Hearings on the proposed prostitution law that the Conservative government announced last month were underway in the country’s capital this week.
Members of Parliament returned to Ottawa this week for hearings on Bill C-36, which was tabled after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s existing prostitution laws seven months ago because they violated the Charter rights of sex workers.
Provincial justice ministers from across the country and prostitutes spoke at the all-party hearing this week.
On the floor of the House of Commons, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the bill will continue to criminalize those who have received and would receive financial benefits from the prostitution.
“It is all about protecting the victims of prostitution, and this is where quite a significant shift would occur in Canadian law, where we would treat the prostitutes themselves as victims, which predominantly they are,” he said. “So it is about the protecting of prostitutes from criminal liability or for any part they may be playing in the purchasing, material benefit of procuring or advertising of offences, and ensuring at the same time that victims of prostitution are further protected so that persons who legitimately receive material benefit from prostitution of others would not be criminalized.”
Vegreville-Wainwright MP Leon Benoit said that the law that MacKay announced last month struck the right balance between making prostitution illegal and protecting victims of prostitution.
“I think it’s the best balance that we can have here in Canada,” he said. “We have discussed this in caucus, and in great depth. I have looked over the legislation and it’s probably the best balance that it can be.”
Benoit said that the first reaction to the proposed law changes was that the bill takes the first step in making it illegal for prostitutes to solicit money for sex.
“It also criminalizes prostitution in areas where children might be present,” he said. “So really when we look at everything, and we all know that we are not going to stop prostitution, it’s been around forever, and it will be around forever. It doesn’t mean it’s OK.”
Benoit said that there are some serious problems with prostitution in Canada, and both males and females can be the victim of the sex trade.
“Most prostitutes are victims and many are women and in some cases men, who have been victims of human trafficking,” Benoit said.
“A lot of the rallies that have been going on over this bill have involved pimps, who make their living from prostitutes,” Benoit said, adding there was no surprise that pimps who financially gain from prostitution are up in arms over the proposed law, “There will be no surprise they will be fighting for their interests. The reality is that the bill is probably a good balance, and it does criminalize prostitution. In some situations it criminalizes men buying sex in public.”
The new law also prohibits the advertisements of sale of other sexual services, in print or online.
“That is another big part of this bill,” said Benoit.
“It does, I guess, protect prostitutes from criminal liability for any part they play in purchasing or procuring or advertising of product. For that part of it, the prostitute is protected and they are not allowed to solicit in an area that children might be but on the other hand pimps are not let off the hook for activities of promoting their prostitutes.”
Benoit concluded that this is the first bill in Canada’s history where prostitution and the solicitation of sex will be illegal.
“The law has been really toughened in that area of the pimps first and foremost,” he said. “It is also in the area of the johns, but the first time in Canadian history it is against the law for prostitutes to solicit, to sell sex. It’s the first time it’s been illegal, it’s never been illegal before.”