A protest at Vancouver City Hall in 2016 over the lack of enforcement of prostitution legislation. The Archdiocese of Vancouver has submitted a brief to the federal committee reviewing the law. Photo from B.C. Catholic files

Diocese seeks tougher anti-prostitution law

By  JONATHON BRADLEY, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 26, 2022

VANCOUVER -- The Archdiocese of Vancouver is urging a parliamentary committee to support the strengthening of legislation that bans most activities associated with prostitution, including the buying of sex, pimping and the keeping of a bawdy house.

In a brief submitted to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the archdiocese said the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) “is a good law because it targets serious social problems directly or indirectly associated with the prostitution of (mostly) women and youth, while at the same time recognizing and balancing the rights of those who are involved in it as prostituted persons.”

The act became law in December 2014 and reflects the so-called Nordic Model, which treats prostitutes themselves as victims needing assistance to exit sexual exploitation while criminalizing other aspects of prostitution. Included in the legislation was a mandatory five-year review of the law, now more than a year overdue.  

The archdiocese’s brief, which was prepared by its Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, said one of the ways the law can be strengthened is by enacting a national education campaign explaining how the law works and advocating on behalf of people being exploited. When Sweden implemented a law like Canada’s, it launched a 10-year education campaign that changed people’s attitudes that humans can be bought and sold, the brief said.

“The Swedish law was controversial when it was enacted because it challenges and criminalizes an age-old male right to look at women’s bodies as if they were goods to be bought and sold,” the archdiocese noted.

The archdiocese said another way the law can be improved is through consistent enforcement across Canada. Inconsistency makes it difficult for statisticians to compile data to determine the law’s effectiveness. 

Sr. Nancy Brown, a member of the archdiocese’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, said the current law is important because it targets the buyers while recognizing that many prostituted persons are marginalized and need assistance. Brown said that if Canada is truly in favour of equality, “then this is the law that protects women and children,” who need more supports to escape poverty, thereby avoiding being lured into prostitution.

The committee also heard other Vancouver-area voices in support of the current law. Trisha Baptie, a prostitution survivor, called the law “a blueprint” to follow because it recognizes that prostitutes are victims. Baptie, who was forced into prostitution when she was 13, is co-founder of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), a non-profit organization of former sex-industry women who seek to abolish prostitution through political action, advocacy and public education.

“Men’s role as the root problem to prostitution is often lost in all the other noise that goes along with prostitution,” Baptie told the committee in her testimony. “And that is the behaviour that I want to focus on today, as that was the goal of PCEPA and why we support PCEPA.” 

Lynne Kent chairs the Vancouver Collective Against Sexual Exploitation. She told the committee she believes the law is “socially, legally and relationally transformative.” The collective is a non-partisan group of individuals and organizations determined to end all forms of sexual exploitation.

Kent called the law “a leading-edge instrument recognized globally. It is focused on protecting the right to life, liberty and security of persons, which the sex trade violates every day.”

West Vancouver lawyer Gwendoline Allison, who is a member of the archdiocese’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, is scheduled to appear before the parliamentary committee on March 1.

The parliamentary committee’s review of the act comes at a time when the law is under attack from several quarters. In March 2021, the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, which represents 25 groups that favour complete decriminalization of prostitution, launched an action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeking to have the law overturned on the grounds it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The New Democratic Party said it “stands in solidarity” with the alliance while Liberal MPs voted against the law when it was enacted by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. Delegates to the Liberals’ 2018 convention called for “decriminalization of consensual sex work and sex trade.”

Canadians are almost five times more likely to support than to oppose the current law, according to a survey done by Nanos in 2020. This survey found that 49 per cent of Canadians support the law, while 11 per cent oppose it. 

“This Canadian survey shows that when the public understands how the system of prostitution operates, they not only oppose it, they want laws that decriminalize and help those exploited, while holding accountable those who harm them, including sex buyers,” Taina Bien-Aimé of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said when the survey was made public.

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