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Federal government seeks public input on sex laws

Manitoba justice minister pushes for continued criminalization

Vancouver lawyer Katrina Pacey (seen here at a June 2013 rally) says that continuing to criminalize aspects of the sex trade won’t solve anything. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

In a letter to his Ottawa counterpart, Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan has outlined his views on what Canada’s new prostitution law should look like, after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing laws last year.

Swan believes the new law should target demands for sexual services while helping sex-trade workers get addiction counselling, mental-health services and training to get out of street-based sex work.

“Canada needs to consider a new approach that focuses on reducing the demand for the purchase of sex, and assisting the victims of sexual exploitation,” Swan says in the Feb 5 letter. “Without demand, there will be no incentive to coerce others to engage in prostitution or human trafficking.”

He thinks what is often referred to as the Nordic model should be examined for Canada.

Swan says in the letter that the “essence of the Nordic model is not to make it illegal for a person to sell their sexual services but to make it a criminal offence to purchase sexual services or to procure sexual services for another person.”

Vancouver lawyer Katrina Pacey says continuing to criminalize aspects of the sex trade won’t solve anything.

Pacey, of Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society, represented sex-trade workers in the BC challenge to the laws and was part of the Supreme Court hearings. She tells Xtra that discussions with sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside show that the criminalization of those buying sex would keep exposing sex workers to dangerous conditions, as those customers would seek to have rushed transactions in dark alleys, away from the eyes of police and better lit areas where sex workers might be safer.

“They’re describing very scary conditions right now as a result of the criminalization of clients,” Pacey says.

She says reports from Sweden indicate sex workers have to hide from police, cannot disclose they are sex workers if they have problems, and are still driven underground. She says the push remains for them to leave sex work in order to get assistance.

“The evidence does not suggest Canada should go in that direction,” she says.

The federal government has until the end of 2014 to craft new sex-work laws, after the December 2013 court ruling in Bedford vs Canada struck down the laws criminalizing street soliciting, living off the profits of prostitution, owning a brothel and pimping as overly broad and disproportionate to the purpose they were intended to serve.

The court repeatedly found that the laws put sex workers in jeopardy, violating Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects Canadians from laws that attack their life, liberty and security.

The ruling came in the wake of challenges to the laws in Ontario and BC.

On Feb 17, the federal government launched an online consultation to ask Canadians for their input on the prostitution laws.

Canadians can access a web page on the Department of Justice’s website to provide their input. The online consultation will be live from Feb 17 to March 17.

“Our government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons,” federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay says. “Doing nothing is not an option.

“We are therefore asking Canadians right across the country, to provide their input, through an online consultation, to ensure a legislative response to prostitution that reflects our country’s values. We will be taking action to maintain the safety of our streets and communities, for the benefit of all Canadians.”