2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 69

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Justice

Sex Trade Industry

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

[English]

Leader, since Bill C-36 on prostitution was tabled in the other place, the Liberal Senate forum has received a number of questions from the public on this matter. This question was submitted by Jenna Simpson from Toronto and it was addressed to you. I would like to ask this question on her behalf. She states:

The new proposed bill on sex work, Bill C-36, purports to protect vulnerable women from the abuses of prostitution by criminalizing the purchase of sex. However, the bill does much of the same work that the old Criminal Code provisions did — the very provisions that the Supreme Court struck down six months ago.

In particular, the bill recriminalizes communicating in a public place for the purpose of trading sexual services for money. This was one of the key provisions found to make sex workers less safe, thereby violating their right to security of the person.

How will this new bill keep women who work in the sex trade safe, if the very same acts that were found by the Supreme Court to make sex work less safe for sex workers are simply recriminalized from the demand side rather than the supply side?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): The same provisions are not being reinstated. Major changes have been made to the way things were before. As you pointed out, the government has a responsibility to propose legislative measures to parliamentarians, and they have a responsibility to debate those measures. The Supreme Court decision in Bedford was clear. It raised concerns about the safety of women who engage in this inherently dangerous line of work. That decision has informed our bill.

Bill C-36 seeks to protect the victims of prostitution by criminalizing the pimps and johns who create the demand for this dangerous service, while putting in place measures that protect public safety, in particular the safety of our children and other vulnerable Canadians. As I said yesterday, this bill is applauded by a Quebec organization, the Conseil du statut de la femme, which said:

The Conseil du statut de la femme welcomes the federal government’s bill on prostitution, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services by targeting johns and pimps rather than the prostitutes themselves. Canada is thus modelling its bill on the Swedish legislation. . .The federal government recognizes that prostitution is not a choice for the vast majority of prostitutes but a form of exploitation of women and an affront to human dignity, as the Conseil documented in its 2012 opinion, Prostitution: Time to Take Action.

Organizations like the Conseil du statut de la femme support the bill and its goals.

As I said yesterday, this bill is backed by financial measures. New funding of $20 million will support community organizations that assist the most vulnerable prostitutes because we recognize that most of them wish to leave this dangerous and damaging line of work. We are therefore focusing our funding on proven programs that will help prostitutes get out of the sex trade. I feel that this is a comprehensive approach in the legislative sense and in the sense that it provides financial support to help prostitutes get out of this very dangerous line of work.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: I have a supplementary question. This is my own question, leader, and it is following what I had asked yesterday.

If we were following the Nordic model, the person who was wanting to do the exploitation would be criminalized, but the victim would not be criminalized. The Canadian model, as this bill is called, does not do that. It criminalizes some and it does not criminalize others. It depends where you’re found and how you are selling your services.

Leader, it’s not doing what you are saying. I ask you to revisit this bill. Bill C-36 is not the Nordic model; it’s the new Canadian model, which does not really answer what the Bedford decision was saying.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, I can see that you absorbed at least part of what I said yesterday when I explained that this is a made- in-Canada model. It directly targets demand for this dangerous activity and sets out harsh sanctions against pimps and johns.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Leader, you don’t think I have dementia, and I appreciate that.

You keep talking about $20 million. I asked you yesterday, and I’m going to ask you again today: What is the criterion of how the women will get the $20 million? Which groups will get the $20 million? Is this $20 million every year or just for one time?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, a new envelope of $20 million was announced. The community organizations that receive that funding and can use it for their projects will have to implement measures to help the most vulnerable prostitutes.

Hon. Jean-Claude Rivest: I listened to the responses from the Leader of the Government. He quoted the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec. However, some groups have also pointed out that the government’s approach could simply force prostitution underground, where prostitutes will be even more vulnerable. The leader knows that the Supreme Court’s ruling was meant to protect those who work in this world.

Is the government aware of what has been pointed out by groups that work on the ground? I understand that the Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec is a respected organization. However, groups that work with prostitutes have criticized the adverse effect that the government’s approach could have on the safety of prostitutes.

Senator Carignan: I thank the honourable senator for his question. As you know, the minister introduced this bill after he consulted with various groups.

(1420)

This is a well thought-out approach — a made-in-Canada model — that will not criminalize prostitutes. It will criminalize pimps and people who try to take advantage of vulnerable prostitutes.

I would say that this approach is the complete opposite of your comment to the effect that the bill will criminalize prostitutes. This is an entirely different approach.

 

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