Today, the Supreme Court ruled on Canada’s prostitution laws. Until now in Canada, prostitution itself has been legal but everything around it has been illegal. For example, it has been against the law to communicate for the purposes of prostitution, to operate within a brothel, or for a third party to make money off of someone who is prostituting.
A group of sex workers challenged these laws, saying that it made the industry dangerous for those selling sex. Today the Supreme Court ruled in their favour, striking down these three provisions. In essence, this means that by this time next year, brothels could be legal across the country. Not only that, but a third party will be able to live off the avails of prostitution, and soliciting will no longer be banned.
I have to say that the Supreme Court was in a tricky position on this one. Ultimately, their role was to clean up a messy law, and their decision did not come as a surprise. No one thought the existing prostitution laws made sense, but where we go from here is a roaring debate. Let’s start with the effects of this ruling on the industry as a whole.
The Bad News?
Demand for paid sex will increase as a result of today’s decision, expanding the entire industry. And based on the examples of other countries that have chosen to decriminalize and regulate prostitution, sex trafficking will increase. In a context where the buying and selling of sex are both legal, there are never enough people willing to work in the industry to meet the demand, and traffickers are more than willing to step in to fill the supply side. In legal contexts where living off the avails is permitted, pimps can disguise themselves as bodyguards and managers to avoid getting prosecuted. Many Canadian police officers have said that striking down these laws would strip them of tools they often use to convict criminals who are exploiting others.
Though the Supreme Court has made its decision, they have given Parliament a one year window to amend the law if they wish to do so. This means that we have 12 months to rewrite the laws on prostitution altogether, as long as they do not violate the Charter.
Canada now has an opportunity to adopt an approach that has been very successful in Sweden.
If there is enough pressure from Canadian citizens, we could – as a country – usher in a preventative approach that criminalizes the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it.
This law acknowledges that most people who sell sex do so out of a place of vulnerability and inequality, and therefore should not be treated as criminals. Instead, it places the responsibility on the buyers, who are fueling the industry in the first place. The model, which is being adopted in several other countries, decreases sex trafficking and makes commercial sexual exploitation difficult and unprofitable for traffickers. When coupled with exit programs for those who want to leave prostitution, it is an effective way to target the market and protect the most vulnerable.
You can read MP Joy Smith’s press release to learn more about the Nordic Model. Here is an excerpt:
“Legalizing prostitution is a direct attack on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, girls and vulnerable people. In the same regard, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality.
Let’s be clear: those who advocate either approach ignore mounting empirical evidence and will find themselves on the wrong side of history and women’s equality.
As a nation, we must ensure pimps remain severely sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized and instead given meaningful escape routes out of sex work. Most importantly, Canada must focus on the real root of prostitution by targeting the buyers of sex.”
What You Can Do Now:
1. Fill a Petition. When new legislation is introduced in the House, petition signatures make a significant impact. If you want a preventative law that reduces demand for paid sex to be adopted in Canada, please download this petition, get as many signatures as you can, and send it in to the address at the bottom of the sheet. We have collected thousands of signatures already and need more. We need broad-based democracy!
2. Write a Letter. Now is the time to contact your Member of Parliament, Justice Minister Peter MacKay (who made this statement in response to the court’s ruling), and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. You can get a sample letter here, (adapted from Defend Dignity), and let your representative know that you want Canada to adopt the Nordic Model.
Letters can be addressed to:
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
313-S Centre Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
The Hon. Peter MacKay, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice
Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Name of Your MP
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
3. Book a Film Screening. This spring, we are taking our documentary Red Light Green Light on tour across Canada. It specifically looks at the issue of various prostitution models, and what approaches best prevent sex trafficking. Check out our tour schedule and sign up to host an event.
We’re excited to partner with you to prevent commercial sexual exploitation in our country.