Archive for the ‘The Legalization Debate’ Category

Ontario’s Prostitution Ruling Misrepresented the Evidence, Contravening Case Law & the Charter, Scholar Finds

by Michelle Brock on July 5th, 2012

Court of AppealA scholarly paper concludes that Bedford v. Canada erroneously rewrote the law against “living on the avails of prostitution” on basis of misrepresented as well as faulty evidence, and contravenes prior Supreme Court cases and the Charter by making prostituted persons more vulnerable to exploitation.

To date, living “on the avails of prostitution of another person” has been illegal in Canada. That law was challenged in the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Bedford v. Canada on March 26, 2012. The court essentially found that the law prevented prostituted persons to benefit from third parties such as brothel management, escort agencies, bodyguards, or drivers — all whom were perceived as able to enhance the safety and well-being of prostituted persons. Hence, the avails provision was rewritten by the court, stating that it “applies only to those” who live on the avails “’in circumstances of exploitation.’”

Now, a recent working paper from Stockholm University penned by Max Waltman, a PhD Candidate at their Department of Political Science, concludes that the Court of Appeal for Ontario erroneously rewrote the law against “living on the avails of prostitution” on basis of misrepresented as well as faulty evidence, and as a result made prostituted persons more vulnerable to exploitation. The paper highlights how the Bedford ruling contravenes previous Supreme Court cases on prostitution, and is inconsistent with equality guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Waltman suggests a different decision based on the notion of equality under the Charter’s case law, which would effectively endorse the Swedish prostitution law in Canada that criminalizes purchasers and pimps, and decriminalizes prostituted persons. The case will now head to the Supreme Court. (If you are new to the Bedford ruling, and want to get caught up on the basics, you can read a clear description of the decision here.)

When the Court of Appeal for Ontario’s decision was handed down this spring I had some questions about their ruling, including the following:

  • How did the Court of Appeal come to its conclusion? What research influenced their decision? 
  • How did the decision align with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? 
  • Can the Ontario Court of Appeal’s rewrite of the Criminal Code regarding “circumstances of exploitation” prevent exploitation in prostitution effectively? 

On a hunt for some answers, I contacted Max Waltman to give me his thoughts on the ruling. Waltman has written about legal challenges to pornography and prostitution that effectively challenged them as practices violating equality and other human rights in democratic systems, focusing on judicial and legislative politics in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. He has previously published in the Michigan Journal of International Law (2011), Women’s Studies International Forum (2011), Political Research Quarterly (2010), and in the popular press, among others New York Times (2012) and the Toronto Star (2011). Waltman, who has family ties with Ontario through his late father who was brought up and spend half his life there, realized that the country and province which he previously admired for their commitment to social equality and solidarity had moved to a position where, if no one intervened, they will become the haven for traffickers and pimps across North America.

Though Waltman had initially agreed to an interview, the final result was a full, in-depth working paper that examines the evidence and arguments relied on by the Court of Appeal for Ontario. The paper finds that the evidence did not support their decision. In practice the rewrite makes prostituted people, a group which is already subject to intersectional and multiple disadvantages, even more exposed and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Accordingly, the paper concludes that the Bedford decisions violate previous Supreme Court case law as well as they contravene the Charter’s section 15’s substantive equality guarantee, which impels a different decision. The paper further states that by upholding the existing criminalization of purchasers and third parties where they apply, and invalidating the criminalization of prostituted people — persons whom should rather be entitled to social support if the wish to leave prostitution, and rights to damages from purchasers and pimps for having violated their equality and dignity — Canada would, consistent with the Charter, promote equality and facilitate for prostituted persons to leave prostitution, which the overwhelming majority say they want. A similar law already exists in Sweden, and has reduced prostitution many times compared to neighboring countries.

I am honoured to share this paper with you, and believe its content to be of paramount importance for Canada’s decision makers on this issue. Please download the paper below, take some time to read it thoroughly, and spread it around.

download here1

You can download the full working paper from the Social Sciences Research Network here, entitled “Ontario Disempowers Prostituted Persons: Assessing Evidence, Arguments & Substantive Equality in Bedford v. Canada.” It is a great read, and the download is FREE!


