Thank you very much.
I'm here today as a law professor and also as a lawyer who has spent the past two decades researching, teaching, and advocating for sex equality under Canadian law, with a particular focus on sexual violence against women and girls, including prostitution.
As the chair mentioned I am currently a faculty member at the UBC faculty of law and a member of the Ontario and British Columbia bars, and I provide pro bono legal services to women's groups. I represented a national coalition of seven women's groups in their intervention before the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada in the Bedford litigation.
I'm here to testify in support of the provisions of Bill C-36 that criminalize the purchasers of sex and also criminalize exploitative profiteering from the prostitution of others as well as advertisers.
I'm also here to oppose the provision that criminalizes those who communicate for the purpose of selling sex in areas where young people are likely to be present. I've read the provisions of Bill C-36 closely, and overall I would say this bill represents and reflects a very positive and fundamental shift in our collective thinking about prostitution, moving away from thinking about prostitution as a question of mere morals or nuisance and toward an understanding of prostitution as a practice of sex inequality and a form of violence and exploitation against women and girls.
I think the government has recognized correctly in my view the overwhelming evidence that the global prostitution industry is not primarily a series of individual contractual exchanges between equal parties, but a profitable industry that profits from the outsourcing of sexual subordination of the most disadvantaged women and youth among us.
Unfortunately some criminalization has been maintained for women on the street in this bill who are disproportionately aboriginal women, and this provision I would say is inconsistent with the thrust of the rest of the bill.
Let me say a few things in particular about proposed section 286.1, the provision that would criminalize the purchase of sex. I want to be clear here constitutionally that when we talk about security of the person, the person who is criminalized by this provision is the john, the buyer, and his security of the person is not at issue here through this criminalization. He's the source of the danger to women.
I think one of the important features of this provision is that it has been grouped with offences against the person in the Criminal Code, which makes clear that the act of buying sex in any location is a criminal act that is a form of exploitation and violence. I think that strengthens its constitutionality. That was not the case in the prior version of the code where the prohibitions on johns were partial, location-based, and grounded in nuisance concerns.
The argument I hear raised most often in opposition to this position is that criminalizing the purchase of sex is unconstitutional because it pushes prostitution underground. I think there is something ironic about the argument that men must be allowed as a constitutional right unrestricted opportunity to buy women to keep women safe from those very same men.
To attack that argument a little more directly, I want to say to you that most fundamentally prostitution is at its most underground when it is completely decriminalized. As for the New Zealand approach we keep hearing being touted, so long as the brothel has fewer than five women it doesn't need a certificate, and it operates entirely invisibly, outside the reach of law and other interventions. It's entirely under the radar.
The second thing is that visible prostitution is not necessarily safe, healthy, or equality promoting, and the prison camp bunny ranches of Nevada, or the megabrothels of Germany are two good examples of that.
But third and most importantly I would say this argument at its heart is really disingenuous. It's the same old claim about choice that completely ignores inequality but is now masquerading as an argument about safety. I realize that's a pretty harsh-sounding statement to make, but to explain why I say that let me just speak for a moment about youth prostitution and the criminal offence of communicating for the purposes of obtaining sexual services from a person under the age of 18. That's section 212.4 in the current Criminal Code. It wasn't challenged in Bedford. It will reappear under the new bill renumbered as proposed subsection 286.1(2), I think.
It's a crime to buy a young person for sex, including through communicating for that purpose.
No one seems to be disputing the continued existence of that provision or questioning its constitutionality. It criminalizes exactly the same conduct as in proposed section 286.1, in very much the same language, and I'm confident that no one is going to come before this committee and ask you to repeal that section because it makes kids unsafe by pushing youth prostitution underground.They will not say we should acknowledge that youth prostitution is inevitable, and that we should decriminalize the guys who buy kids because it will make the young people safer. They'll be visible. They can communicate. We can reach out to them.
They will not argue that section 7 of the charter requires that men be allowed to buy kids for sex, and there is a lot more to it than just saying adults aren't children. It's because we believe that young people lack the capacity to consent because of an inequality based on age, but the reality is that for young people in prostitution there are many other inequalities at work, some combination usually of gender, the effects of colonialism, poverty, and addiction.
When that inequality of age is no longer present, some people refuse to see any of the other inequalities that are so prevalent in prostitution, even when the prostitute, who is now an adult, started as a child. The fact that women in prostitution are overwhelmingly poor, that so many of them are racialized, trafficked to meet male demand, struggle with addictions, with intellectual disabilities and the after-effects of being placed in state care, these inequalities count for zero so long as the woman is 18 or older and is willing to take the money.
Yet the Supreme Court of Canada did make clear in its decision in Bedford that many of those in prostitution cannot be said to be there by any real definition of choice, and that our law and policy responses ought to be focused on those women.
We don't say that the criminal law that prohibits purchasing young people for sex hasn't eliminated youth prostitution so it's useless and should be repealed, because we understand, just like the laws on sexual assault, just like the laws on wife battering, that the criminal law is there to serve a very particular, denunciatory purpose. It has a very real and important goal, but that it's not the only piece of what we're trying to do in addressing a complex social problem. You will never address that problem if you decriminalize prostitution and normalize it, and that's true in any country that has experimented with exactly that route.
The final thing I'll say about the analysis we have heard today is, yes, we do have to think about section 7 of the charter, but we also have to think about section 15, the equality rights provision, which was studiously kept out of the analysis in the Bedford case. Now we have a bill that makes clear right in its stated objectives that equality and equality for women and girls is an important consideration when thinking about prostitution. That, in my view, means that equality in section 15 can no longer be ignored in the constitutional analysis.
I'll just conclude by saying something very briefly about the provision under proposed subsection 213(1.1), the sale of sexual services where young people are expected to be present. I think this provision is misguided. I do not think that the law should be making a distinction based on location if we understand the act of the purchasing of women to be an act of exploitation. It just punishes women for being exploited in the wrong location. It returns us to an approach rooted in nuisance. It's not really about protecting children because it doesn't criminalize women who are prostituted in front of children in a private place, only in a public place.
I understand the concern about the prostitute being there on a residential street and what can we do if we don't have this kind of provision to move her along, but of course the police can do something because they now have the provision that criminalizes purchase. Use that provision to target the johns. That's how you deal with prostitution on the street. That's how we should have dealt with Pickton, a known john whom the police simply refused to arrest wherever he picked up women: on the streets, in the drop-in centres, in the bars of the Downtown Eastside. The issue is not just displacing women to other locations. It's the refusal to interfere with the purchase of sex by johns.
That provision really needs to be rethought, and ultimately, if it is removed from the bill, it will strengthen the constitutionality of this proposed legislation.
I'll stop there.