Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Ensuring the Success of Canada’s Prostitution Law Part 3: Investing in Gender Equality

by Michelle Brock on January 22nd, 2015

When I was growing up in Finland, my dad would often travel for work and return with gifts from abroad. It’s no surprise that one of my favourite words early on became “tuliainen,” or, as I later learned in English - souvenir.  Often these souvenirs included new Disney movies, and I quickly fell in love with Beauty and the Beast.

I recently watched it again with a friend, and memories came flying back as I found myself reciting many of the words and songs that had been stored for years somewhere in the back of my brain.  There’s a part in the film where Belle, the new girl in the little village, is reading a book when she is rudely interrupted by Gaston:

Belle And Gaston beauty and the beast 18557767 600 429 300x214Gaston:  “How can you read this?  There’s no pictures!”

Belle: “Well some people use their imaginations.”

Gaston:  “Belle, it’s about time you got your head out of those books and paid attention to more important things, like me.  The whole town’s talking about it, it’s not right for a woman to read.  Soon she starts getting ideas…and thinking…”

Finland being consistently rated in the top 5 for gender equality in the world, the thought of women having less value or less opportunities was a foreign concept to me as a child.  Watching Belle and Gaston was my first exposure to the idea that women had not always had the same rights as men.  As a kid I remember thinking, “why would Gaston say that?  What does he mean women shouldn’t think?”

Little did I know how closely the issue of gender inequality was tied to my future work – the fight against sexual exploitation.  Prostitution is a manifestation of gender inequality, as the large majority of those selling sex are female (who are often in an economically or socially vulnerable position) and most sex buyers are men (who have relative power due to their ability to pay).  While sex buyers always have the option to not engage in prostitution, many of those selling sex do not have that luxury.

Canada’s new prostitution law draws significantly on Sweden’s approach, which recognizes this power imbalance and criminalizes only the purchasers of sex, not those who sell it.  The preamble to Canada’s legislation acknowledges the importance of protecting the human dignity and equality of all Canadians, discouraging prostitution “because it has a disproportionate impact on women and children.”  Clearly gender equality is somewhat of a value in our country, but are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?

As the 2014 Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada points out, Sweden places so much value on gender equality that it has a Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality.  This is the governmental body that oversees the sex purchase law.  When they first implemented the new legislation, they committed $34.8 million (CAD) over 3 years to fund social programs and awareness campaigns that would help ensure the success of the law.  Comparatively, Canada has allotted $30 million (CAD) in a similar attempt.

However, it is worthy to note that the $34.8 million invested by Sweden was only one small piece of a much bigger gender equality policy.  Here’s a list of investments the Swedish government has made to bolster gender equality, as highlighted in the Task Force NO MORE Report:

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Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

  • Over $144M CAD invested between 2007-2010 to educate against violence against women
  • $17.6M CAD to promote gender equality in schools, $20M for local and regional gender equality initiatives and $4.48M for grants to promote women’s organizations
  • A strategy for gender equality in the labour market, including a three year program to boost women’s entrepreneurship
  • Tax policies, including a gender equality bonus to encourage parents to share parental leaves as evenly as possible and tax deductions for household-related services 

It’s quite clear that Sweden’s prostitution law was not framed as lone star criminal legislation, but as a piece of a much larger set of robust gender equality policies and practices that reflected national values.  These surrounding policies created a healthy environment in which the law could be enforced, lending heavily to its success.

According to the The World Economic Forum 2014 Gender Gap Report, Canada ranks #19 in the world for gender equality.  It’s behind Sweden at #5, Switzerland at #11, and South Africa at #18, but ahead of the U.S. at #20 and the U.K. at #26.  These rankings are based on the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out in their 2014 Striking a Better Balance Report that at the current rate of progress, Canada will not close the gender gap until the year 2240.  While the gap between women’s and men’s participation in higher education has closed, the gaps between their earnings and their representation in senior management ranks hasn’t shifted, nor have levels of violence against women decreased.

Some industry experts speculate that women don’t work in these sectors because they don’t want to. Yet a recent survey finds no lack of interest. Rather, women seeking work in the extractive industry identify the same barriers as women in every other industry: a lack of child care, a lack of flexible work practices, and the low levels of women in management positions.  (CCAP)

So where does this leave us?  Canada’s ranking at #19 demonstrates that on some level, we do value gender equality.  This means that pushing our government to make gender equality initiatives more of a priority is not out of the question.  But it requires a groundswell of support from everyday, Canadian citizens.

The new prostitution legislation provides a perfect opportunity to have these discussions in a bipartisan context.  While the Conservatives were the ones to introduce prostitution bill C-36 in the spirit of equality for all Canadians, they would benefit greatly from working with Liberal, NDP and Green Party representatives toward a broader set of gender equality initiatives, like affordable childcare, pay equity, and affordable housing to name a few.  Investing in gender equality, like Sweden has done, will strengthen the prostitution law and help prevent sexual exploitation on a systemic level through providing women with better opportunities.