This is exactly the kind of analysis we need as the issue of prostitution moves to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Thank you, Max, for taking the time to write such a well-researched, thorough piece, to better equip us to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation in this country.






My Thoughts on Attending a Prostitution Protest

by Michelle Brock on April 20th, 2012

I have a confession to make.  I don’t really see myself as a “protester.”  I am not one who naturally chooses to hold up a sign and yell at the top of my lungs, and in fact sometimes I wonder how effective such approaches are.  But last weekend I took part in a protest at Queen’s Park in Toronto.  The goal was to demonstrate to the public that not everyone wants prostitution legalized in Canada.  Timea Nagy, who is a sex trafficking survivor, and Katarina McLeod, who worked in the escort industry for 15 years, were there as well to express why they do not support legal brothels.

My friend Kat and I attended the protest together, and took the rest of the day to unpack many thoughts.  Here are some of our reflections:


Protest at Queens Park. Photo Source: Toronto Sun

The Numbers

As you can see from the news clip, our group was not very large.  A few more joined after the footage was taken, bringing our number to around 30.  The pro-prostitution side has many vocal supporters who are keen to come show their support at various events, and some in our group were discouraged that our numbers on Saturday paled in comparison.

But the reality is that we were there on behalf of victims of trafficking and exploitation, who could not come protest because they were not allowed to.  I wonder how many of them would have showed up if they had the opportunity.  Also, there was no money in it for us to show up.  We took time out of our schedules to be a voice for those who could not represent themselves, not because we were protecting monetary interests.  In contrast, many of those who show up to support legalization are there because they are protecting their means of making money, or their “right” to pay for sex.  Self-interest is a strong incentive for people to show up.  For this reason, I was not surprised by the turnout, but hope that in the future there will be more who are willing to stand up for others.

The Chant

Following the media interviews, our group decided to walk to the edge of the road to hold up our signs for traffic to see, and chant loud enough to be heard by pedestrians.  The sign that Kat and I ended up holding said this: “Would men pay for sex if they went to JAIL for it?”  The chant went like this:

“Free the women, charge the johns!”


This is where the effectiveness of protests becomes an issue for me.  Chants and signs do not tell the whole story.  I was fully in support of yelling “free the women,” and ideologically I also support charging men who pay for sex, because their demand is what fuels the industry of sex trafficking.  I fully agree with Sweden’s approach of criminalizing the purchase of sex because it has decreased prostitution as well as human trafficking.  However, does the complexity of what we are proposing come across clearly in a two-line chant?

I believe that charging men who pay for sex is part of the solution, because it is their actions that make trafficking and pimping profitable.  But I also believe in the necessity for restorative justice.  Yes, throwing someone in jail gets them off the street so they cannot keep exploiting others.  But then what? They carry our their sentence in a place where they can meet more like-minded people, learn how to tighten up their game, and hit the streets without having experienced any remorse, or healing, or heart change.

So many of the men who feel entitled to women’s bodies were raised by fathers who did not respect women.  Like father like son.  In my mind there is absolutely no excuse for someone to hurt and exploit another, but I can see how easily it can happen when a person’s role model is setting a poor example.

IMG 96291 1024x682

Katarina McLeod and Timea Nagy leading the protest at Queens Park

The Deeper Things

Yes, we need to prevent legalization of brothels.  Yes, we need to criminalize the buying of sex.  But we also need to really examine what justice means.  We need to set up a system in which men can receive healing from the hurt and abuse of their past.  We need to teach young boys about how to respect and cherish women instead of using their cash to rent body parts.  We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage so that women who would otherwise be vulnerable can at least have a shot at something that does not put them in danger.  We need to do much more than “charge the johns.”  Despite this not fitting on a sign, my hope is that our chant, our signs, and our presence will get people to ask questions, because lives are on the line.

The Community

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Michelle & Kat - Fighting human trafficking together!

The anti-trafficking community in Canada really is amazing. It was an honour to spend Saturday fighting alongside people I love and respect so much.  I also got to meet some HFTS blog readers, which is one of my favourite things in the world!

Reflecting on the day’s events with my friend Kat was so good for me, because it reminded me that though writing a blog is important, maintaining face-to-face relationships and connections is vital.  If we want to be effective in ending human trafficking and the abuse of women, we must know each other and fight together.  For those of you who came out last weekend, thank you!






