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Opinion Jun 21, 2019 12:09 PM EST

Legalizing prostitution in Canada? Sex workers say yes, but studies say no

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, let’s do better for those affected by this form of modern slavery.

Legalizing prostitution in Canada? Sex workers say yes, but studies say no
Alex Singh Dhaliwal Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

The horrors of human trafficking have been amplified after the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs voted in favour of Bill C-75 and C-452. Except for the consecutive sentencing amendment for C-452, each of its clauses was voted on.

Passing by the slimmest of margins with 6-5-1 votes — one Senator which abstained from the group of 12, and four Conservatives and one Independent who were against — both Bills exacerbate the fundamental issue it seeks to correct: protecting our most vulnerable from an exploitative, immoral practice.

Rather than protecting our most vulnerable populations, the likelihood they become victimized by human trafficking increases, as does their reluctance to come forward and press charges.

In the adoption of a less punitive approach, the number of victims will continue to increase. With over 50% of human trafficking offences in the past decade happening since 2017 — a year following the Liberal’s scrapping of the Conservative’s National Action Plan — this is an issue that requires immediate addressing by our elected representatives.

At this point in time, I sound like a broken record, but, the longer this garners little to no attention on Parliament Hill, the more I will continue to espouse this simple fact. And that is this: Indigenous women of lower socio-economic standing form many of its victims — as a matter of fact, they are 50% of Canada’s human trafficking victims. The bulk of who enter the sex work industry, but not by choice.

The inexplicable horrors encompassing of that will not mellow over time. And, hopefully, it doesn’t.

However, the ongoing debate on whether genocide was committed upon the First People’s of Canada comes centrefold when the menace of human trafficking is added to the mix. Whether the crimes are tantamount to genocide remains to be seen by some, however, further inaction to curb the former renders the Liberals’ efforts at Reconciliation asinine. Their apologies have become void of genuine compassion, especially when the buck stops there.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, let’s do better for those affected by this form of modern slavery. Take the MP for Peace River—Westlock, for example.

CPC MP, Arnold Viersen, has been at the forefront of the human trafficking debate, attending many APPG hearings as an advocate since becoming its co-chair in 2018.

“Regrettably, law enforcement and prosecutors have waited six years” for additional resources in tackling human trafficking offences. Unfortunately, the scrapping of NAP burdens the system, exacerbating long standing issues from the latter, including implicit biases and limited front line resources.

“Human trafficking is probably happening within 10 blocks of where you live,” he states. “The vast majority of human [trafficking] victims are female and young. While those most at risk are Indigenous women and youth, teenage runaways, and children who are in protection, we know that anyone can become a victim of human trafficking.”

The Irony of Bill C-452’s stance — women are more reluctant to report a crime

With the consecutive sentences provision of Bill C-452 rejected, victims will be more reluctant to come forward and report a crime, which – given the rise of human trafficking-related offences – paints a worrisome picture, especially for younger, Indigenous women.

In the Canadian Context, the correlation between the trafficking of Indigenous Women and youth and childhood abuse is evident.

While those selling and promoting their own sexual services would be protected from any criminal charges, those who purchase would be sentenced to five and ten-years in prison.

Fast forward nearly six years later, and the Senate Committe on Legal and Constitutional Affairs   voted against the consecutive human trafficking sentence provisions of Bill C-452.

However, the link between the legalization of prostitution and increased levels of human trafficking paint a frightful picture that stands against C-36 proposes: to defend and ensure the dignity of all beings.

Unfortunately, the trap of modern-day feminism attempts to enlarge the umbrella of what is acceptable forms of sexual liberation — but, from a conservative perspective, sex work demoralizes women (and all others) through their rampant objectification.

Given that a positive correlation lies between the legalization of prostitution and the demand for sex trafficking, placating to the sex work industry over stopping the scourge of human trafficking is morally reprehensible.

Though that has not been the stance of the Liberal Party of Canada, their 2015 campaign promise on liberalizing the stance on sex work in Canada — though, that could have just been an election ploy used by the Liberals to bash their predecessor.

As we will come to see, both activities — one illegal, the other morally ambiguous — has impacted our nation’s most vulnerable in ways that have caused irreparable damage.

The truth is, the rising issue of human trafficking with the Canadian context is multi-layered, bound together by a plethora of factors, which include but are not limited to:

Victims of extreme poverty, homelessness and those who have suffered domestic and/or sexual violence, all of which are high-risk factors associated with human trafficking.

For many, the Missing and Murder Indigenous Women Inquiry and the debate – on whether a genocide was committed or not – should reflect a stance backed by empirical evidence instead of ideological leanings.

