 by a 156-124 vote and now heads to the Senate, on track for passage by December. 

Bill C-36 responds to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Bedford decision last December that struck down several of Canada’s laws regulating prostitution. The court suspended its judgment for a year to give Parliament time to respond to the decision. 

The bill would make the purchase of sexual services illegal for the first time in Canada. Patterned after the so-called Nordic model that targets the market for sex by criminalizing customers and pimps, the bill decriminalizes the sale of sex, instead treating prostitutes as victims who are often trafficked into the sex industry. 

The bill does, however, criminalize the sale of sex when prostitutes solicit near schools or playgrounds where children are likely to be present. Opposition parties objected to this part of the bill, as did many of the victims’ groups that spoke before the Justice Committee hearings. 

Both the NDP and the Liberals argued the bill does not meet the constitutional standards the Supreme Court laid out in the Bedford decision. Liberal Justice Critic Sean Casey told the House the Conservatives should have sent the proposed legislation to the Supreme Court for an opinion first. Critics said they expect Bill C-36, if passed, will be subject to further court challenges. 

In Bedford, the laws governing solicitation and living off the avails of prostitution were found to violate the prostitutes’ Section 7 Charter rights to safety and security of the person. Opposition critics pointed out Bill C-36 does not address the safety concerns identified. 

“The Supreme Court of Canada was very clear: The question under Section 7 is whether anyone’s life, liberty or security of the person has been denied by a law that is inherently bad; a grossly disproportionate, overbroad or arbitrary effect on one person is sufficient to establish a breach of section 7,” said NDP Justice Critic Francoise Boivin. 

The Conservatives have argued prostitution is inherently dangerous. The bill was also criticized for being asymmetrical, for criminalizing the purchase of sex but not the sale, except in some limited circumstances. 

During debate, Conservative MP Joy Smith, who has led the charge against human trafficking in Canada, contrasted the testimony during Justice Committee hearings of those who insisted sex work is an industry like any other and those “who have experienced pain, suffering and victimization while at the mercy of pimps, drug dealers, brothel owners, criminal organizations and human traffickers.” 

Smith also warned middle-class Canadian girls and boys have also been trafficked into the sexual victimization. 

“We had many cases where middle-class young people came forward,” Smith said. “They were trafficked because of the way that the predators operate. They come on as their boyfriends, and they believed they were in love and that nobody wanted to exploit them. 

“It never crossed their minds, until all their identification was taken away and they were forced to sexually service men or women.” 

Smith also pointed out many prostitutes did not start out as addicts, but become so “to camouflage their pain.” 

Opposition critics argued Canada already has laws against human trafficking and exploitation. 

The Catholic Civil Rights League and REAL Women of Canada had both intervened in Bedford. The rights league has supported the adoption of a Nordic model, while REAL Women has supported the criminalization of both the sale and the purchase of sex. 

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