The Conservatives have introduced a new bill following the Nordic model that prosecutes pimps and johns without criminalizing the activity of prostitutes. Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, received its first reading on June 4 and second reading on June 11, and it’s expected to pass the House of Commons when Parliament returns from recess in the fall.
The Conservative government drafted the bill in response to the unanimous Supreme Court Bedford decision last December that struck down the previous laws against brothels, living off the avails of prostitution, and communication with clients in public places because the judges determined they jeopardized the health and safety of prostitutes. The Supreme Court gave the government a year to pass a new law, meaning that C-36 will have to be rushed through Parliament to meet the deadline.
If Bill C-36 passes, people who seek the services of prostitutes would be punished with either fines or a maximum of 5 years imprisonment. If the prostitute is under 18, the maximum jail sentence rises to 10 years. Those who receive material benefit from prostitution may be jailed for a maximum of 10 years if using adult prostitutes and 14 years if using minors. Pimping carries a maximum of 14 years, with a five-year minimum if exploiting minors.
The bill also bans the “advertisement of sexual services” by non-prostitutes and permits the seizure of material that breaks this law. Prostitutes, however, still face criminal repercussions if they advertise their services where a minor may be reasonably expected to be present. The bill also cracks down on human trafficking by mandating a minimum one year sentence anyeone for seizing an individual’s travel documents. The government will also provide $20 million to fund programs helping prostitutes who want to leave the trade.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the bill would “protect those who are most vulnerable by going after the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice.” He also said, “there will always be an inherent danger in this degrading activity.”
The prostitute advocacy groups who applauded the Supreme Court striking down the previous law do not like the government’s response. “Sex workers will die because of these laws,” said Emily Symons of POWER, an advocacy group for prostitutes, said on CTV’s Power Play, reasoning that the laws will prevent prostitutes from screening potential clients and force them to work in isolated areas, just like the previous laws against brothels and communications. Amy Lebovitch, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada and co-plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, called the new laws “chilling,” objecting particularly to provisions banning the activity of prostitutes in areas with children. “What about sex workers who are mothers?” she said to iPolitics. In drafting the bill, MacKay “made a very strong assumption that all prostitution is inherently bad.”
Christian and pro-family groups applauded the government. Julia Beazley, policy analyst for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said in a news release: “In crafting this legislation, the government has taken a big-picture view of the issue of prostitution and courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women’s bodies; or that any person’s body can be considered a consumer good to be bought, sold or traded.”
REAL Women of Canada also praised the law in a press release, saying it “reflects the challenges created by the Supreme Court decision… the need to protect vulnerable individuals from risks and exploitation inherent in prostitution…and especially, to protect those under 18 years of age from this activity.”
Sun News Network personality Brian Lilley commented on the media coverage of the bill on his show Byline: “The media in this country long ago adopted the language of radical feminists that see every prostitute as a happy hooker with a heart of gold just looking to ply their trade.”
The future of the bill is unclear, however. John Lowman, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, told Macleans that C-36 does not address the concerns that the Supreme Court had about the old law and will “reproduce the same problems constitutionally.”
During Question Period on June 5, deputy NDP Leader Megan Leslie called on MacKay to “immediately” refer the bill to the Supreme Court to ensure it withstands constitutional scrutiny.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler introduced a motion to produce internal justice department opinions about the law’s constitutionality.
Justice Minister MacKay maintains Bill C-36 is constitutional.