The government wants to prevent prostitution because it has a disproportionate impact on women. Following this line of thought it can also be said that the government should work to prevent homelessness, poverty, sexual violence and lack of living wage job opportunities, because these also have a disproportionate impact on women.  Acknowledging that these issues are connected to prostitution is vital if we are to bring and end to commercial sexual exploitation.

Gender Equality benefits us all

But this is not just the government’s responsibility.  It is ours too.  Here’s just a few ways we can all contribute to gender equality:

  • Ask your MP what their vision is for gender equality, and what they are currently doing to get there
  • If you are an employer, provide employees who have children with extra sick days (since they usually use their own when their kids are ill), and pursue pay equity between male and female employees
  • Support your local women’s shelter, either financially or by volunteering
  • When your kids see movies or commercials that are disrespectful to women, talk it through with them
  • Sponsor a single mom: if you know of someone who is struggling to find full time work because they can’t afford child care, offer to help babysit or get friends to pitch in and cover child care for a year

Can you come up with more?  My hope is that if we all do our part, we can boost our gender equality ranking up a few notches and traffic-proof our communities!

To learn more about Canada’s prostitution law through my current series:

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Ensuring the Success Canada’s New Prostitution Law Part 1: Addressing Poverty

by Michelle Brock on December 16th, 2014

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As we’ve toured with our film Red Light Green Light this past year, we’ve met many people who are passionate about justice.  Prostitution has been framed primarily as an issue of injustice, and rightly so. It preys on vulnerability and disproportionately targets those on the margins.  The new prostitution law, which prohibits the purchase of sex while decriminalizing those who sell it (as they are usually victims of force or circumstance), seeks to address the demand side of the equation, recognizing that most often, prostitution is an unequal transaction in which the person paying has more power than the person providing a sexual service.

If we are serious about addressing systemic injustice, reducing demand for paid sex is key.  For this reason, I support the new prostitution law.  However, to bring about the intended goal of the law – which is protecting the vulnerable and promoting equality – our passion for justice must extend beyond the new law and filter down to the issues within our society that many would prefer to ignore, issues that are uncomfortable because they are difficult and would require some sacrifice to address.

Somewhere on our journey across the U.S. this past month, I heard someone use the word “takers.”  I marvelled at how one little word could carry with it such a host of assumptions, opinions, and political loyalties.  Like the belief that people on welfare are draining the system, that the poor are manipulating legal loopholes for their own benefit, that minimum wage workers should worship at the feet of “job creators” (another linguistic marvel that carries notable weight).

Calling the poor and the working poor “takers” is not entirely untrue.  Of course there are people who take advantage of the system.  The irony is that those who point the finger assume that they themselves are not.

Herein lies the paradox.  The rich (not all of them, but many) often complain that the poor are lazy, while they themselves try to find ways to ‘put their money and other people to work for them’ so they can avoid being wage slaves.  The rich often complain that the poor are taking advantage of loopholes for their own benefit, while they themselves do the same except with massive repercussions (U.S. banking crisis, anyone?). The rich often pat themselves on the back for creating jobs, but grind out their workers with minimum wage pay and manipulate schedules so that workers who should receive the perks of full time miss the mark by a day or two – allowing their labour to be used with as little cost to the employer as possible.  The rich accuse the poor for not contributing to society, while they themselves lobby to pay little or no taxes in a community, threatening to take their business elsewhere.

So while calling the poor and the working poor “takers” is not entirely untrue, calling the rich “takers” is not entirely untrue either.  At the end of the day, we are all takers, we are all greedy, and broken, and selfish.  The difference is that the poor cannot afford to pay top-notch lawyers to advocate on their behalf.  The difference is that between taking public transit and working three jobs, the poor don’t have time to lobby the government.  The difference is that while the rich get richer, the poor are stuck in a cycle of poverty.

According to StatsCan, wealth inequality is growing in Canada.  The top 10 per cent of Canadians have seen their median net worth grow by 42 per cent since 2005 to $2.1 million in 2012, while the bottom 10 per cent of Canadians saw their median net worth shrink by 150 per cent.  The Broadbent Institute points out that when we look at this broad picture of wealth using new Statistics Canada data, the report shows “deep and persistent inequality.”  Rick Smith, the executive director of the institute says in this article:

“Contrary to rosy reports of rising net worth and a post-recession recovery, these new numbers sound the alarm on Canada’s wealth inequality problem.”

 

Blog post quote 12When I was in my early teens, I played an interesting game in class one day. There was a huge bin of jelly beans in the middle of the room.  We were separated into groups of 4 or 5, and each group received a set of tools.   Group members had to go up one by one and use these tools to scoop as many jelly beans as possible, then bring them back to the the group’s empty bucket.  The group with the most jelly beans in their bucket when the whistle blew won the game and received a prize.

