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Canadian Prostitution Law 101.

Last December, as a result of the case known as “Bedford”, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the existing prostitution laws violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court discarded this law and gave the government one year to bring in new legislation.

As the House of Commons summer break comes to a close on September 15th, here is a simple breakdown (of a very complex issue) to keep you in the loop.

Canada’s New Law:

Bill C-36, Canada’s new position law, has four major components.

  • The Buyers: The bill would criminalize the buying of sex – aiming at the johns. This includes a possible jail sentence of up to five years.
  • The Employers: The new bill would make anyone who “receives a financial or other material benefit, knowing that it is obtained by or derived directly or indirectly” from the sale of a “sexual service,” to be charged with a prison sentence of up to ten years. (Note: it will be up to the courts to determine what is considered a ‘sexual service’.)
  • The Advertising: Bill C-36 makes many restrictions on the advertising of sex for sale. It bans advertising by anyone other than the sex worker him/herself and also outlaws communication to sell sex in public places where there might be children. The bill criminalizes the act of “knowingly advertis[ing] an offer to provide sexual services,” for monetary compensation. (Justice Minister McKay urges the courts to include all forms of advertising, including the Internet.)
  • The Vendors: The new prostitution law would make it illegal for a male or female to receive “material benefit” from the sale of sexual services by anyone other than themselves.

What Other National Prostitution Laws Look Like:

New Zealand Law: Since 2003, prostitution, including brothel ownership and pimping, has been legal in New Zealand. The sex industry operates under employment and public health laws. It is against the law to compel or induce someone into sex work, or to provide their earnings. Furthermore, forced prostitution/prostitution that is not consensual or involves someone under the age of eighteen is illegal.

Nordic Law (Norway, Sweden, Iceland): Customers who get caught and convicted can be jailed or fined. Brothel ownership and pimping are also illegal. Gunilla Ekberg, the Swedish government's lead official on prostitution a decade ago, has described the model as looking at prostitution as a form of male sexual violence.

What Canadians Think About Bill C-36:

The government, in favour of the new laws, says the bill will protect vulnerable women and keep communities safe by allowing prostitutes to rent apartments, screen clients, hire a receptionist or security guard, and advertise their own services.

Some sex workers say, due to the criminalization of buying sex, the new law will drive prostitutes back into dark alleys and industrial zones and leave the sex workers at risk. The new bill also hinders cooperation between sex workers as only the sex worker him/herself can receive material benefit from selling sexual services.

Émilie Laliberté, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, says, “The new bill does not respect our constitutional right to life, security and liberty”. She argues if the bill is passed into law, clients will not provide information on themselves, and therefore leave will sex workers unable to protect themselves against problematic people.

NDP MP Françoise Boivin said she doubts the bill would pass the court’s test of making sex workers safer. That may be one reason many women who favour the restrictions on selling sex also are not keen on the bill – it is criticized for failing to protect sex workers. Ms. Boivin said women’s groups are deeply divided. Some believe laws must be softened to protect sex workers, and others believe buying sex should be criminalized because it exploits women. But protecting sex workers is a key concern for all.

The Next Steps:

Last December, the court declared a new law would be put in place for prostitution, due to the current law violated the Charter by threatening the quality of life and safety of sex workers.

Today, the battle is far from over. Critics warn that the bill C-36 still falls short to protect fundamental rights.

The bill will be put back on the burner once summer break is over September 15th, and the House of Commons will only have a few short months to deliberate as the December 2014 deadline looms over their heads.

Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen.


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