The Legalization of Prostitution in Ontario Brothels – And What You Can Do About It

by Michelle Brock on March 27th, 2012

osgoode 300x225Yesterday was a big day in Ontario regarding prostitution laws.  The Ontario Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court, legalized brothels based on the argument that “Ontario’s current anti-prostitution laws place unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves.”

If you are new to this issue or want to understand today’s ruling in simple terms, here is a summary of what has happened to date.

Pre-September of 2010:

According to the law, prostitution itself was legal but everything surrounding it was illegal.  For example, it was illegal to:

1. Communicate for the purposes of prostitution  - ie. soliciting on the street

2. Live off the avails of prostitution – ie. pimps living off the money they receive from exploiting women and children, or someone in the trade paying for their child’s education with money from prostitution

3. Keep a bawdy house - ie. operating or working out of a brothel, which could include residences used by groups of women

Leading up to September 28th, 2010:

Dominatrix Terry-Jean Bedford and ex-prostitute Valerie Scott (along with Amy Lebovitch and their lawyer Alan Young), launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws. In simple terms, they wanted prostitution and everything surrounding the actual act to be decriminalized.

September 28, 2010:

The Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of their proposal by striking down the three anti-prostitution laws.  This meant it was no longer illegal to keep a bawdy house (brothel), communicate for the purposes of prostitution, or live off the avails of selling sex.  The federal government appealed the Ontario Superior Court’s decision, in effect reversing it until it was looked at again by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

March 26, 2012, Ontario Court of Appeal:

Five judges found that banning bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution were unconstitutional, but agreed with the Crown that the open solicitation of prostitution should be illegal. What exactly does this mean?  It means that those in the sex trade can legally run or work out of brothels in Ontario, as well as hire drivers, bodyguards and support staff.  From a legal standpoint, it makes prostitution just like any other taxable profession.  Bodyguards and staff can legally be hired as early as April, but the brothel ban is still in effect for up to a year, giving the Crown the chance to appeal.   This would mean that the case will go before the Supreme Court of Canada.  Whatever they decide will be the ultimate decision and will affect the entire country, not just Ontario.

Prostitution Ruling Kevin Van Paassen

Dominatrix Terry-Jean Bedford stands to celebrate the Court's decision Monday. Photo source: Kevin Van Paassen, Globe and Mail

There is no question that Canada’s prostitution laws have not made sense or protected women.  The fact that prostitution itself has been legal while everything surrounding it has been illegal makes for poor lawmaking.  New prostitution laws are absolutely necessary, but that is where my agreement with the pro-sex work group ends.  They want the laws changed so that the entire industry is decriminalized, making the sex trade a fully legal.  But there are many, myself included, who want the laws changed so that women can be empowered to leave the trade, as the majority of those in the sex trade desperately want out but have no exit strategy.

Terry-Jean Bedford and her group assume that they are the only ones who will be affected by the Court’s ruling.  They assume that most working in the sex trade have chosen to enter it willingly and that this will empower them to work like any other tax-paying citizen.  But here are some of my concerns:

It is not the law that makes prostitution dangerous.  Prostitution is inherently dangerous. Even when it is legal or “high end,” women are encouraged to have panic buttons and learn skills that get them out of life-threatening situations.  Is this the type of industry we want to promote as a career choice for young girls?  Terry-Jean Beford herself entered the trade as a teenager, manipulated by an abusive boyfriend.  There are definitely some who make a decision as adults to prostitute themselves, but it is incredibly naive to think that most enter in this way.

Global studies have demonstrated that whether prostitution takes place indoors or outdoors, many women experience post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being in the trade.

The ruling allows those in the trade to hire bodyguards, drivers, and support staff.  For the small minority who is able to call the shots, this could arguably make them safer.  However this provision does absolutely nothing to protect the unfortunate majority which includes trafficking victims and those who are manipulated and controlled by pimps.  Though the Court clarified that no one can live off the avails of “exploitation,” now pimps and traffickers can pose as drivers and bodyguards, giving them a legal loophole to continue exploiting women and children.

