This week, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is having whirlwind sessions on C-36, “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” the government’s proposed prostitution legislation. With 60 witnesses in 20 hours between today and Thursday morning, Justice Minister Peter MacKay is trying to sell us on prostitution, which would be legal under the new bill. The sale of sexual services would also be legal.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court struck down all of Canada’s prostitution laws citing that it was “overly broad.” They gave the government until December 19th, 2014 to rewrite all the laws, or else we would see brothels, pimps, and all other aspects of the sex trade occurring legally, a drastic change from the status quo of brothels, pimps, and all other aspects of the sex trade occurring illegally.
“Faced with the Bedford decision, the government had a choice,” to condone the exploitation of these persons, or condemn it. “The government chose the latter,” MacKay explained. He frequently referred to the proposed bill as the “Canadian model” (to be really, truly, special) which is pretty much exactly the Nordic model. It legalizes selling sex, but criminalizes buying sex. While on its face this may seem completely ridiculous, it’s common around the world, and the popular view in Canada: “62% of Canadians believe that buying sex should be illegal, while only 34% feel that selling sex should be illegal.”
Where C-36 differs from the Nordic model, is that MacKay’s bill also bans advertising sexual services, and prohibits the establishment of brothels. While this may seem strange from purely a rights perspective “shouldn’t people be able to buy and sell their bodies if they want to?” MacKay follows a different logic which actually makes a bit of sense.
Starting from the view that prostitution is inherently bad, that prostitutes are forced into it, and that Johns abuse the system and threaten sex workers with violence, it only makes sense to try to prevent prostitution from happening without punishing the prostitutes themselves, the victims. “Nobody raises their children to be prostitutes, it’s not something anyone aspires to,” MacKay says, though I suppose similar claims can be made about being a politician.
The only time a prostitute could face charges is if they’re selling themselves in a place “they can reasonably expect to find children,” including “churches, shopping malls, playgrounds,” and presumably day cares. He did not specify whether prostitutes could sell sex in the House of Commons, but presumably it would also be banned due to the Parliamentary tendency of whining like a baby.
A Liberal MP (one of the few remaining), asked MacKay about whether the law would criminalize underage prostitutes. MacKay explained that there are already sections of the criminal code which specify how to deal with underage offended, ensuring that they get the help they need rather than jail time.
Françoise Boivin, the NDP member from Gatineau, whose microphone was suddenly cut off before she began speaking, complained that the bill was being pushed through in order to pass by December 19th, 2014, when all previous legislation, like the condoms of future lonely Johns, will expire. They bickered for a bit about this timetable, and Boivin asked MacKay “Wouldn’t it be better […] to send it to the Court right now to make sure we don’t miss the point and have to redo it all over,” in reference to NDP concerns that this new bill is equally unconstitutional as the previous law, something MacKay insists is not the case. MacKay responded that if the SCC rejects the new bill, there wouldn’t be enough time to write another one, an argument that doesn’t really make any sense.
So it went, with the NDP and Liberals trying to knock down the law while not criticizing it too harshly as to still be on the right side of public opinion. In short, Peter MacKay and the governing Conservatives hope that prostitution can be the key to swelling their caucus in the election next October.
This article was edited on September 25th, 2014.