This spring, two high-level Calgary police officials and a City of Calgary bylaw employee flew to Stockholm for a closer look at the Nordic model of prostitution and whether it could work on Canadian streets. The first thing they realized is that a uniform Nordic model of prostitution doesn’t exist.
Instead, the group found a tangle of legislation, social strategy and enforcement, and an issue that remains as divisive and controversial in Nordic countries as it does here.
“It’s not simple,” said Debi Perry, who was one of the three people who travelled to study prostitution in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in March.
“Even though ‘the Nordic model’ sounds pleasant, the solutions are very complicated,” said Perry, who is manager of the Calgary police strategic services division. The idea of the so-called “Nordic model” came into the spotlight in Canada after the Supreme Court struck down prostitution laws last December and gave the government a year to come up with new legislation. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said this legislation will be a “Canadian solution,” and there’s been broad presumption that it may be some version of the Nordic approach , which criminalizes the trafficking and purchase – but not the sale – of prostitution.
Academic May-Len Skilbrei, who has studied the sex trade for 20 years and co-wrote a book, Prostitution Policy in the Nordic Region (2013), says there’s no clear Nordic model because there are significant variations in how sex purchase is dealt with in the Nordic countries.
The legislation, she says, is deeply affected by social policies in each country, and immigration laws, social services and education may all have more impact on the state of sex work than the actual legislation.
“This has to do with a kind of legal optimism – believing that if you just get a law in place, then everything will be fine, which is rarely the case,” Skilbrei said from her office in Norway.