Advocates oppose federal government’s interest in the ‘Nordic model‘
When the Supreme Court of Canada declared three major prostitution laws unconstitutional in December, Valerie Scott called it the best day of her life. Now, Scott and other advocates for safer conditions for sex workers are concerned the ruling may have been futile.
Scott is one of the three sex workers who challenged the prostitution laws in Bedford v. Canada. The court struck down laws prohibiting brothels, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public with clients because it said they force sex workers into dangerous situations.
But the court’s decision has become a hollow victory for Scott and her colleagues. Parliament has been given 12 months to rewrite the laws, and has expressed interest in legislation many sex workers say would do nothing to improve their working conditions and could even make them worse.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay told CBC in January the government intends to draft legislation that would help sex workers transition out of the industry, and instead punish pimps and johns. This is what’s known as the Nordic model of prostitution, and in essence it makes it legal to sell sex but not to buy it.
The Nordic model is already enforced in three European countries: Sweden, Norway and Iceland. French MPs have approved a bill that will penalize those paying for sex, but the bill must still pass the Senate before it comes into play.
Brenda Cossman, a law professor at University of Toronto, said it has created many of the same problems sex workers in Canada want to avoid.
“Those on the streets are working in very, very risky conditions because they go further into remote areas,” Cossman said, describing the situation in Europe. “They have to do the negotiation very quickly. It doesn’t give them any time to assess risk.”