Those who are pro-prostitution often us the case of Robert Pickton, a BC man who savagely murdered dozens of prostituted women, as an example of why legal brothels would make women safer.  But Angel Wolfe, the daughter of one of the women killed by Pickton, points out that legal brothels would make it more difficult for police to get warrants for sweeps that uncover victims of trafficking and abuse.  Now it is easier to hide trafficking victims.

When you legalize any component of the prostitution industry, you increase demand for paid sex.  This gives the green light for traffickers to increase supply to help meet that demand.  If a “legal” woman refuses a john because he seems unsafe or because she does not like him, where is he going to take his fantasies instead?  Trafficking victims are the ones who will end up with the most abusive and violent men, as their so-called “bodyguards” now have the competitive advantage of their girls being willing to “do anything.”

What bothers me is that I have never heard people like Terry-Jean Bedford or those who are pro-prostitution mention victims of trafficking or exploitation, except in an attempt to sweep them under the rug and disconnect them from the argument altogether.  Are we so blinded as a society that we think we can disconnect prostitution from trafficking and exploitation?  This certainly did not work in Amsterdam or Las Vegas, where trafficking networks run with seamless efficiency due to high demand for paid sex.

Window of Opportunity:

The Crown will doubtless apply for a stay from the Supreme Court, meaning that this decision would be decided in the highest court of Canada.  That will be the final decision for prostitution law in our country. One article states:

The landmark decision is binding on Ontario courts and sets up a final showdown at the Supreme Court of Canada next fall or in early 2013.

This means that right now we have a window of opportunity to push our government to change prostitution laws.  The Court’s responsibility is to make sure that laws are not unconstitutional, but the Crown’s responsibility is to actually create laws that are good for society.  This means that we must do everything we can to encourage our Members of Parliament to push our country in the opposite direction – away from a fully legal sex industry that promotes exploitation – and towards laws that protect women and decrease demand for paid sex.

We should be looking at the example of Sweden.  In contrast to legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, Sweden’s approach has significantly cut down human trafficking levels. It has criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it. This has decreased demand for paid sex, reducing monetary incentives for traffickers to set up shop. Because its success has encouraged other countries to adopt it, this approach is now known as the “Nordic Model.” This is the direction we should be headed.  You can read more about the Nordic Model here.

What You Can Do Now:

As my friend John MacMillan has aptly pointed out, Courts are not swayed by public opinion – in fact when the Charter is involved, the role of a court is often to protect the rights of a minority from public opinion.  Petitioning the government is our best course of action right now.  If you want Canada to head in the direction of the Nordic model that prevents exploitation instead of supporting a fully decriminalized prostitution industry, here are three steps you can take:

petitionONE.  Print this petition, fill it with signatures, and send it to your Member of Parliament at the House of Commons >> Petition Swedish Model.  Don’t know who your representative is?  Find out here.

TWO.  Contact your Member of Parliament and let them know how you feel about this issue.  They need to know that Canadians care and that this is priority.  Don’t know what to say?  Here is an outline. Personalize it and send it to your MP.

THREE.  Hope for the Sold is currently raising funds to make a documentary about legalization of prostitution and its connection to sex trafficking. We believe that film is a powerful way to help sway opinion and change minds, and our hope is that this film will have an impact that will help governments around the world take an approach that prevents trafficking and exploitation as opposed to legalizing an industry that us full of violence and abuse.  Due to the generosity of blog readers, small businesses, friends, and family, we have raised $23,000 to date.  We have $57,000 more to raise.  As soon as we have $80,000 we will hit the road.  Clearly this is an urgent matter, so please consider supporting this project!  All donations are eligible for tax receipts.  Watch our pitch video and support the film here.

4.  Please stay tuned.  This week I will give you further instructions from the Crown on how to proceed. We MUST be a united front on this issue, and currently there is a plan being formed. Please check back this week to find out how you can be part of this movement.  As my friend Tara Teng says: This is NOT the time to stand by and do nothing.  We have a window opportunity. Let’s use it.

I leave you with this question: do we care more about the rights of women who want to sell their bodies, or the rights of the exploited who desperately don’t want to?  Let’s see the Court’s decision not as a tragedy but an opportunity – as it forces our government to decide where they really stand on this issue.

