Sorry perverts, today ain’t your day.
The Harper government tabled new legislation on prostitution today, introducing what Minister of Justice Peter MacKay calls the “Canadian model”, one that is nearly identical to the “Nordic model” of allowing the sex to be sold but not to be bought.
This comes after the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in December that the prostitution laws (including the prohibition of brothels and public communication for the purpose of prostitution) were unconstitutional and struck them down. The justices gave the government one year to draft new legislation before Canada was to become a sex-trade-free-for-all. The reason given by the Supreme Court was that these laws prevented the safety of prostitutes rather than prevented prostitution. The decision was prompted from a constitutional challenge from three women who used to work in the ‘business of love’.
What’s in the new bill?
It is important to note that the sale of sex has never been illegal in Canada; it was formerly the activities surrounding sex that were illegal (i.e., talking about it).
Now, for the first time in Canadian law, the government is criminalizing the purchasers of sexual services, and those who advertise the sexual services of others, those that treat sexual services as a commodity. We’ll lock up the Johns and the pimps, but the prostitutes themselves will not be breaking any laws. Almost.
In a clause which MacKay assures us will not be abused, there will be heavy fines for selling sex in public places where one may reasonably expect to find children, so underage prostitutes may still face charge. Though, these issues will be punished by fines, not jail time.
Advertising prostitution online and in the backs of magazines (including under the alias of ‘escort’) will be prohibited by the passing of the bill. McKay mentioned that they will crackdown on the online ads by removing them and by tracking down the perpetrator of the post.
The key focus of the legislation is that the vast majority of those who sell sexual services do not do so by choice, and are victims of human trafficking, pimps, and poverty. As such, there will be $20,000,000 in support to assist prostitutes to leave prostitution.
Lastly, taxi drivers, bodyguards, and anyone who is not exploiting the prostitute, but still aiding them, will not face any fines or jail time.
Although McKay presented the bill as primarily concerned with sex-worker safety, representatives from social advocacy groups, including Katrina Pacey from the Pivot Legal Society, spoke out to express their dismay arguing that this bill will push prostitution further underground. If prostitutes cannot solicit online, in print, or anywhere where children may “reasonably” be present, then they’ll have no choice but to take to the late-night streets, a seriously dangerous alternative.
Vanessa D’Allesio, member of the board of directors of Maggie’s – Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project, said the government failed to consult actual sex workers. Those involved would likely have told the Minister of Justice that many prostitutes are not coerced into it, and would rather do their work in peace than have the government take a “moral stance” and meddle.
Though, public support is on the government’s side. According to a Justice Department survey, 62% of Canadians believe that buying sex should be illegal, while only 34% feel that selling sex should be illegal.
McKay said there will be “support mechanisms outside the legislation in order to help people to transition out of the sex trade.” His words echo those of Manitoba conservative MP Joy Smith who aims to “eliminate prostitution”. Right.
After thousands of years, prostitution ain’t going anywhere. The market is huge, and even if this bill is passed into law, that demand is unlikely to change. Here’s hoping that the workers are given a fair shot at their peace, quiet, and most importantly, safety.