Canada’s political parties have distinct positions on prostitution that have developed over time. According to a December 2006 report by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws (“The Challenge of Change: A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws”), the Liberal, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois committee members all viewed prostitution as “a public health issue” and supported “harm reduction” strategies for prostitutes, such as sex education, condoms, and a “bad date list.” They believed that “sexual activities between consenting adults that do not harm others, whether or not payment is involved, should not be prohibited by the state.”
In 2013, the British Columbia Young Liberals passed a resolution (“Protecting the Rights of Sex Trade Workers”) demanding that the Liberal Party introduce a bill to permit “sex trade workers” to “secure all materials and spaces required to run a safe and successful business.” The resolution was adopted by the federal party’s B.C. branch so that it could be debated in the February 2014 policy convention. When asked about the resolution in January, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau expressed reservations, stating that “we need to make sure that we are finding a way to keep vulnerable Canadians protected from violence that surrounds prostitution but also is intrinsic to prostitution.”
The Young Liberals ultimately withdrew the resolution before the convention. “When people started to look at it, they said it was highly flawed because the resolution didn’t take into account what the reality was in that world,” B.C. delegate Don MacDonald told the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
In January 2007, the NDP called on Parliament to decriminalize prostitution at the start of the trial of Robert Pickton. House Leader Libby Davies (who was also a member of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws) wrote in a statement that prostitutes were forced to work in isolated areas where they “face greater risk for harm and death and become easier targets for predators.”
In September 2010, after the federal government launched an appeal of the Ontario Superior Court decision that struck down parts of Canada’s prostitution law, then NDP leader Jack Layton said that “aspects of the law need to be changed to protect women,” but that the spread of organized crime must also be held back and therefore, a “major debate” is needed. During the NDP’s 2013 convention, a proposal to legalize prostitution to promote “rights to life, liberty, security and equality” was delayed because of internal division within the party. Instead, an amendment was passed to further study the resolution. According to the party’s 2013 Policy Book, the party is in favour of “Protecting the health and safety of sex-trade workers.”
In 2008, Green Party members voted to support legalization of prostitution during online consultations. This was ratified at the party’s February 2009 policy convention. The Green Party welcomed the Ontario Superior Court decision in a September 2010 press release. “We can learn a lot, both positive and negative, from countries who have decriminalized prostitution so that the safety of sex trade workers is improved, such as New Zealand, Australia and Germany,” said deputy leader Adriane Carr.
In a dissenting opinion to the February 2009 Status of Women committee’s report on human trafficking (Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation in Canada), the Bloc Quebecois wrote, “the report makes value judgments on prostitution and is condescending at times.” While the Bloc views prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation, it believes that “criminalizing the purchasing of sexual services would not solve the problem; on the contrary, this could increase the risk of assault relating to these practices, which are already dangerous enough.”
On the other hand, Conservative members of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws viewed prostitution, according to the 2006 report, as “a degrading and dehumanizing act … they believe that the most realistic, compassionate and responsible approach to dealing with prostitution begins by viewing most prostitutes as victims.” As well, decriminalizing prostitution would be harmful to Canadian society “by signalling that the commodification and invasive exploitation of a woman’s body is acceptable.” They suggested that johns and pimps be prosecuted and fund the rehabilitation of the victims of prostitution, and that those who were “first-time offenders” or “forced or coerced into the lifestyle” receive assistance and not a criminal record.
The Christian Heritage Party, in a January 8 communiqué by district manager Gordon Truscott and executive director Vicki Gunn, lambasted the Supreme Court’s Bedford decision. “Once a woman agrees to enter a room alone, undress, and be violated by a man, what protection does she have?” they asked. They “strongly oppose” prostitution and will be examining legislation in other countries “to ensure that our policies provide the best outcomes for victims, abusers, and society in general.”