Though concerns remain over the model’s stigmatization of sex work, driving it underground no less, what Bill C-36 has achieved proves problematic, but remains the easier pill to swallow, given the alternative.

Legislative Precedent for Sex Worker Protections – Canada v. Bedford and Bill C-36

Drawing parallels to the 2013 case of Canada v. Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three laws, which criminalized sex work and violated the s.7 right to security of the person. The SCC ruled against them, for their punitive approach to prostitution that punished both those who exploited sex workers and those who engaged in the profession.

Effectively, sex workers were denied the right to a safe haven under subsection 210 (keeping or being found in a common bawdy house); to live off their income under subsection 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution); and, to screen clientele and setting terms of engagement under subsection 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution).

However, the bravery of three Ontario sex workers – Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott – demonstrated the need for legislation, more effective in its handling of crimes complicit with the exploitation of sex workers.

In particular, subsection 212(1)(j) blurred the lines between those who exploited (i.e., pimps and madams) and engaged in harm-reduction for sex workers (i.e., bodyguards, managers), reflecting the need for attitudes and subsequent legislation that exercises a measure of compassion for those who engage in the line of work.

With the SCC ruling on Canada v. Bedford a one-year grace period was given – or, declaration of invalidity – for the federal government to design and implement prostitution laws that complied with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or risk having sex work decriminalized and unregulated federally.

“The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risk.” (para 60)

On December 6th, 2014, the Conservative Party of Canada put Bill C-36 into force, as part of their commitment to the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. As stated, its intent was threefold:

  1. Protect those who sell their own sexual services;
  2. Protect communities, and especially children, from the harms caused by prostitution;
  3. And reduce the demand for prostitution and its incidence.

While aspects of the bill were less problematic than others, it still held true to the conservative stance on prostitution – that it remain illegal, with the intent of reducing its demand.

However, according to a Maclean’s article by Justin Ling,  While the selling of one’s services was not illegal, nor the communication of such by the worker, those found engaging in the service with a worker would be criminalized as posterchilds of a frowned-upon industry.

Under s.210 (keeping or being found in a common bawdy house), sex workers were not allowed to work at a fixed location or safe haven denoted as a “Grandma’s House.” The punitive approach to tackling sex crimes harmed sex workers further, when “safe havens” were not legally enshrined.

The continued implementation of a punitive approach to prostitution, regarding sex workers and their ability to carry out an otherwise ‘legal’ – though morally ambigious – line of work.

Legalizing prostitution facilitates the “prostitution of poverty,” with human trafficking on the rise

According to the Nordic Model, Sweden adopted the practice of making it criminal to purchase sexual services, but legal to receive funds for sexual services. First adopted in 1999, Swedish Officials saw prostitution and trafficking decline dramatically, with prostitution successfully halved.

At the time the article was written in 2015, a reported 105 to 130 woman in Stockholm remained active in prostitution, whereas the more liberal models in Netherlands and Germany saw the demand for prostitution rise by 30% for the latter, since its legalization in 2002.

“Full legalization — the approach pioneered by the Netherlands and adopted by Germany in 2002 — has failed to curb the abuses associated with prohibition. Trafficking has increased, organized crime has grown more powerful, and conditions for women in the sex industry have worsened.”

Netting an astounding $15 billion Euros in transactions per annum as a “trade”, a 2018 speech by Dr. Ingeborg Kraus at the Italian Parliament found that “by [the German state] normalizing prostitution and by guaranteeing a total decriminalisation of the sex buyers, that has contributed to an enormous increase in demand” for a practice that — in the poorer Eastern bloc nations of Bulgaria and Romania — relies on other (impoverished) countries to supply 95% of its prostituted women.

She denotes this as the “prostitution of poverty.”

“The German state permits the exploitation of these women and supports them being crushed by the sex-industry, yet doesn’t even include them in a social welfare system,” she says. With approximately 30% of prostitutes in Germany aged-21 and younger — some as young as 15 — and most whom didn’t speak German, and most who were arguably subjected to domestic violence or sexual abuse during childhood.

“These women were abandoned a first time in their childhood, and are abandoned a second time by a states politics that legitimises their sexual exploitation,” she says.

According to a 2004 study, “87% of the women in prostitution reported having been exposed to physical violence, 82% to emotional violence, 92% to sexual harassment, 59% to sexual violence.”

Therefore, legalizing prostitution without including them in the dispersal of state welfare — which happens to be the case — leaves thousands of women vulnerable to the violence that is inherent to prostitution.

Simply put, the Nordic Model works. And, perhaps, it is worth considering in the Canadian context accordingly.

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