New law focuses on “made in Canada” model

Prostitution legislation protects the vulnerable and holds buyers accountable

During the early summer of 2014 the Canadian Parliament passed a law enacting new prostitution legislation. Titled the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, Bill C-36 aims to protect those being prostituted while punishing those profiting from it.

Those who advocated for the bill are pleased. However, those in favour of legalized prostitution are unhappy with the “made in Canada” model.

The bill’s preamble clearly explains the government’s rationale for the changes it intends to make to the Criminal Code’s prostitution-related offenses. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Canadian government is not in favour of prostitution. Therein lays the root of the unhappiness for those in favour of legalization.

The rationale for the new legislation represents a paradigm shift in how the law views prostituted people. The old law was developed in response to the nuisance that prostitution created for communities because most prostitution was found on the streets. It predates the internet where most women, men and children are currently being sold for sex indoors. It did not take into account the exploitation and violence that is part of prostitution. Buyers, mostly men, were largely unseen and uninhibited by the law. All this will change with Bill C-36.

One of the most notable aspects of the new law is its criminalization of the purchase of sex. This is where the new law is similar to the Nordic model of law begun in Sweden. With the penalizing of purchasers, there is recognition that demand drives the sex ‘industry.’ For the first time in Canada men will be held accountable for their actions towards the prostituted.

Prostituted people are now seen as mostly exploited, objectified and commodified. With the average age of entry into prostitution in Canada between 14-16 years, it becomes obvious that prostitution is not truly a choice as most use the word. Choice is a word of privilege and it would be more accurate to say that prostitution chooses them. Poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships, mental health issues and addictions leave young people vulnerable to exploitation.

Bill C-36 will go through third reading in the fall, then on to the Senate before finally being passed into law. All of this should take place well before the Supreme Court deadline of December 19, 2015.

The law sets society on a course to reshape behaviour and norms. Bill C-36, with its focus on the criminalization of the purchase of sex and protection of the prostituted will help shape the way boys and men treat girls and women. It sends a strong message that it is never okay to purchase another human being for sexual services.

This will lead to a Canada where all people will be treated with dignity and equality, where the vulnerable will be protected, where people are held accountable for their actions and where boys and girls will grow up to believe that no one should be bought or sold.

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About the author

Glendyne Gerrard is the director of Defend Dignity (www.defenddignity.ca).