When the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's prostitution laws last year, it did so on the basis that the existing laws placed sex workers in unreasonably dangerous situations.
Quite appropriately, the Supreme Court gave the government a year to table new legislation. Today, Justice Minister Peter MacKay tabled the government's response in the House of Commons.
The bill would create new offences for:
— The purchase of sexual services and communicating in any place for that purpose.
— Receiving a financial or material benefit from the prostitution of others, including through businesses that sell the sexual services of others online or out of venues such as escort agencies, massage parlours, or strip clubs that also provide sexual services.
— Advertising the sale of sexual services in print media or on the Internet.
— Communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in public places where a child could reasonably be expected to be present.
Frankly, I'm not sure that I see any substantive difference over the old laws.
Under the old laws, prostitution itself was legal but almost all related activities — including communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and running a brothel — were criminal offences.Eyes open. The Harper Government has just done exactly what one might expect. Essentially they have just returned to the old laws, and added a few new words here and there. Particularly "clever" is the offence of "communicating for the purpose ... where a child could reasonably be expected to be present". Gotta protect the children, donchaknow.
Of course, the government knows full well that a public place by definition is a place where children can be found. Come to think of it, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this same clause in the law used to effectively criminalize prostitutes who have children. If it is "dangerous" for a child to witness a transaction being negotiated, the one might imagine that the government presumes that a child living with a prostitute parent must be in enormous danger.
Okay, you can't "communicate in a public place". So, you go into a "coffee shop" or "club" to negotiate the deal. Presto, that's illegal too. If the business in question exists to facilitate such negotiations, they are subject to other clauses in the law.
Want to advertise your services? No can do. That's illegal too.
Once again, we see the Harper Government's inability to comprehend the finer points of constitutional law in this country. What they have done is just re-create the same conditions that rendered the previous laws inoperative. Now this country's sex workers face another decade or so of litigation to overturn what amounts to the same laws as were thrown out last year. I'm sure the Harper Government has written a few clever weasel phrases into the legislation to sidestep the particulars of the criticisms of the previous laws - just enough to force further litigation before the right thing happens again.
Oh yes, the government is blathering on about "programs" to help people exit the sex trade. Newsflash: not everybody in that trade wants to leave it.