“Johns” wait outside a brothel in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of Hope for the Sold.

Canada begins implementing transformational prostitution laws

“For the first time, women trafficked into prostitution will be treated with dignity.”

OTTAWA, ON—Canada’s new prostitution legislation, Bill C-36, has received royal assent. The newly implemented laws have been widely supported by a broad range of Christian ministries and front-line organizations who see it as a needed change to help protect vulnerable and exploited women and children.

“The ultimate objective of the new law is to put an end to prostitution and sexual exploitation in Canada,” says Julie Beazley, a policy analyst with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “These laws are a victory for women’s equality, because all women and girls are safer in a society that stands up to the idea that a women or her sexuality can be bought or sold.”

Many people are unaware that prostitution has never been illegal in Canada. In December 2013, the Supreme Court deemed Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional, stating that they put women who engaged in prostitution at risk. The laws, which prohibited living off the avails of prostitution, keeping a bawdy house and communicating for the purposes of prostitution, were struck down with a clause allowing Parliament one year to enact new laws.

“With the passage of [the new prostitution law] buying or attempting to buy sex will be illegal for the first time in Canadian history. The law recognizes the vast majority of prostituted persons are not there by choice: they are to be seen as victims of exploitation. The law also clearly identifies the demand for paid sex as the driving force behind prostitution and sex trafficking.”

Beazley says the new legislation targets that demand by criminalizing “johns,” pimps and traffickers.

Member of Parliament Joy Smith highlights another key component of the new law—not only does it turn the tables, targeting the purchasers rather than the victims of trafficking, it also implements support programs for victims seeking to escape prostitution.

“This bill is the first of its kind in Canada. It’s historic and it’s progressive,” says Smith. “For the first time in Canada’s history, women trafficked into prostitution will not be treated as nuisances, they’ll be treated with dignity. For the first time, the government of Canada will provide robust funding to help women and youth escape prostitution and their traffickers.”

In support of the bill the Canadian government has pledged $20 million to fund grassroots organizations working with victims of exploitation. Smith says through this funding the government plans to focus it’s support on exit programs for those seeking to leave the sex trade.

“This law has great potential to reduce the demand for paid sex, leading to less opportunities for traffickers to sell women and children,” says Jared Brock. “While aftercare is absolutely vital, it must go hand-in-hand with prevention. That is the strength of this law: its goal is to reduce the demand for paid sex on a long-term scale, which will lead to less victims requiring aftercare.”

Jared and his wife Michelle are co-founders of an abolitionist charity Hope for the Sold. They are currently touring a documentary they directed and produced, Red Light Green Light, about global sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“This law is pointing Canada in the right direction. While there will always be men who purchase sex, regardless of the legal context, this law will help reduce the bulk of that. In Sweden, where a similar approach has been in effect for more than a decade, the national conversation has changed as a result, leading to more gender equality and greater understanding for victims.”

However, despite his praise for the bill, Brock cautions that believers should not lose momentum on the issue or let down their guard now that the bill has passed.

“We need to be all the more diligent in understanding the factors surrounding this issue like gender inequality, the plight of First Nations communities and the over-sexualization of our youth. Sexual exploitation is a big issue and it will take all of us to bring it to an end.”

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About the author


Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.