**Max Waltman at the University of Stockholm found in a recent working paper that the Court of Appeal’s decision misrepresents evidence and contravenes the Charter.  Read about Max Waltman’s response here.

**September 2012 update: We are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models that decrease sexual exploitation. If you want to help us reach our funding goal for this, get more information here.  All donations will receive tax receipts.






Dear Rob Ford – My Letter to the Mayor of Toronto

by Michelle Brock on April 11th, 2011

rsz canadapost1Last week I wrote a post about Toronto councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal to create a red light district on Toronto Island. You can read it here. As promised, here is my letter to the Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, regarding Mammoliti’s proposal.

*Update: Mayor Ford’s response below!*

Dear Mayor Rob Ford,

My name is Michelle Brock and I am a documentary film maker and writer at, a blog about sex trafficking. I am also an Ontario resident. I recently had several concerned readers contact me in regard to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal of having a red light district on Toronto Island. From what I understand, Mammoliti is currently preparing a report on the matter, which he plans to bring to your attention sometime this spring.

Though regulating brothels would provide the city with some tax revenue, I would like to present you with the negative consequences of a regulated, legal prostitution industry. The proposed location adds its own set of repercussions.

Amsterdam is often heralded as an example of how a government can regulate the prostitution industry. Though the Amsterdam government had thought legalization and regulation would make organized crime easier to control and women safer within the industry, the opposite has proven true.

In 2003, a mere 3 years after the brothel ban was lifted, the City Council realized their actions had invited Nigerian and Estonian criminal groups into the area. Because legalization increased demand for paid sex and men from all over the world flocked to the region, human traffickers saw an opportunity to fill the supply side. Trafficking comes in threes – people, drugs, and guns – and the mayor of Amsterdam has called their decision to legalize an abysmal failure. The city is now back tracking by shutting down big sections of the red light district.

Project SECLUSION in Canada has found human trafficking suspects to be linked to other organized criminal activites such as conspiracy to commit murder, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, and organized prostitution, in Canada or abroad. We do not want more of these people flocking to Toronto.

Once demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Illegal brothels, massage parlours, and strip clubs would spring up in other parts of Toronto as well. Following legalization in Victoria, Australia, illegal establishments quickly outnumbered legal ones at a rate of three and four to one. Escort services out of private residences and hotels are becoming the new mode of prostitution, which is almost impossible to regulate.

I understand that if Justice Himel’s ruling to strike down prostitution laws stands up to the appeal, you will be in the difficult position of having to make decisions about regulating such an industry in Toronto. To avoid this position, I would encourage you to speak up against the legalization movement. If the ruling does stand up however, I strongly advise you, on behalf of the anti-trafficking community, not to accept Mammoliti’s proposal of creating a red light district on Toronto Island. Though legalized prostitution would itself increase demand for paid sex, a sex island would increase it even more dramatically due to its novelty. Because demand for paid sex is an opportunity for human traffickers and pimps to provide supply, a red light district to increase tax revenue is not a wise move.

In contrast to legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, Sweden’s approach has significantly cut down human trafficking levels. It has criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it. Women are offered exit programs. This has decreased demand for paid sex, reducing monetary incentives for traffickers to set up shop. Because its success has encouraged other countries to adopt it, this approach is now known as the “Nordic Model.” This is the direction we should be headed.

The costs outweigh the benefits when a regulated red light district becomes a tourist attraction. Tax revenue is not worth it in the long run when organized crime sees an opportunity to make money too.

I hope this gives you some points to think about regarding Mammoliti’s proposal. Thank you for your service and dedication to Toronto. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want more information!

Michelle Brock

***UPDATE: Response from Mayor Rob Ford***

Dear Michelle,  

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about a Toronto Island red light district.

Councillor Mammoliti has said publicly he believes that if there were to be a “red light district” established in the City of Toronto, it should be on Toronto Island. This is an issue the Councillor has brought up in the past, and the idea is his own. I personally do not support the idea of brothels or a red light district being built on Toronto Island.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your comments and concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time.

Yours truly,  Mayor Rob Ford, City of Toronto

This is GREAT news!  Thank you Mayor Ford for responding so quickly.  We are delighted to hear that you do not support Mammoliti’s proposal.