But before the game even started, people started to revolt.  Some groups had been given many useful tools, consisting of shovels and bowls and scoops.  Other groups had only been given a couple teaspoons or a small glass.  One group was given only a straw, and they had to suck on one end of the straw to grab each jelly bean one at a time, gingerly walking it back to the group’s bucket before they ran out of breath.

Though all the groups worked equally hard, the first group – who had the best tools – won the game. When the rest of us started complaining, the teacher pointed out that this game was not actually about jelly beans at all, but a demonstration of the distribution of wealth.  While some would like to think that we are all given the same tools in life, all you have to do is listen to people’s life stories to realize that is not the case.

Poverty in Canada infographic LRG

So what does this have to so with the issue of prostitution?  Poverty is a key push factor for many of those who end up in the sex industry, and the majority (not all, but the majority) of those in prostitution are in it purely for reasons of economic necessity.  Our goal should not be to make prostitution as easy as possible so that impoverished people have an “option” for work.  This is an insult to the poor.  Our goal should be to level the economic playing field so that people can break out of the cycle of poverty and not depend on the goodwill of “non-violent clients” to put food on the table.

If you are a business owner, consider giving your employees benefits and better wages, even if it means slightly less profit.  Be open to hiring someone with no previous experience who needs help building up their resume.  If you are a landlord, charge less rent (no one says you have to charge the market average).  If you have a well-paying job, consider donating one, ten or fifty per cent to social programs and charities (Jay and I are personally working toward giving away 90% of our income).  These things are all possible, but it requires sacrifice.  It requires having less stuff.  It requires being less greedy.

Our government of course is not off the hook on this one, as the laws they make and enforce shape the system in which we all work, live, and do business.  I find it somewhat ironic that many of those who want to end prostitution simultaneously support the current government’s pro-big business initiatives which end up increasing wealth inequality…and creates an environment where the most vulnerable have to turn to prostitution because of lack of other opportunities.

Reducing demand for paid sex is key when dealing with the issue of sexual exploitation, and Canada’s new prostitution law is a strong step forward if we are serious about prevention.  Those who refuse to acknowledge this as a critical piece are woefully misguided.  But let’s remember to look at the issue of prostitution in its wholeness, and take steps to reduce the economic vulnerability that pushes people to do desperate things.  Demand reduction, coupled with real opportunities for those who would otherwise consider prostitution, gets at the root and makes sustainable prevention possible.

But it will take sacrifice, so let’s conspire together and figure out ways to all do our part.

**This is part one of my series, Ensuring the Success of Canada’s Prostitution Law. Read part two here More posts coming soon.

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Ensuring the Success of Canada’s Prostitution Law

by Michelle Brock on December 8th, 2014

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On December 6, Canada’s new prostitution law took effect.  I’ve written several posts highlighting the different components of the new law, as well as addressed some of the criticisms arising from the pro-sex work camp.  I’ve included links to these posts at the bottom of this one, but today I’d like to shift my focus to a question I’ve been pondering all week:

What steps are required in order for this law to be successful?

 

Passing a law is no easy task.  It involves research, committee hearings and consensus-building.  It includes a certain degree of public support.  It requires votes from both the House and the Senate.  Over the course of the last year, many Canadians have also done their part – signing petitions, writing letters, meeting with their MPs.

When a law finally gets passed, there can be a tendency to assume that nothing more is needed, that we can let down our guard and allow the issue to take care of itself.  But this is precisely the time to act, to use the momentum of the new law to make real progress.

tall ships 71 768x1024To assume that the passage of the law alone can end sexual exploitation is like hoisting up the sails and forgetting to steer the ship.  The crew on a boat understand that sails are critical, but also know that getting anywhere requires wind, a compass, knowledge of the seas, good leadership, teamwork, and diligent boat maintenance. Otherwise the ship will simply drift from one current to the other, never reaching its destination.  If the objective of the new prostitution bill – to prevent sexual exploitation and protect the vulnerable – is to be realized, we must look at the issue holistically and take action that is intentional, wise, and long-term.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of posts on how we can help the new law reach its objectives.  

They might make some people uncomfortable and I might step on some toes.  But the reality is that ending sexual exploitation is difficult and requires sacrifice.  The good news is that the passage of this law has put this issue in the limelight, so let’s not waste our opportunity to make change happen.

For more of my writing on the new law:

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Big News – Prostitution Bill C-36 Passes Senate!

by Michelle Brock on November 5th, 2014

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There’s some exciting news coming out of Ottawa this week – Bill C-36 has passed Senate and is on track to receive Royal Assent before the end of the year, meeting the deadline set by the Supreme Court.  So what exactly does this mean?  It means that in the next few weeks, Canada will have a new prostitution law on the books.

I thought it would be helpful to give an overview of the bill and what’s happened in the last year.

