After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada’s prostitution laws were unconstitutional in December 2013, Canada’s Parliament was given 1 year to adopt a new model of legislation. After long and involved research including consulting survivors, those currently in prostitution, various organizations, legal professionals, justices and the public, the government proposed Bill C-36 –The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. The Act largely mimics the Nordic Model by criminalizing sex buyers and those exploiting sex sellers, while protecting the rights of those selling sex. It also ensures that the penalties for buying sex from a minor or exploiting a minor are equivalent to those of child sexual abuse. This is a huge step forward for Canada in recognizing that “teen prostitute” is a derogatory term for a child victim of sexual abuse. As the majority of prostitutes in Canada enter prostitution at the age of 14, this Act takes a huge step forward in protecting Canada’s youth. Abolitionist groups across Canada were very pleased that legislative steps were being taken to prevent sex trafficking.
Surprisingly, Bill C-36 received strong opposition from the liberal opposition parties who advocate decriminalization in line with the New Zealand model by recognizing prostitution as a sex industry and legalizing all activities associated with it. A media battle was waged with experiential voices on both sides of the divide speaking for and against the Bill.
For a while, it seemed as though the Bill was quickly losing support, but eventually the conservative majority government won and it was with a sigh of relief for abolitionist organizations that the Bill became law on December 6, 2014.
Although [free-them] and other anti-human trafficking organizations are savouring this legislative victory, the battle is far from over. People still oppose the new law and some media outlets have publicly refused to comply with the section of the Act preventing sexual services from being advertised. Even politicians are still attempting to circumvent the legislative process and push the Act into obsolescence. It has become clear that enforcement of the Act is the next hurdle that will likely be the most difficult one yet.
Law enforcement have traditionally arrested all parties involved in prostitution. The sex sellers ended up in jail for a night and the sex buyers received a slap on the wrist and instruction to go to John school. It will take a tangible shift in police philosophy and methods to ensure that sex sellers are protected while sex buyers are arrested and prosecuted. This shift can only happen if political parties, governments, justices and organizations accept the passing of the law and stop circumventing the legislative process.
[free-them] will work with police departments interested in leading the charge with the new Act, but we encourage all other abolitionist organizations to support the law and encourage its enforcement so that it has a real chance of success.