To HFTS readers, you can still write a letter to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to inform him of the dark side of a ‘regulated’ red light district on Toronto Island.  His contact information can be found here.

Michelle Brock


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!




Should Canada Legalize Prostitution? Panel Discussion with Gunilla Ekberg, Lee Lakeman & Trisha Baptie

by Michelle Brock on March 14th, 2011

swedish law 225x300If you have watched our film on sex trafficking in Canada, you will recognize the “Swedish model” as a strategy that has worked to curb sex trafficking and the exploitation of women in Sweden.  In 1999 Swedish government criminalized the purchase of sexual services and decriminalized those selling it, ensuring that men would be held responsible for prostitution and that women would have access to exit programs.  Due to its success, the law has been adopted in other Nordic countries.

Gunilla Ekberg, who played a key role in creating the Swedish model, is one of my favourite researchers and a well sought-after human rights consultant.  You can imagine my delight upon discovering that she was headed to BC!

womens day 266x300On International Women’s Day last week, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion in Victoria entitled “Prostitution and Women’s Equality: Imagining More for Women,” organized by EVE (Formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) and REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity).  The panel consisted of Gunilla Ekberg, EVE’s Trisha Baptie, and and Lee Lakeman from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.  Prostitution law was the topic at hand, which is quite timely in light of the Bedford case and the push for legalization of prostitution in Canada.


  • Trisha Baptie, who worked in the sex trade (both indoor and outdoor) for 15 years, kicked off the discussion by sharing that prostitution is violence against women that is “born out of sexism, classism, racism, poverty, and other forms of systemic oppression.”
  • crisis phone1 300x225Lee Lakeman spoke about her experience answering crisis calls at sexual assault centres, explaining how social service cuts in the BC area led to more calls from prostituted women.
  • The descriptions given by trafficking victims and “local prostituted women” were always similar.  This trend pushed rape crisis centres to take an official position on the prostitution issue.
  • Due to the physical harm on the body and how paid sex contributes to the dehumanization of women, they believe that prostitution is violence against women and should not be legalized. Lakeman suggested that as a country we must look at how poverty and racism play into prostitution, and to not lord our wealth over other countries but forgive debts and build foreign aid to protect the vulnerable around the world.

Gunilla Ekberg, who participated in the negotiations at the UN Palermo Protocol and has directed several national and multilateral projects to combat human trafficking in the EU, had the following to say:

  • Many pro-prostitution groups use Germany and the Netherlands as examples of where Canada should head regarding prostitution law.  Both countries have decriminalized prostitution, making it legal to buy sex.  Instead of proving that this approach works, these two countries are actually a case in point of how legalization fails to protect women, decrease trafficking, or curtail organized crime.
  • amsterdamOn October 1, 2000, the Dutch Parliament decided to remove the provision in the criminal code that criminalized the brothel.  This came after 20 years of debate on how one would control organized prostitution.  The lifting of the brothel ban created a new economic sector, allowing anyone to establish a brothel, escort service, or massage parlour by simply applying for a license from the municipality.  The municipality cannot refuse such requests, and in fact many brothels are even found in farm houses.
  • Contrary to popular belief, almost all those in brothels are independent contractors. They can easily receive a license, most regions simply requiring show of ID and a payment.  As independent contractors, their well-being is not guaranteed by the brothel owners. Many brothel owners have said in interviews that what happens behind the door is not their responsibility as long as it does not interfere with the commerce of the brothel.
  • Though some rooms have a panic button, women struggle getting to it when they are in danger with a violent man.  Some in Canada argue that indoor prostitution is safer that street prostitution. But it is not the place that harms you – it is those who are paying for your body that cause harm.
  • When you have a legal sector, police back off, and traffickers are drawn to the area. In 2003 and 2004, Amsterdam City Council realized that they had invited Estonian and Nigerian ‘mafia’ into the area, who can easily get girls into the country with ‘tourist’ visas.
  • CORPORATE SPEECH 300x235In an effort to have more control, the government said that girls need to meet with a social worker before getting a license.  A Turkish pimp who owned 100 brothels in the Netherlands sued the government for this mandate, on the basis that such an initiative would hinder his profits under corporate law. When you legalize prostitution, you enable organized criminal groups to establish corporations with rights to sue the government over lost profit. Is this what we want in Canada?
  • Germany lifted their brothel ban in 2001.  To improve conditions for those in prostitution, they offered special social insurance benefits to those who wanted it.  The first evaluation of the law found that most of the women in the legal sector were from other countries. The second evaluation showed that the conditions of those in prostitution had not changed, and in 5 years only a handful of women (about 5) had taken advantage of the special social insurance benefits. In addition to this, the new law did not help women exit prostitution.  The law had failed to do what they had hoped.
  • Therefore the German government finds itself in the same situation as the Netherlands. Traffickers have organized large brothel conglomerates with the rights of corporations, and both countries are trying to backtrack.  Is this what we want for Canada?

