Canadian gvmt’s prostitution bill passes in Commons, heads to Senate

'The government has ... courageously challenged the belief ... that any person’s body can be considered a consumer good to be bought, sold or traded.'
Wed Oct 8, 2014 - 1:58 pm EST
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The Conservative government’s proposed prostitution law has been passed in the House of Commons and will go to the Senate for ratification, with approval of small “c” conservative groups but disapproval of many other organizations.

Bill C-36, “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” passed by a 156-124 vote, along party lines with the Conservatives supporting it and the Liberals and New Democrats opposing it. It makes buying sexual services illegal, but no longer bans “living off the avails” of prostitution, which the drafters hope will allow prostitutes to hire security. It also allows prostitutes to advertise their services, but not employers or pimps to do so. And it sets aside $20 million to help sex trade workers change jobs.

Applauding the passage, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's spokesperson Julia Beazley said, “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.”

A second social conservative lobby group, the Institute of Marriage and Family, was equally supportive. “The Government of Canada is acknowledging that prostitution is an inherently dangerous activity,” said its executive director, Andrea Mrozek.

Mrozek took on several criticisms of the bill. To those who advocated outright legalization of prostitution, as in New Zealand, she responded, “A review in New Zealand published in 2008, five years after legalization there, showed few of those engaged in prostitution felt legalization had done anything about violence on the job.”

As for those “who … argued that people ought to be free to make their own choices, they ignore the fact that most prostitutes begin as minors aged 14 to 16,” she said.

The government drafted Bill C-36 in response to a court challenge that resulted, last December, in the Supreme Court throwing out the existing law but with a year’s grace for the government to come up with a new law.

Last week the ex-prostitute behind the court challenge, Terri-Jean Bedford, capped her testimony before a Senate committee by threatening to expose parliamentarians who supported the bill and who had used her sexual services or those of other prostitutes.

Though Bedford was apparently violating at least two Criminal Code provisions, those against bribing a public official (CC.97) and extortion (CC.346), no charges against her have been reported.

Groups with like concerns for the safety of sex workers disagreed over whether the bill would really help. Emily Symons, head of Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist, predicted that the law would force clients to rush the initial street transaction, reducing the worker’s ability to assess the client’s riskiness.

But former sex worker Katarina MacLeod told a parliamentary committee that prostitution was inherently unsafe, and the transaction of sex for money inherently coerced. “Being a prostitute means going to your job every day to get raped,” she said.

Feminists, too, are divided over the bill. Feminist blogger Meghan Murphy, usually no friend of the Conservative government or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, admitted the bill “kind of thrills me. This language is explicitly feminist in that it names men as the problem and points to gender inequality as a key factor in terms of why prostitution exists in the first place and in terms of who is exploited in prostitution.”

But legal blogger Alexis Mulvenna opined that the bill will likely face its own constitutional challenge –and for the same reason as its predecessor, that it undermines sex workers’ rights to “security of person” by forcing the buyers of sexual services to hurry the street negotiation. This, she characterized as “a fundamental contradiction,” because the new law has been touted by the Conservatives as a “paradigm shift” that for the first time puts protection of the prostitute first.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


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