EDMONTON, Alberta, February 5, 2014 ( – The office of Alberta's attorney general issued a directive Tuesday stating that the province will continue to enforce the existing prostitution-related laws while awaiting Ottawa's response to December’s Supreme Court ruling. The high court ruled Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional, but gave the federal government 12 months to draft new legislation.

Alberta’s response is in sharp contrast to that of New Brunswick's Assistant Deputy Attorney General Luc Labonté, who said last week he will stop enforcing Canada’s prostitution laws and will not prosecute prostitution cases until the federal laws struck down by the Supreme Court are settled.

Labonté's statement prompted a rebuke from federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay. “While the administration of justice is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, Canadians expect criminal laws in this country to be properly enforced so long as they remain in force,” he told CBC.


Deputy Attorney General of Alberta Kim Armstrong said in an official statement on February 4 that while the directive is rare, “it reaffirms the commitment as a province to protecting vulnerable people from exploitation.”

The directive “ensures that prostitution remains regulated while the Government of Canada addresses this complex issue,” Armstrong said, adding that the directive to continue prosecuting those who exploit and use prostitutes has been sent to provincial Crown prosecutors and to Alberta’s police services, and takes effect immediately.

Attorney General and Justice Minister of Alberta Jonathan Denis said the new protocol will focus on prosecuting men who buy sex from prostitutes rather than pursuing charges against the women who sell themselves.

The directive states that it is “generally not in the public interest to prosecute prostitutes under any of these provisions.”

It continues that the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that “while some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so.”

Further, the Court said that “street prostitutes, with some exceptions, are a particularly marginalized population. Whether because of financial desperation, drug addictions, mental illness, or compulsion from pimps, they often have little choice but to sell their bodies for money.”

The Court concluded by noting that, “these are not people who can be said to be truly ‘choosing’ a risky line of business,” and that it is the “conduct of pimps and johns” that is the immediate source of harm suffered by prostitutes.

The strategy of prosecuting those who buy sex, rather than prostitutes, is similar to legislation enacted by Sweden in 1999 that has virtually eliminated prostitution and the related evil of sex trafficking. The Swedish legislation criminalized the buying of sex, and decriminalized the selling of sex.

The principle behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government’s literature on the law: “In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem. … Gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.”

The Swedish government estimates that since 1999 only 200 to 400 women and girls have been annually trafficked into Sweden for prostitution, while in neighboring Finland the number is reported to be 15,000 to 17,000 every year.

Denis said in a media release announcing the directive that the Alberta government “is committed to building strong, safe communities where vulnerable Albertans are protected from the harms of prostitution and exploitation.”

“Those who exploit vulnerable Albertans will be held accountable by the criminal justice system. At the same time, Crown Prosecutors will be able to ensure individual prosecutions proceed in the public interest,” Denis said.

“The Province of Alberta will work closely with the federal government to ensure that any response to the Supreme Court decision – including new federal legislation – protects vulnerable Albertans and holds to account those that try to exploit women and children,” he concluded.


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