This can be contrasted to the approach Sweden took in 1998.  From 1994 to 1998, the percentage of women in Parliament rose from 27% to 47%.  The law they created, which criminalized the purchaser of sex, addressed the narcissistic sexual behaviour of men.  How has this worked?

swedish model end demand1

  • When the law came into effect, police in Demark noticed that traffickers were setting up shop there instead.  This demonstrates that traffickers try to avoid places with hostile laws regarding prostitution.
  • Pimps, traffickers, and johns are convicted together in one trial, so that the victim only has to testify once.  This ensures efficiency in the system and protects the victim from even more emotional trauma.
  • One woman from Russia was trafficked and sold around apartments in Stockholm.  She was forced to service over 500 men in 3 weeks, and said afterward that if it had not been for the law, she would have been dead.  The law made them stop the abuse and helped her to realize she had value.
  • Violators of the law are dealt with swiftly, whether they are well-known or not.  Two famous football players, a police chief, a lawyer, two politicians, a CEO of International Securitus, and a Supreme Court judge, are among those who have been convicted recently.
  • Twelve years after this law came into effect, a special government inquiry, led by the chancellor of justice (highest legal position in Sweden) was conducted.  It found that the number of people in street prostitution had halved since 1998.  In comparison to neighbouring Denmark (which does not have such a law), Sweden’s market for paid sex had plummeted.
  • When asked about deterrence, the majority of men responded that legislation or public shame would deter them from paying for sex. This shows that the law can help change behaviour of some.

canada can do better2Instead of backtracking, like Germany and the Netherlands, Sweden is taking these laws further.  A new bill is coming into effect on July 1, extending prison terms for men who are convicted under the law.

Ekberg was hoping that the bill would also enable the courts to convict Swedish men who pay for sex in other countries with a similar prostitution law, but that portion did not pass.  “Next battle!” she says.

The event ended off with some discussion and questions, including a statement from one person arguing that women should have the right to prostitute themselves, and that prostitution and trafficking were not the same thing.  To this, Lee Lakeman replied: “The brilliance of patriarchy is disintegration of issues,” and Trisha Baptie questioned:  “Why are we standing for our individual right to prostitute instead of standing with our sisters?”

maple leafThank you Gunilla, Trisha, and Lee for sharing your experience and expertise with us, and for showing us that Canada can do better for prostituted women.

For more reading, check out Max Waltman’s article:  “Prohibiting Purchase of Sex in Sweden: Impact, Obstacles, Potential, and Supporting Escape”, and a Solutions Journal article entitled “The Swedish Approach: A European Union Country Fights Sex Trafficking”.

You can also get more information about the legalization debate at the EVE and REED websites.

What do you think about the Swedish model? About legalization?  If you attended the event, either in Victoria or Vancouver, I would also love to hear your thoughts below.

**September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models around the world that work to decrease sexual exploitation and demand for paid sex.  We need your help to reach our funding goal for this project!  Find out more here.  All donations receive tax receipts.

Michelle Brock


Prostitution Law for Dummies: Ontario’s Recent Court Ruling in 9 Simple Points

by Michelle Brock on October 5th, 2010


The last seven days have been kind of a big deal in Ontario when it comes to human trafficking and prostitution.  If you have somehow missed it in the news or are unclear as to what actually happened last week, here is a list of the basics you must know.