December 20, 2013 – Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court struck down Canada’s existing prostitution laws, meaning that living off the avails of prostitution, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and operating within a brothel would no longer be illegal.  In essence, both the buying and selling of sex would be decriminalized.  Pro-prostitution groups hailed this as a step forward for the rights of sex workers, who asserted this would make their work safer.  The Supreme Court gave Parliament exactly one year to respond to the ruling, giving them the opportunity to rewrite the laws on prostitution if they wished to do so.  If Parliament chose not to act, the Supreme Court ruling would carry through on December 20 of 2014, decriminalizing prostitution across the country.

June 4, 2014 – Bill Introduced

Parliament decided to respond to the Court decision, and on June 4, Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36 (The Protection of Communities and Exploited Person Act). The proposed legislation recognized people in prostitution primarily as victims of either force or circumstance, and focused on demand reduction.  Under the new law:

  • The purchase of sex would be criminalized.  This is the critical piece, as it seeks to reduce demand for paid sex.  Demand is the economic engine that fuels sexual exploitation and makes sex trafficking extremely lucrative.  While there will always be some people who go out of their way to pay for sex, adding barriers will deter the majority from engaging.  According to a study that asked men (including some who admitted they had paid for sex) which initiatives would deter them from purchasing sex, 80-83% said jail time and 66-79% mentioned monetary fines.  Targeting demand is a big step forward if we are to deal with the issue of sexual exploitation on a long-term scale.
  • The selling of sex would be decriminalized.  This recognizes that those in prostitution are primarily in a position of inequality, and should not be criminalized.  The proposed law would only charge those selling sex if they do so in an area where minors could be present.
  • Receiving a material benefit from the exploitation of another person would be illegal.  This means pimping.  Other non-exploitative arrangements would not be criminalized, meaning that spouses, roommates, and dependents of those in prostitution would be exempt from a criminal offence.  However, trafficking (exploiting someone for profit), would not be legal.  While traffickers could potentially masquerade as “bodyguards” and “drivers,” the exemptions made in the bill align with the Charter and allow for those who wish to hire security services for their own protection to do so.
  • Advertising the sexual services of another person would be illegal.
  • The government would pledge $20M in new funding for exit programs and aftercare.

July 2014 – Response & Amendments

After passing second reading, the bill headed to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.  The Committee heard testimonies from dozens of representatives on both ends of the spectrum, including trafficking victims, pro-prostitution sex workers, lawyers, professors, NGOs, and others (watch our testimony here, starts at minute 12:30).

Two camps emerged during the hearings, which was no surprise.  The first group consisted of sex workers and others who claimed that decriminalizing the industry (both buying and selling) was the best way forward, any other option would make sex work dangerous (which I address here).  The second group consisted of former sex industry individuals, trafficking survivors, and NGOs who believed that decriminalizing the purchase of sex would have the long-term effect of increased demand and result in more harm for the majority of those in prostitution, citing the experiences of other countries.

One component of the proposed legislation was unanimously challenged by every group that testified in committee – the piece that made it illegal to sell sex in an area “where persons under the age of 18 could reasonably be expected to be present.”  Many pointed out that people in prostitution usually do it because they are in a position of inequality and vulnerability, and should never be criminalized regardless of their location.  The proposed legislation was also too vague about what constituted as an area where “minors could reasonably be expected to be present.”

The Committee passed ended up passing Bill C-36, with the following amendments:

  • Amendment # 1: The location “where minors could be present” was narrowed down to “next to a school, playground, or daycare centre.”  Though it would be better to strike the provision down altogether, at least this amendment makes it less vague.
  • Amendment #2: Within 5 years of the bill becoming law, a comprehensive review of its impact will be undertaken, to see if anything needs to be fine-tuned or changed.

 

October 6, 2014 – Bill C-36 Passes Third Reading

The bill passed with a 156-124 vote.  All Conservatives voted in favour, while Liberals, NDP & the Green Party voted against.

November 4, 2014 – Bill C-36 Passes Senate 

Bill C-36 passes the Senate and is set to receive Royal Assent before the December 19 deadline.  This means that prostitution will not be decriminalized, and that by early 2015 Canada will have a new prostitution law.

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After engaging with thousands of Canadians across the country on this issue during our film tour, the passing of Bill C-36 is fantastic, exciting news!  To all of you who contacted your member of Parliament, hosted a screening of Red Light Green Light, or signed a petition, thank you!  We also congratulate MP Joy Smith for all her hard work over the last several years on this issue.  Here’s a snippet from her statement today:

“I am delighted to share with you that yesterday evening, the Senate of Canada passed Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. With the passage of Bill C-36, Canada has established a new approach to addressing prostitution that recognizes the harm prostitution causes to women and youth.

This is a historic moment for equality and women’s rights in Canada. For the first time in Canada’s history, the buying and advertising of sexual services will be illegal, and the government will provide robust funding to help women and youth escape prostitution.”

