Canada’s federal government has tabled its new prostitution bill. But does it put the lives of sex workers at risk?
Ottawa has unveiled its new prostitution legislation, and lawyers are already lining up to say that it flies in the face of what the Supreme Court decided in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford.
Bill C-36, dubbed the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, brings the so-called Nordic model to Canada. It introduces a new prohibition — the purchase of sexual services, and communication that surrounds it.
That much was expected. It’s the other parts in the bill that have sent a shock through the legal community.
While the idea underlying the Nordic model is not to criminalize the sex workers themselves, Bill C-36 introduces two criminal offences that target sex workers. It brings back the offence of communicating for the purposes of prostitution – which carries a maximum prison term of six months – but caveats that it’s only illegal if it’s in a public area where “persons under the age of 18 can reasonable by expected to be present.” A new prohibition against advertising sexual services carries a maximum prison term of five years.
As Leo Russomanno, lawyer at Webber Schroeder Goldstein Abergel, points out — there are very few places where someone under 18 can be reasonably expected not to be. “That’s anywhere but an R-rated movie,” he says, “Or a bar. Or the liquor store.”
Brenda Cossman, Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, is alarmed by the new charge for advertising sexual services. “That’s criminalizing the sex workers themselves,” she says.