Canada: Prostitution Reform Bill Punishes Sellers and Buyers of Sex
Thursday, June 12, 2014 4:25 PM

A proposed bill to reform Canada’s prostitution laws would punish women prostituted and exploited for sex if they are charged with selling or offering to sell sex in any public space where children could be present. No exceptions are contained in the bill for trafficked women or women subjected to violence and abuse. Many had hoped Canada would closely follow the “Nordic” model, which recognizes prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights, and enact measures that reduce demand for commercial sex and enhance protections for exploited women and girls. While the bill does target buyers of sex, or “johns,” and others who benefit from prostitution within an “exploitive relationship,” the criminal sanctions included for prostituted women are not recommended by the Nordic approach because they increase women’s vulnerability to violence, abuse and trafficking.

The Canadian Justice Minister, Peter Mackay, proposed the reforms in response to a 2013 Canadian Supreme Court decision striking down Canada’s existing anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional. The laws, which will remain in effect until the end of this year, allow prostitution but treat it as a public nuisance, outlawing brothels, public solicitation and living off the proceeds of prostitution. 

Critics of the new proposal worry that the continued criminalization of prostitution in public will encourage underground dealings that put prostituted women at risk of harm, just as existing laws do. Others argue that, despite the inclusion of funds to help women exit prostitution, parliament is still focusing more attention on the “nuisance” prostitution poses to the community than on combating the far more serious issues of human trafficking and violence against women.

The Supreme Court gave parliament one year in which to draft new legislation. 

Compiled from: Carlson, Katherine Blaze & Fine, Sean, Conservatives Introduce Tough New Rules on Prostitution, The Globe and Mail (June 4, 2014); MacCharles, Tonda, Ottowa Unveils New Prostitution Law Targeting Those Who Buy Sex, The Toronto Star (June 4, 2014)