Thank you very much.
In addition to speaking today, I've submitted a written brief that is much more detailed. I'll review some of the material in that written brief and make some extra points.
To introduce myself, I've worked on various research projects on prostitution since 1977, mostly in British Columbia. I've done nine different studies for the Department of Justice Canada, and I was on the board of a service organization for sex workers on the Downtown Eastside, called PACE.
My main interest in speaking to Canadians about prostitution, and particularly legislators, is the hope that policy and legislation are based on reliable and accurate information. I'm hearing all sorts of claims made about research today, none of which would actually stand scrutiny.
Of course, research can't answer all of the problems that we're talking about, so I should also say what my own political value judgment is with regard to prostitution. I believe that the state should not prohibit consenting adult sexual activity, especially in situations where it endangers sex workers. I therefore disagree with those who say that 90% of prostitution doesn't involve choice, although much of it involves highly constrained choice. Some prostitution is entirely opportunistic. Some is sexual slavery, and the law should criminalize sexual slavery in every circumstance that it should occur.
However, like most service and manual workers, sex workers make the choice to prostitute in situations that they do not choose, i.e., the capitalist political economy, colonialism, gender power structures, racism, and so on. The vast majority of the population make those choices in situations that they do not choose, but we don't see criminal law as the solution to those inequalities.
Let me start by saying a few things about evidence claims on which the prohibitionist position is based. I've heard it said again here today that the average age of entering into prostitution is 14. In my written brief I've reviewed the literature, and I've also gone over the review of the literature that was conducted in Bedford v. Canada. That is a preposterous claim. There is only one piece of research that supports it. It is a study of juveniles; it excluded adults. If you look at the research, which includes both adults and juveniles, the average age is generally 18 or well above that.
You also see examples of prohibitionist discourse using certain kinds of research and then generalizing it as if it represents prostitution more generally. You'll often hear Melissa Farley's research quoted, as indeed is Joy Smith's “The Tipping Point”. She talks about 100 Canadian sex workers and what their profiles look like.
The women on the Downtown Eastside do not represent prostitution more generally. The research literature says that most women are not trafficked. Obviously there are many different experiences, and some of them are truly awful. However, if we want to talk about the nature of prostitution across the whole of it, we need to understand that there are many different kinds of prostitution.
I would also note that Farley's work, which is often quoted by prohibitionists, was also entered into Bedford v. Canada. Justice Himel concluded that Farley's advocacy contaminated her research. I think that bears repeating.
Let me say something about the logic of demand-side prohibition. Demand causes prostitution, it is argued, so therefore if you get rid of demand, ultimately you will get rid of supply. It ignores economics 101. Supply and demand interact. We live in a culture that commodifies female and male sexuality at every turn. Explicit sexual imagery is only a few key strokes away, and our culture produces the demand for sex. It similarly produces sexual capital on which supply rests. Race, class, and gender structures mean that sexual capital is the only capital available for some people.
Let's take economics 101 and look at what it would do for the made-in-Canada approach to prostitution prohibition. In one of the first studies of prostitution conducted in Canada, when clients were asked what prompted them to purchase sex, 41% of respondents said it was the availability and/or visibility of sex workers.
Although the protection of communities and exploited persons act prohibits third-party profit from prostitution, its section prohibiting advertising exempts a person advertising sexual services on their own behalf. Demand-side prohibition holds that the state should not hold sex sellers criminally responsible because they are victims of men. However, as much as prohibitionists deny that sex workers ever exercise choice, many and I would suspect most sex workers don't agree that they are one-sided and only victims, even if some of them are victimized. They see themselves as agents acting on their own behalf, taking advantage of their sexual capital. They do not want to exit prostitution unless they do so on their own terms. Consequently, they will continue to advertise and sell sexual services, and legally so under the new regime. However, anyone who takes the bait will have the force of criminal law brought to bear against them, in which case they say the made-in-Canada prohibition amounts to state-sponsored entrapment of men.
Asymmetrical prohibition will be subject to a section 15 challenge because it criminalizes mostly male sex purchases but not sex sellers, the large majority of whom are female. A section 15 challenge was coming down the pipe in the Pivot charter challenge, by the way. That issue was going to be argued if that challenge had proceeded.
What about supply? Demand is a necessary but not sufficient condition of prostitution. Focusing on demand means that the state will not have to address the factors that produce supply, we just blame the men. So colonialism, poverty, substance addiction, unemployment, gender employment structures, economic opportunity structures, and a culture that produces sexual capital will be left as they are.
For the people who rely on their sexual capital to subsist, demand-side prohibition will only exacerbate their problems, not least because patterns of law enforcement will not change. Since 1985, when the communicating law was enacted until the law struck it down, 93% of all prostitutions charges were a street prostitution offence. Two main factors produced this enforcement pattern.
First, it reflects patterns of complaints police receive about prostitution. Nearly all of them are about the street trade. Indeed, in every public opinion survey ever conducted, one area of clear consensus—and of course Canadians are deeply divided over the legal status of prostitution—is that prostitutes shouldn't be on the street. Of those polled in the June Angus Reid survey, which also shows that the majority of Canadians do not support Bill C-36 by the way, 89% of Canadians in that poll said that prostitution should not be on the street.
The second main factor explaining that law enforcement profile is the difficulty of “procuring bawdy house/living on the avails” charges. They are time-wasting. It's difficult to get evidence. Convictions were difficult, not least because sex workers have no interest in testifying against the people with whom they work. Police also knew that charges against off-street locations would reproduce exactly the same problems that put prostitution on the street in Toronto and Vancouver in the 1970s, when police closed down off-street prostitution.
How much would that pattern of enforcement change under the new law? It wouldn't change very much. That is because, if we look at Sweden, most of enforcement, especially during the first years, was against people on the street. What are the police going to do in Canada to enforce this law against off-street clients? Are they going to set up bogus escort services? Massage parlours? Are they going to entrap people?
We come to a legislative Gordian knot. I too am opposed to the legislation, which talks about criminalizing a sex worker “in a public place, or in any place open to public view...where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present”. We heard the way to deal with the problem of street prostitution was to prosecute the clients, and we heard Mr. Pickton's name mentioned.
As it happens, in the 1990s, the police in Vancouver deliberately set up a red light district in an industrial area. They deliberately had a policy. There was a news release, and I can send you a copy if you'd like. Their entire objective was not to lay charges against the women but to focus entirely on the men who buy sex. That particular area, the red light district—that industrial zone—which is where this particular provision of the legislation would try to force prostitution, became the killing field of Vancouver. That's where Mr. Pickton picked up most of his victims. That's how successful this kind of legislative regime was when it was tried in Vancouver, as it was in the 1990s.