My Thoughts:

  • I believe that Bill C-36 is a step in the right direction.  It would be naive to think that one law will solve the complex problems surrounding this issue, but the legislation is a critical component that has great potential to prevent sexual exploitation.
  • The foundations have been set, but we must build well from here.  While the law has gender equality and protection of vulnerable groups at its core, we must be careful that its implementation does not slip into a “tough on crime” paradigm.  Law enforcement needs to understand the spirit of the law and be educated in depth about how to respond in various situations.  Compassion and humility are key.
  • We must identify the factors that contribute to sexual exploitation, and recognize that issues melt into each other.  Things like poverty and child sexual abuse act as push factors that make youth vulnerable, and we must be diligent about putting systems into place that get at some of these root factors.  If we are serious about preventing sexual exploitation, we also need a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
  • One thing that makes me sad is how polarized this issue became in Parliament.  I personally knew of MPs across party lines who supported the legislation but voted the party line.  The extremes appeared on both sides of the political spectrum.  On the right, some argued that everything should be criminalized, including the selling of sex.  On the left, some argued that nothing should be criminalized, including the purchase of sex.  The asymmetrical approach of the bill (which also applies to loan sharking) addresses both vulnerability and demand.  My hope is that as we move forward, our Parliamentarians would be more willing to work together so that the law can be fine-tuned wisely if need be.  I guess the question is: how do we make the environment in the House of Commons less toxic, less partisan, and more respectful?
  • Let’s commit to the long haul.  Let’s encourage our representatives – locally, provincially and federally – to make this a financial priority.  $20 million is the tip of the iceberg for what is needed, so let’s do our part to funnel more funding into both prevention and aftercare.  This is of paramount importance for this legislation to succeed.

If we are intentional and wise, I believe that Canada’s new prostitution law has great potential to go a long way to prevent sexual exploitation.  I am honoured to be part of a community that cares about these issues and continues to press on!

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Bill C-36 Adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

by Michelle Brock on July 16th, 2014

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Good news from MP Joy Smith:

I am delighted to share with you that Bill C-36 has been adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

In September when Parliament resumes, the Chair of the Committee will report the Bill back to the House of Commons where it will go through Report Stage and Third Reading.

Today’s clause by clause study of Bill C-36 was an important opportunity to address concerns by witnesses that the proposed changes to section 213 of the Criminal Code were too vague and would allow prostituted women to continue to be broadly criminalized. Our government put forward and adopted an amendment that significantly narrowed the offence to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish:

Original proposed offence in Bill C-36:

213. (1.1) Everyone is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who communicates with any person — for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services for consideration — in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a place where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present.

New wording of offence in Bill C-36:

213. (1.1) Everyone is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who communicates with any person — for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services for consideration — in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a school ground, playground or daycare centre.

RESULT: This puts a focus on discouraging solicitation from three specific places where youth should be able to be free from sexual commodification and objectification.

The second significant amendment to Bill C-36 adopted was put forward by the NDP and supported by the Conservative government was the following:

REVIEW AND REPORT

45.1 (1) Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee of the House of Commons as may be designated or established by the House for that purpose.

(2) The committee referred to in subsection (1) shall, within a year after a review is undertaken pursuant to that subsection or within such further time as the House may authorize, submit a report on the review to the Speaker of the House, including a statement of any changes the committee recommends.

RESULT: This will allow the government to see the impact of Bill C-36 and fine-tune it where necessary. The NDP suggested a review within 2 years and our government changed this to 5 years to allow for more information to be gathered.

I will continue to keep you updated!

Sincerely,

Joy Smith, B.Ed., M.Ed. 

Member of Parliament

Committee 300x225If you’d like to watch Hope for the Sold’s testimony before the Committee from last week, you can do so here (starts at minute 12:30).

We’ll keep you posted on how this develops and what you can do as the bill make progress!

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Canada’s New Prostitution Bill: What You Need to Know

by Michelle Brock on June 6th, 2014

CanadaFlagOn June 4, Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36).  The bill was drafted as a response to last year’s Supreme Court decision, which ruled Canada’s existing prostitution laws to be unconstitutional.  The Court gave Parliament exactly one year to propose new legislation in response to the ruling, and many have been eagerly anticipating what that would look like.

And now the time has come.  Here are some exciting key points:

  • For the first time in Canada’s history, the buying of sexual services would be illegal.
  • For the first time, prostituted/trafficked people will be seen as victims of coercion or circumstance.
  • For the first time, the government of Canada will provide millions of dollars to help women and youth leave prostitution.

The preamble sets the tone for the legislation, highlighting the vulnerabilities of those in the industry and the need to target demand.

Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity;

Whereas it is important to protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children;

Whereas it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution;

Whereas it is important to continue to denounce and prohibit the procurement of persons for the purpose of prostitution and the development of economic interests in the exploitation of the prostitution of others as well as the commercialization and institutionalization of prostitution;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada wishes to encourage those who engage in prostitution to report incidents of violence and to leave prostitution;

And whereas the Parliament of Canada is committed to protecting communities from the harms associated with prostitution…

The preamble itself is a huge step in the right direction for Canada, as it acknowledges many of the complexities of prostitution.  Previously, prostitution was solely seen as an issue of nuisance and criminality, whereas we are beginning to see it as an issue of social justice.

