Roundup: Canadians respond to the new prostitution law

Roundup: Canadians respond to the new prostitution law

Even though Bill C-36 came into force last week, the debate is only getting more heated

Jonathan Hayward/CP

Jonathan Hayward/CP

Bella Clava has been a sex worker in Toronto on and off for many years. She prefers to use this pseudonym to protect her identity, as she’s also a social worker and mother of one young daughter. “A lot of people believe that sex work is inherently violent, but I don’t believe that,” she told me. “What makes it violent are the laws that force us into situations where we don’t have time to screen the people that we’re going to be doing business with.” Last year, she got sick and had to live off Employment Insurance, and decided to go back to sex work to make ends meet. “Without it, I don’t know how I would have made it. I was living off next to nothing and had to provide for my daughter. When I was too sick to work, sex work gave me an opportunity and it saved my life.”

Last Friday, Bill C-36, the new federal anti-prostitution legislation that criminalizes those who buy sex (known as “the perverts” to Justice Minister Peter Mackay) officially came into force. (The timing was unfortunate as it coincided with the national day of action for violence against women.)

Under the new law, it’s also illegal to “knowingly advertise an offer to provide sexual services” and get “material benefit” from the sale of sex. Bella Clava says she and other sex workers have no idea how to prepare for life under this new regime–but they are very worried. This sentiment is shared with hundreds of people across the country who are outraged by this legislation, to the dismay of the bill’s supporters. Here’s a roundup of the best responses so far:

“I think that it’s a really sick and twisted day for it to happen … that day should not solely be for women who were murdered by Marc Lepine, it should also be for women who were murdered by Robert Pickton” – Valerie Scott, former sex worker and one of the women behind the Bedford case, told the Canadian Press

“The most obvious conclusion is Canada’s government has passed a law it knows to be unconstitutional, banking on it being long gone from office by the time the hypothesis is proven. That is more than a little twisted.” – John Ivison, the National Post

“If you’re devalued, and you’re slinking around trying to make a living and you’re taking chances – because of the bad law you’re trying to avoid being caught by police, because you’re scared of the police. You’re going to be a victim. You’re going to be prey.” – Monica, an Edmonton sex worker, told the Edmonton Sun

Now magazine started taking sex ads because we take ads, that’s how we support ourselves and we have always refused to discriminate against sex work and sex workers” – Alice Klein, Now magazine’s editor and CEO

“If the justice minister had listened to any legal experts when crafting this legislation, Premier Wynne wouldn’t now be forced to sort through this mess” – Peggy Nash, NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park

“Bill C-36 is not going to stop the real problems of human trafficking or abusive pimps who threaten or addict vulnerable girls into prostitution. Those activities were illegal before and no new law is going to stop them. Prostitution isn’t known as the oldest profession for nothing.” – Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun

“Whether sex workers or engineering students, the women who die at the hands of the men who hate them aren’t murdered because they were wearing short skirts … or because they made the wrong choices. They die because laws and policies that are supposed to protect them are written by men like MacKay, who can’t see past the end of their own privilege” – Madeline Ashby, author

“Far from addressing sex trafficking, this new law adds to a long and destructive string of government responses to violence against indigenous women … criminalization reproduces another version of a long history of colonial state-violence executed against indigenous women ‘for their own good’ ” – Julie Kaye, assistant professor at the King’s University College, wrote in the Edmonton Journal

“We are writing to ask that you refer [Bill C-36] … directly to the Ontario Court of Appeal, so that it can determine whether the contents of this new legislation are constitutional. We are requesting that you do this before pursuing any prosecutions under these laws; we are further requesting that you direct police not to enforce any provisions of this Act.” – A letter to Kathleen Wynne signed by 25 Toronto city councillors

“My priority in this debate is to ensure that our laws and institutions enhance the safety of those who are vulnerable – in this case, sex workers: a class of (mostly) women, who are disproportionately the victims of sexual and physical violence … The attorney general of Ontario is bound to enforce the Criminal Code. And she will. But I have also asked the attorney general to advise me on the constitutional validity of this legislation, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bedford case, and our options as a government in the event that the legislations’ constitutionality is in question.” –Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario

“It’s appalling that 25 Toronto councillors have jointly sent a letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, asking her to refer Bill C-36 to the Ontario Court of Appeal … Law enforcement agencies, communities and women’s groups have welcomed our approach in Bill C-36 because they know first-hand that activities around prostitution are harmful to women and for society … The legalization of their activities is unacceptable to Canadians, as are elected officials who call for police to be ordered to ignore laws. It’s time for Toronto councillors to stand up for the marginalized and vulnerable.” – Joy Smith, Conversative MP for Kildonan-St. Paul, wrote in the Huffington Post


Roundup: Canadians respond to the new prostitution law

  1. It’s a bad law and almost certain to get struck down. And then, if they are still in power, the CPC will cynically reword it again, pass it into law, and start a whole new round of appeals. This is about appealing to their base and thumbing their noses at the court.

    As for the comments above, I do wonder why Madeline Ashby tied this law to Lepine (“Whether sex workers or engineering students…”). That’s also an incredibly cynical ploy, in my opinion.

    I have always found it rather off-putting how people like Ashby use Lepine as THE symbol of violence against women. His actions are far from typical of the violence most women face, and in a way probably causes the movement more harm than good as, if that’s the incident conjured up when the topic is discussed, it actually makes it easier for others to overlook or ignore the types of violence that form the bulk of the abuse.

    Lepine’s actions more properly belong in the same group of violent actions as Taber, Columbine, and all the other school shootings. While there is overlap, it is at best a small, aberrant subset of a much larger problem and should be separated out and treated differently from the daily abuse women suffer daily at the hands of those they ought to be able to trust. And is definitely completely separate from the issues surrounding C-36.

  2. The Supreme Court is going to have to decide between the principles of their Butler decision vs. the principles of their Bedford decision.

    The Swedish model (where johns and pimps and human traffickers are criminalized) is rooted in fairly mainstream feminism (i.e. Catharine MacKinnon), and the legal scholarship behind the Butler decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

    The mainstream media like to portray this as a one-side case. Many feminists support the Swedish model.

  3. Wouldn’t it be better for law enforcement to target the traffickers rather than for new laws to drive them further underground and their victims–for trafficking does have real victims–further beyond the possibility of help? Making sex work literally “disappear” by going underground will indeed make it more dangerous. “Disappearance” is being more and more recognized as the outcome of this kind of legislation, the so-called Swedish or Nordic model. Furthermore, I find no comfort on examination of the effect of the Nordic model in Sweden on helping victims and do not think a single recording of a supposed trafficker saying Sweden is no good as a market for victims is at all persuasive about its efficacy.

    I have been deeply disturbed to read what some advocates of the Swedish or Nordic model internationally have said about other expressions of sexuality and wonder if the appeal for them of this sort of law is that it represents a realistic chance to legislate against at least one aspect of sexual activity.

  4. Here we have a typical news piece on the prostitution legislation. First it starts with a real life story of a person who doesn’t agree with Bill C-36. (Actually, we’re assuming it’s a real person -that’s not her in the picture and she conceals her name.) Then of course, she bashes the law with no understanding of the countless ones it’s poised to help. Then, no less than 10 ignorant quotes pound away at any shred objectivity the reader might be clinging onto. Then, when the bulk of readers have moved on to the next article, there it is: the lone abolitionist quote that whispers both sides are represented.
    What if Ms. Browne had put a couple hours into actually trying to understand the issues. She might easily discover that prohibitions on buying sex do not, on average, add dangers to the prostitute, but that legalizing prostitution nets more violence and higher human trafficking rates. She might learn of the carnage in Germany, Amsterdam and Australia, along with other countries permitting prostitution. In contrast, she’d find that crime groups are getting out of the sex trade in nations that have preceded Canada, in adopting legislation similar to Bill C-36. Ah, but we couldn’t expect to hear about all that, after all, this is merely Canadian journalism.