Many religious groups in Canada, especially Catholics and Evangelicals, have been enthusiastically supporting the government’s new prostitution bill, Bill C-36, which aims to eradicate the sex trade by criminalizing those who buy sex, not those who sell it. The House of Commons justice committee heard testimony this week in praise of the legislation from a handful of Christian groups, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Defend Dignity.
But dozens of Anglican clergy say the proposed law is immoral and endangers sex workers, and they are urging the government to withdraw it.
Rev. Bruce Bryant-Scott, rector at St. Matthias parish in Victoria, has submitted an open letter to the justice committee signed by 33 of his Anglican colleagues. “While we can debate the pros and cons of sex work in our Canadian society, and bring our religious beliefs to bear upon both sides … this proposed legislation does nothing to advance the welfare of sex workers,” it reads.
Bryant-Scott is new to the cause for sex workers’ rights and felt compelled to write the letter after a member from PEERS Victoria, a sex workers support group, approached him for help. “It is not moral and ethical to pass laws that would drive these people underground, even if we disapprove of what they are doing,” he says. Even though the committee hearings end Thursday, he’s hoping to get more clergy on board.
One of the letter’s signatories includes the Rev. Mother Elizabeth Ann Eckertfrom the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto. “I’m living the life of a celibate woman who’s taken vows to not have sex, so it’s funny to be commenting about it,” she says. “But I feel very much that these women and men who are involved in the sex trade need to have their voices heard around this more so than those of us involved in religion.” She says the Bible provides ample support for sex workers’ rights.