After six months of legal limbo, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has introduced a new bill which would create a new legal framework for Canadian prostitution law. Bill C-36, dubbed the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, changes certain aspects of Canada’s former prostitution laws. Critics, however, have already raised several issues with it.
This new bill follows a Nordic model in that it focuses the criminal aspect on those buying sex rather than on the people selling it. Under the new proposed bill anyone caught purchasing or living off the avails of prostitution (ie johns and pimps), would face jail time. The advertisement of sexual services in print or online would be criminalized and offenders would face a maximum prison sentence of five years. In this way, the government is hoping to prosecute the abusers rather than the exploited persons.
Rather than prosecute prostitutes, the government is investing $20 million dollars in programs to help get at-risk people off the streets and out of prostitution. This new legislation is aimed at giving sex workers opportunities to get themselves off the street and help exploited people find new lives. The only way prostitutes would find themselves in legal trouble would be if they were caught selling sex in an area where minors could feasibly be present. Such locations include arenas, malls, or other public spaces.
Critics have already found a number of problems with this Act. Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society and POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau, Work, Educate, Resist) are among these critics, and they say this new legislation would just force prostitution further underground rather than protecting the sex workers. In a current prostitution market, sex workers have time to screen a client for intoxication and check them against client databases circulated by sex workers. Prostitutes can write down the license plates of johns left by other sex workers, in order to report the client in case something goes wrong. Under proposed legislation they would have no time to check the client, and thus leave themselves open to abuse and exposure to disease.
This new “Canadian Model” as Justice Minster MacKay has proposed is not the model for which sex workers argued. They desired a model similar to New Zealand or Germany, in which prostitution is legalized and allowed to function openly. This allows prostitutes more time to screen clients and ultimately protects them.
Bill C-36 is aimed primarily at protecting communities and leaves prostitutes open to many risks. Critics of the bill are hopeful it will be denied by the Supreme Court, but in the meantime we can only watch and wait.