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Federal subcommittee revisits sex laws

Will whores and sluts get a break this time?

A report winding its way through a subcommittee of federal politicians could call for major changes to the way prostitution is dealt with in Canada — and repeal the laws used to target gay bathhouses.

So says Libby Davies, the Vancouver East NDP politician whose 2003 motion before Parliament resulted in a cross-country consultation with prostitutes and others concerned about existing laws.

The public consultation heard from more than 100 delegates in public and another 150 or so, including many current and past prostitutes, behind closed doors. Several speakers called for the elimination of sections of the Criminal Code used by police to raid gay bathhouses.

Government researchers spent the summer months preparing the first draft report of the subcommittee, which doesn’t yet have a chair.

Parliamentary rules prevent Davies from talking publicly about what?s in the draft report. But the National Post’s John Ivison hinted Oct 7 that the draft proposes repealing laws “relating to bawdy houses, living on the avails of prostitution and solicitation.”

Police charge gay bathhouses and their customers under Sections 210 to 211 of the Criminal Code. Davies says she favours repealing those sections.

Davies says a majority of committee members want to continue penalizing aspects of prostitution that are exploitative — such as child prostitution, violence and pimping — while respecting consensual activity between adults.

Most debate is over two sections of the Criminal Code: Section 212, prohibiting procuring and “living off the avails” of prostitution, and Section 213, outlawing communicating for the purposes of prostitution. Prostitution itself is legal in Canada.

The committee will now go through the first draft paragraph by paragraph trying to find agreement, says Davies. She expects that the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Liberal members of the committee will find a progressive consensus. But Conservative Art Hangar, a former Calgary cop, will write a minority report, she predicts. Hangar favours tougher law enforcement rather than the harm-reduction approach.

The committee is racing against time to ensure the report sees daylight, says Davies. If an election is called before the report is submitted to Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, the work is lost. Media reports suggest Prime Minister Paul Martin is putting pressure on Liberal members of the committee to slow the process or bury the report.

Of course, the final report could be very controversial. But that’s a good thing: Canadians need a debate.