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Bill C-36: Examining the Sex Trade Workers Debate

Legs in stockings

Pegah Memarpour, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores controversial changes purposed by the Conservative government with Bill C-36, and offers a look at both sides of the sex trade worker debate in Canada.

The act of prostitution has always been legal under Canadian law, however, over the last year there has been significant changes in the laws that limit and restrict sex trade work.

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The recently amended prostitution laws were established to criminalize operating brothel houses, communicating in a public place for the purpose of prostitution, and living on the avails of prostitution. Late last year, however, the courts ruled that these laws were putting prostitutes in more dangerous situations, and placing their health and safety at risk. The judges ruled that the laws violated the charter rights of sex trade workers by limiting and restricting their movement. In turn, forcing them to work in increasingly harmful settings.

The courts concluded that the government could continue to impose limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted, without jeopardizing the lives of prostitutes.

This new legislation came in the form of Bill C-36, or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.  The proposed act makes several amendments that, if enacted, would significantly change prostitution in Canada.

The new bill targets those who purchase sexual services (e.g., the clients), and continues to criminalize those who benefit from the exploitation of prostitution (e.g., pimps).  Additionally, the act allows sex trade workers to sell their own services unless children can be expected to be present. This makes only the buying of sex illegal and its’ advertising. The bill also makes additional changes and increases penalties for already existing legislations.

Basically, the new laws would criminalize the clients of prostitution, while not targeting the workers. Meaning that the new bill will be targeting the “johns” and “pimps” – no longer the prostitutes.

“…the act allows sex trade workers to sell their own services unless children can be expected to be present. This makes only the buying of sex illegal and its’ advertising.”

The two sides of this debate have brought forth many persuasive arguments, both advocating and discouraging the new bill.  Those arguing for the implementation of the new act highlight that the act provides more support for sex trade workers.

The preamble of this new bill suggests that the main focus is to support those who have historically been exploited and subjected to violence because of prostitution. The preamble provides a $20 million financial pledge to create programs and services that will help support those who partake and have partaken in sex trade work.

Experts also argue that this new bill changes the discussion around prostitution and brings the “johns” – who have historically been invisible – to the forefront. Targeting the buyers now suggests that the real victims of prostitution are the workers.

The laws against the buyers can have a ripple effect on the demand for prostitution, and in turn overall occurrence of prostitution in general.

Other legal experts claim that although this new act no longer directly targets prostitutes, it still does not make their working environment any safer.

For one, by targeting buyers, many who wish to purchase sexual services will be inclined to continue to do so on the streets, as it provides an open setting with less risk of being caught. This will also promote prostitution in more dangerous and remote areas as clients will now fear law enforcement.

Secondly, a new maximum prison sentence of 10 years has been put forth for those who own or operate businesses (e.g., strip clubs) that sell sexual services. This will also encourage the likelihood of street prostitution. As such, sex trade workers may continue to be put in harms’ way.

Although both sides of the argument provide strong points on the speculated consequences of the act, the unforeseen implications if this new bill is passed will not fully be measurable until after it is implemented and enforced.

Pegah Memarpour is a freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, the nationwide processing firm for Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) & U.S. Entry Waiver applications.  The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pardon Applications of Canada.  For a list of statistical references used in this article, or more information on Pardon Applications of Canada, call 866-383-9744 or email info@pardonapplications.com