Now let’s get into the guts of the proposed legislation.  Under the proposed law:

1.  Purchasing sexual services is illegal. This is the critical piece, as it seeks to reduce demand for paid sex.  Demand is the economic engine that fuels sexual exploitation and makes sex trafficking extremely lucrative.  While there will always be some people who go out of their way to pay for sex, adding barriers will deter the majority from engaging.  According to a study that asked men (including some who admitted they had paid for sex) which initiatives would deter them from purchasing sex, 80-83% said jail time and 66-79% mentioned monetary fines.  Targeting demand is a big step forward if we are to deal with the issue of sexual exploitation on a long-term scale.

2.  Receiving a financial or material benefit from exploiting another person would be illegal. This means pimping.  Other non-exploitative arrangements would not be criminalized.  Before the Supreme Court ruling, living off the avails of prostitution was a criminal act, meaning that body guards, accountants and drivers technically could have been criminalized because they were benefitting off the prostitution of a person they were providing services for.  This would no longer be the case.  Spouses, roommates, and dependents of those in prostitution would also be exempt from a criminal offence.  However, trafficking (exploiting someone for profit), would not be legal.  While traffickers could potentially masquerade as “bodyguards” and “drivers,” the exemptions made in the bill align with the Charter and allow for those who wish to hire security services for their own protection to do so.

3.   Advertising the sexual services of another person is illegal.  This applies to both print media and the internet.  Those who advertise their own sexual services are exempt.

4.  Selling sexual services where a child could reasonably be expected to be present is illegal. This serves as the “protection of communities” portion of the bill, and such places would include schools, nurseries, churches, and malls.  A person can sell sex anywhere else, including indoors in private units for example, just not around children. Personally, I’d like to see this point clarified when the bill goes to committee.  It would be beneficial if “location where children are present” was further defined to avoid ambiguity (for example, within 500 meters from a school/daycare etc…I think most Canadians would this this is pretty reasonable). This specification would be helpful both for those who sell sex as well as law enforcement, so there is less room for confusion.

5.  The penalty for pimping, as well as for purchasing sex from a child will both be raised.

6.  The government will pledge $20 million in new funding.  This includes support for grassroots organizations dealing with the most vulnerable. Assistance will be provided to those who want to leave prostitution.  There is a push for more funding as well, but this is a good start and something we have not seen on this scale before.

The Canadian House of Commons 1024x682

Overall thoughts:

I am pleased to see that this bill puts the responsibly on the johns.  For far too long, prostitution has been an anonymous, low-risk activity for those seeking to purchase sex.  Considering that prostitution has a high degree of violence (regardless of legal context), the only way to reduce the harm on a wide, long-term scale is to reduce demand for paid sex.  If partnered with an awareness campaign that educates Canadians about the realities of prostitution, we have an opportunity to shift the way people view the purchase of sex, and will make great strides toward gender equality.

I am also pleased to see that the bill marks a paradigm shift in how we view people who sell sex.  It is no longer assumed that they are criminals, but seen as vulnerable people who need protection and services.  If police are adequately trained and the “location where children could be present” is specified further to avoid ambiguity, this law gives those selling sex the ability to reach out to police if they need help.

It’s worth pointing out here that our two options as a country right now are Bill C-36 or full decriminalization.  Do we want to make it easier or harder for people to purchase sex?  If we as a country want to take a stand against commercial sexual exploitation, Bill C-36 is worth considering. While details of the legislation can be fine tuned along the way, the foundations are good.

In my opinion, it’s likely that there will be a court challenge – because let’s be honest, no matter what legislation was presented, pro-sex work groups will settle for nothing less than full decriminalization.  However, the three things that they requested at the Supreme Court level have been granted – a person can now sell sex out of an indoor space (the bawdy house provision was struck down), they can hire security and accountants (the living off the avails provision was struck down), and they can communicate for the purposes of sex as long as it’s not in an area where children could reasonably be expected to be present.  They essentially got what they asked for.

But some want to take it further.  They want full decriminalization – including the buying of sex, even though the majority of Canadians disagree.  They want to expand the market for paid sex (it’s a lucrative business after all), while the government is trying to decrease sexual exploitation.  These are very different goals.  Considering that prostitution disproportionately affects marginalized and vulnerable groups and is rife with violence regardless of legal context, the government’s decision to reduce demand for paid sex is definitely a move in the right direction.

We applaud Minister MacKay on his courageous first step of introducing legislation that recognizes the need for addressing demand and for pledging much needed funding for frontline programs.  Let’s continue to push ahead and work together to ensure safety and dignity for women, men, and children.

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Invite Your MP to Attend Parliamentary Screening of Red Light Green Light

by Michelle Brock on March 18th, 2014

Parliament1

A Parliamentary screening of Red Light Green Light is taking place in Ottawa on April 9, and all MPs, senators & staff have already received a formal invitation to attend. This is a great opportunity for your representative to learn about sex trafficking, prostitution, and various efforts around the world to prevent sexual exploitation. If you’d like your MP to attend, please send them an email, requesting their attendance on April 9.

Below is an outline you can use, but feel free to personalize it as you wish.

If you do not know who your representative is, you can find out by inserting your postal code here.

Dear MP _______________,

My name is _____________ and I am a resident of ______________.  I am contacting you about an upcoming Parliamentary screening of Red Light Green Light, a documentary made by two Canadians about sex trafficking, prostitution, and various efforts around the world to curb sexual exploitation.   All MPs, senators and staff are welcome to attend the non-partisan screening, which is being hosted by MP Joy Smith, MP Maurice Vallacott, and Senator Mobina Jaffer.  A formal invitation has already been sent to your office.

As outlined in your invitation,  Jared and Michelle Brock, the directors of the film, will be present for Q&A discussion after the screening.  It will be a great opportunity to gain more understanding on a critical and complex issue.  As a member of your constituency who cares about this issue, I urge you to attend.

Please RSVP to the office of MP Joy Smith to confirm your spot.  The RSVP contact email is listed on the bottom of the invitation you received this week.

Please let me know if you plan to attend.  Thank you for your service to our country and to my community.

Sincerely,

(your name)

(your contact info: phone, email, mailing address)

We hope to see all your representatives there!

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Anti-trafficking Bill C-310 Blocked by NDP on Friday – Debate Scheduled for Today

by Michelle Brock on April 4th, 2012

Last week on Friday, Bill C-310, which many of you asked your MPs to support, was expected to pass through its Third Reading.  Through the first stages of the Bill, there had been unanimous support from all parties, and all parties had expressed that they would support the Bill in the Third Reading. However, this is what I received from MP Joy Smith:

Today (Friday) , Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), was expected to be adopted unanimously by the House of Commons at Third Reading and sent to the Senate. However, at the last minute, the NDP prevented debate on Bill C-310 and delayed the Bill from passing until the end of May.

“I am absolutely stunned by this,” said MP Joy Smith. “Bill C-310 will strengthen Canada’s efforts to combat human trafficking and this should not be a partisan matter. I have worked so hard to secure the support of all parties and have appreciated the support of all MPs for this Bill up until today.”

“At each stage of this Bill, I have reached out to members of other parties,” stated MP Smith. “In advance of today’s Report Stage and Third Reading, I spoke with the NDP and Liberal House Leaders to secure their support for Bill C-310 to be adopted today. They assured me that they were fully supportive of Bill C-310 being adopted today. Then, about 10 minutes before debate was to begin, I was shocked to find out that the NDP would be opposing Bill C-310.”

“What is most astounding is that the NDP have been fully supportive of Bill C-310 at Second Reading and Committee stages. They have even jointly seconded this Bill,” says MP Smith. “My heart sank when I watched as they stood, smiling and shouted ‘NO!’ when the Speaker of the House sought consent.”

As a result of today’s actions, Bill C-310 will be voted on next Wednesday, and will drop to the bottom of the Order of Precedence instead of heading to the Senate.

“I don’t have any answers as to why this happened,” said MP Smith. “I would invite Canadians to write or call NDP members for an explanation of why they would vote against such an important, bipartisan Bill and deliberately hold it up.”

“Today, modern day slavery exists in all corners of our globe and our resolve to eliminate it must only grow stronger,” said MP Smith. “In fact, only yesterday, a judge handed out the toughest penalty for human trafficking in Canadian history for an egregious case of forced labour.”

Bill C-310 amends the Criminal Code by adding the current trafficking in persons offences [s.279.01, s.279.011, s.279.02, and s.279.03] to the list of offences which, if committed outside of Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, could be prosecuted in Canada. The Bill also adds an interpretive aid for courts to provide greater clarity of the definition of exploitation in s.279.04 of the Criminal Code.

Since introducing Bill C-310, MP Joy Smith has presented petitions containing 1000’s of signatures from Canadians calling for the adoption of the legislation. Many organizations have also lent their support for this legislation, representing stakeholders such as law enforcement, victim’s services, and non-governmental organizations.

The NDP decided to act in a partisan manner with Bill C-310 and needlessly delay it OR the NDP made a grave procedural error.

Regardless of what the reason was, the NDP’s actions halted the debate and passage of an important human trafficking bill that the Conservative, Liberal, Green, and Bloc parties were prepared to debate and support.

Note: The NDP could rectify this by offering to move Bill C-310 back to the top of the Order of Precedence by trading one of their Private Members Bill spots with Bill C-310.

My husband Jay and I wrote to several NDP MPs, asking them why they blocked debate on this bill, as we wanted to understand what happened.  We have waited for several days and not received a reply.