  • Two sex trade workers, Terry-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott (along with Amy Lebovitch and their lawyer Alan Young), launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.  In simple terms, they want prostitution and everything surrounding the actual act to be decriminalized. This would make prostitution legal, allowing sex workers to operate freely. (To be more precise, the process of prostitution would be allowed.  Check out what John posted in the comments section to understand this more).
  • Last week on September 28th the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of their proposal.  As a result, now in Ontario it is no longer illegal to keep a bawdy house (brothel), communicate for the purposes of prostitution, or live off the avails of the sex trade.
  • Bedford said that is was like emancipation day for sex workers, because now they can work from the safety of their homes instead of facing the dangers of the street.  Valerie Scott said that now sex workers can “pick up the phone and call the police to report a bad client.”
  • Not everyone is celebrating.  Many claim that prostitution and sex trafficking are linked. MP Joy Smith, who works with victims of trafficking, had girls call her in tears when they found out about the Ontario court ruling.
  • Police point out that in some cases trafficking victims are unwilling to cooperate with police because they fear their traffickers.  In such cases, police have been able to charge the trafficker with living off the avails of prostitution.  Now they can no longer do this.  This means that pimps cannot be charged for living off the money that their girls bring them through forced prostitution.
  • Some argue that prostitution is a chosen profession, just like any other.  However several studies show that most ‘sex workers’ chose their ‘profession’  because of dire circumstances that were not based on real choice at all.  Many are too drug-addicted and manipulated by pimps to make their own decisions.  Benjamin Perrin points out in his CBC radio interview and Globe and Mail article that though Bedford is a confident woman in her 50s today, her affidavit tells the story of a childhood filled with physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.  At 16 years old while she was under provincial child protection, she met “an abusive 37-year old drug dealer and drug addict” and was sold for sex to fund their drug addictions.
  • Anti-trafficking groups want Canada to adopt the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution, which criminalizes the men who buy sex and offers the sellers of it with help to leave the industry.
  • Justice Susan Himel, who made the court decision, stated that the information about sex trafficking brought to her attention was “incidental and not directly relevant to her decision.”  In other words, she does not believe there to be a link at all between prostitution and sex trafficking.
  • The federal government is going to appeal the court ruling in an attempt to reverse the decision made by Himel.

The debate about prostitution and human trafficking in Canada is going to be quite a hot one for a while.  Here are a couple of resources that can help you gain an understanding about the ruling and the prostitution debate.

I promise to keep you up to date with how this develops.  What do you think about the Ontario court ruling?  Feel free to post a comment to kick off the conversation!

Michelle Brock


The Booming Escort Service Industry: Another Reason Why Legalization of Prostitution is a Bad Idea

by Michelle Brock on July 13th, 2010

escort adAccording to an article by Sheila Jeffreys,

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the prostitution industry is changing. In the Western world, brothels are being replaced by escort services which use the internet and cell phone to connect women with buyers. This has huge implications for policy-makers who are trying to curb trafficking. Why? Because traditional strategies are no longer valid.

Some policy-makers promote the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, arguing that it makes sex workers safer and combats organized crime. But Jeffreys says that “these assumptions are based upon the idea that prostitution will take place in brothels which can institute health and safety codes, and enable easy identification of the illegal brothel industry which can be closed down.” The escort sector, which operates through cell phones and delivers women to private houses, hotel rooms, and cars by the roadside, is beyond regulation.

In Queensland, Australia, where prostitution was legalized, 75% of prostitution is composed of outcall or escort services. The Queensland PLA annual reports state clearly that legalization has failed to discourage illegal prostitution, mainly because of the development of the escort sector. In both Queensland and the Netherlands, the illegal sector is larger than the legal sector.

Escort prostitution used to be seen as fancy, even classy. But it has grown to include a broad bottom layer that consists of mostly foreign women and girls who are extremely vulnerable. The so called “safety advantages” of legalization only benefit a small minority of women; it can only apply to brothel prostitution since there is no way of monitoring or preventing risks in the escort and street prostitution sectors.

Therefore, legalization of prostitution is an out-of-date strategy, and policy-makers should focus on other solutions if they are serious about reducing sex trafficking.

To read Sheila Jeffrey’s full article, “Brothels Without Walls: the Escort Sector as a Problem for the Legalization of Prostitution,” it is available for purchase here (students can gain access through their college/university online journal archives).

Michelle Brock