Former MP Joy Smith in 2010.

Anti-trafficking experts applaud Sydney prostitution sting

  • September 14, 2016

OTTAWA – A Nova Scotia court decision that upheld the right of police to release names of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes is being applauded by experts in human trafficking who are now calling for Canada’s anti-prostitution laws to be enforced across the country.

The court decision follows an anti-prostitution sting last September in Sydney, N.S.

Responding to a growing prostitution problem, police arrested 27 men and released their names in a news conference. One of the alleged “johns” went to court, claiming the release of his name before a conviction amounted to “public shaming” and a violation of his Charter rights under section 7.

But Nova Scotia provincial court Judge Brian Williston rejected the challenge, citing federal prostitution legislation passed in 2014, and stating that the police only released information already publicly available.

“The fact that they were shamed, well that’s too bad,” said former MP Joy Smith, who helped lead a grassroots campaign to amend Canada’s prostitution law in 2014.

“What are they doing behind the backs of their wives? So they are caught and they feel ashamed.

“I praise the police for doing their job. That’s going to save countless lives of young girls.”

Smith expressed concern, however, that other police forces and judges are “not keeping up with the law of the land,” and are enforcing the new prostitution law less rigidly.

The landmark 2014 prostitution law made the purchase of sex illegal and recognized most prostitutes as victims exploited by pimps and human traffickers. Smith and others want more stringent enforcement of the new law that primarily targets men who purchase sex.

Instead, they are worried that the sex-industry lobby will have the law repealed by the Liberal government.

“We know there is a lot of pressure from pro-prostitution groups and the sex industry to repeal the laws,” said Evangelical Fellowship of Canada policy analyst Julia Beazley. “But at this stage, the government has said only that they will be taking a good look at the legislation — something they are doing with several laws passed by the previous government.”

Enforcement of the law currently depends on local police and crown prosecutors, Beazley said.

“Some jurisdictions have embraced the objectives and approach of the legislation and are enforcing it fully, as we’re seeing in Cape Breton,” she said.

“But we’re also starting to hear that some jurisdictions that had initially embraced the approach are now backing off, concerned that they might end up with a bunch of cases on the books only to see the laws repealed. And still others have never enforced the purchasing provision, believing the laws wouldn’t stand.”

Smith warned of a “backlash” if the bill is repealed.

“A lot of these young girls who service these men are trafficked and they don’t want to do it, they are controlled by traffickers,” said Smith, who combats human trafficking full time through the Joy Smith Foundation. “What about their shame?

“The fact of the matter is we are in a new era in Canada: buying sex is against the law. These people that go to buy sex from young girls have no consideration for the young girls.”

Beazley said the media’s response “underlines the continued need for public education.”

“The new laws recognize that prostitution is a form of exploitation and violence against women,” she said.

“But it will take time for the broader society, including the media, to understand the realities of prostitution.

“(Sydney) is serious about targeting the demand for paid sex and, as the judge said, the police actions were a response to the ‘need to protect society’s most marginalized and vulnerable members in focusing their attention on the men driving demand.’ ”

Smith believes the federal government’s upcoming inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women will help put the spotlight back on prostitution as a form of exploitation and violence against women.

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