NDP

TODAY there will be a debate on this bill in the House of Commons.  If the Member of Parliament that represents you is part of the NDP party, please contact them today and ask them to support this bill. Ask them also to grant a position change with one of their private members bills and move Bill C-310 to a sooner vote for the 3rd reading.

I don’t know what happened here.  Some anti-trafficking bills are more controversial, but this one had unanimous support.  I think the NDP made a procedural mistake.  You can read this great article about the NDP’s decision to get more info.  You can also contact MP Joy Smith’s office with any questions: 613-992-7148 or [email protected]

Update: C-310 just adopted at Report Stage with all in favour. Could have been sooner if it had not been blocked earlier, but grateful it is now to the next stage!  I will update this post once I hear more.

Michelle2

 

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Canada’s 2011 Election Results: My Thoughts

by Michelle Brock on May 4th, 2011

CDN Parliament1

Monday was an important day in Canada, as millions headed to the polls and ushered in a majority government.  I am personally non-partisan and always vote for people based on their character and their commitment to vote either with their party or against it, depending on the issue.

Manitoba’s MP Joy Smith, who is a woman of deep character and the champion of the abolitionist movement in Parliament, was re-elected. This is great news. With a majority backing her up, Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking will now be able to move forward with vigour.

However, my years of studying political science and international development at the University of Guelph have taught me that everything is interconnected.  When big business and corporate interests gain momentum and power, laws can, in a sense, contradict themselves.  For example, one of Joy Smith’s proposals is to introduce penalties for Canadian companies which knowingly import or use products made by forced labour or child labour.  Will a majority that is generally known to be pro-corporation and laissez faire support legislation that could jeopardize company profit?

My childhood in Africa and my travels throughout Southern Africa and Central America have imprinted the plight of the poor on my heart.  Why is it that women and children from impoverished countries are usually the ones who are trafficked across international borders and exploited?  The capitalistic structure of the international economic system has created a glass ceiling which has stunted the growth of many in the developing world.  Traffickers are able to use this to their advantage.

I am a huge proponent of preventative strategies, and hope that the new Canadian government will look at structures of economic injustice as they push forward MP Smith’s National Action Plan.  I know that her goal is to be as thorough and comprehensive as possible, and it is my hope that the majority will back her up as she seeks to make a difference.

And in the words of Philip Yancey, “Politics can legislate justice but not compassion.”

That’s our job.

Michelle Brock

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Toronto Island to Become Red Light District?

by Michelle Brock on March 28th, 2011

Georgio M1 300x224Some concerned HFTS readers recently sent me articles about a shocking proposal coming from Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti:  the creation of a red light district on Toronto Island.  This really should not come as a surprise, as a regulated brothel district was one of Mammoliti’s central campaign tenets in his (cut-short) run for mayor last year.

His argument?  It would provide millions of dollars in revenue for the city and provide a well-defined area where the sex trade can flourish.  Mammoliti told CBC news that such a place would increase Toronto tourism as well, and is planning to discuss it with Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford soon.

In response to these developments, I am writing a letter to both the councillor and the mayor (you can read it here).  I would encourage our readers, especially those living in Toronto, to write to them as well.  Contact information for Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is:

TorontoIsland1Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite B27
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Mayor Rob Ford’s contact information is:

Office of the Mayor
Toronto City Hall,
2nd Floor,
100 Queen St. West,
Toronto ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Here are some points you can include in your letter:

  • Though a sex island would probably increase tourism, are large groups of men seeking paid sex the kind of tourist we want more of?
  • When Amsterdam lifted its brothel ban and began a regulated prostitution industry, sex trafficking became easier and organized criminal groups moved into the area.  The City Council has since tried to back track by shutting down huge sections of the red light district and the mayor has called the lifting of the brothel ban an abysmal failure.
  • When demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Brothels, massage parlours, and escort services will likely spring up in other parts of Toronto as well.

I will give Mammoliti the benefit of the doubt that he is simply seeking tax revenues and is unaware of the implications a red light district would have on Toronto Island and the rest of the city as well.  Now it is our responsibility to tell him that the big picture looks very different, and that increasing demand for paid sex is a recipe for more sex trafficking, exploitation of women, and organized crime.  An island like the one proposed would draw crowds for the novelty of it, and it would be difficult to back track later on.

For articles on Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal, check these out:

write letter1 300x199Get more informed on the legalization debate – this will help you as you write your letters/emails. You can also download and sign this letter from EVE and send it to your member of Parliament.  Special thanks to Carly Romano for raising this to my attention and dialogging with me this weekend!

**Update: read my letter to Mayor Ford and his response here**  Read more about legalization of prostitution in Ontario here.

**Read about the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling on prostitution (spring of 2012), as well as Max Waltman’s explanation on how it was based on misrepresented evidence.

September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models that decrease sexual exploitation.  Here is how you can help!

Michelle

 

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