The new prostitution bill introduced in June by Injustice Minister Peter MacKay is blatantly unconstitutional and will result in more dead women. Bill C-36 will harm sex workers in even worse ways than the previous criminal provisions that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in December.
Those laws prohibited various activities related to sex work, including communicating in public, operating or working in a brothel, and living off the income of a sex worker.
Bill C-36 brings back all of the previous criminal laws in somewhat different forms, and adds new offences. One is a sweeping ban on advertising of sex work that will make it almost impossible to work indoors where it’s safer, while another will criminalize the purchase but not the sale of sex, in a nod to Sweden’s law. But sex workers will still be criminalized in other ways.
The government appears to believe that changing the objectives and rationale for the prostitution law will somehow immunize the new law from constitutional problems.
The old objective was to protect communities from the “nuisance” of prostitution. The new objectives (contained in the Preamble to Bill C-36) are mainly about “denouncing” sex work and protecting sex workers from the “inherent exploitation” of prostitution.
On July 7, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will begin to hear witnesses and review briefs in response to Bill C-36.
On behalf of FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work, a feminist group that advocates for the rights of sex workers, I recently submitted a brief to the Committee critiquing the Preamble to the bill. Following are some of the criticisms from the FIRST brief, which exposes the ideological bias, false assumptions, and sexist paternalism that underlie the bill:
Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it;
The idea that exploitation is “inherent” to sex work is an ideological belief derived from right-wing religious groups and “radical feminist” activists who morally disapprove of prostitution and want to abolish it. Sex work is a job, and like any job, people often take it to earn money, not necessarily because it’s something they want to do. But it’s still a choice for most sex workers and many do value their work. It’s often overlooked that sex work is about much more than sexual services, and also commonly involves counselling, therapeutic healing, massage, intimacy, socializing, companionship, and other aspects that occur normally in human relationships.
Many sex workers work independently and are skilled entrepreneurs, while others prefer to be employed by or have a contract with an agency, which frees them from managing the administrative and business side. This should be their choice, but Bill C-36 will force all sex workers to work independently, on the assumption they are “exploited” by the job and by employers. We know from the media around the bill that the government’s biggest concern is around “protecting women.” This reveals the paternalistic and anti-sex basis of Bill C-36, since no other profession is criminalized in this way, and significant numbers of sex workers are male or transgender.
While purporting to discourage prostitution and help exploited sex workers, the bill actually reinforces the same social structures that support and stigmatize prostitution in the first place – the division of women into “good girls” and “bad girls”, the taboo against sexual promiscuity or even sexual pleasure for women, and the demonization of men and their sexuality.
Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity;