The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians gathered together for influence, impact, and identity in ministry and public witness. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a national forum for evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society.
Over the last few decades, the EFC has presented a number of papers and submissions to Parliament on the issue of prostitution and on the closely related issue of human trafficking. We also intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Bedford case. We're grateful for the opportunity to speak to this important bill. For the sake of time I'm going to focus on a few key elements of the bill and ask that you would refer to our written brief for our full analysis.
A central message of the Bible is the call for God's people to be compassionate because God has been compassionate to us. Our belief that God has created all people in his image and loves each one compels us both to announce and to guard the fundamental dignity of each person. We understand people should be treated as creatures with inherent worth, not as objects for another's gratification or profit. The EFC has long expressed concern for those who are prostituted based on biblical principles that compel care for the vulnerable, the pursuit of justice, and inform the duty of care we owe one another as human beings.
Research shows that the vast majority of individuals in prostitution enter by force, coercion, or as a result of constrained choice and last resort. Prostitution is inherently dangerous. It's violence against women and a form of systemic exploitation of many of our society's most vulnerable women, children, and men. We do not believe prostitution can be considered safe or legitimated as a form of work, nor can it be accepted as a solution to poverty and a range of other underlying social issues.
We commend the government for the good work it has done in crafting Bill C-36, which courageously challenges the assumption that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women's bodies, and boldly refutes the notion that buying sex is an inevitable in our society. In this regard the bill represents a paradigm shift in law and policy, and eventually we hope in public attitude about prostitution.
This is a shift the EFC has advocated for, so we're pleased to see it reflected not just in the bill but in comments and speeches delivered by the minister in introducing and framing it.
The preamble begins with the recognition that prostitution is inherently exploitive and dangerous, that objectification of the human body and commodification of sexual activity causes social harm, and that prostitution violates human dignity and gender equality. It also recognizes issues like poverty, addiction, mental illness, and racialization are key contributing factors to individuals entering prostitution, and it notes the importance of denouncing and prohibiting the purchase of sex because that's what creates the demand for prostitution.
This positioning effectively turns the historic treatment of prostitution on its head. Legal and political treatment of prostitution has long focused almost exclusively on those who are prostituted and how we might deal with them as public nuisance, as a threat to public health, or a source of community disruption. Sex buyers who drive the demand that funnels individuals into prostitution and holds them there have been largely invisible.
C-36 correctly identifies and targets demand as the driving force behind prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. The bill proposes a new offence prohibiting the purchase or attempted purchase of sexual services. If passed, the purchase of sex would be illegal for the first time in Canada and a buyer's conduct would be illegal wherever it occurs.
The sex trade operates according to market principles of supply and demand. Without male demand for paid sexual access to primarily women and children, the prostitution industry wouldn't flourish or expand. This new offence takes aim at the root of this exploitation and is supported by significant fines and potential jail time. Surveys of men who buy sex indicate these, along with a risk of public shaming, are the things that would most effectively deter them from continuing in their sex-buying behaviour.
We recommend funds incurred from fines under proposed subsection 286.1(1) be directed towards exit services. We question the purpose of proposed paragraph 286.1(1)(b), which gives the option of a summary offence with lower fines and jail terms. For consistency of message and deterrents, our preference would be that all offences under this section be indictable as under 286.1(1)(a). However, if there is good reason for maintaining the option of a summary conviction at the crown's discretion, then we suggest that summary conviction only be an option on first offence and that subsequent offences be indictable.
We also question what will become of re-educational programs like john schools, which serve an important restorative justice function. Feedback from buyers who attend and anecdotal evidence from those who run or participate in the programs suggest that these play an important role in changing how buyers view prostitution, and that recidivism rates among those who attend are relatively low.
In prostitution, everyone is robbed, including the buyer, and certainly any family they may have. Our interest is that all parties to prostitution be restored and we feel that john schools play an important role in this. So we hope that provinces will be encouraged to maintain or establish prostitution offender programs as part of the punishment for offences under section 286.1.
Where the diversion program is often an alternative to a first offence criminal charge, it could be made mandatory so that in addition to the $1,000 fine on a first offence, buyers could be required to attend a diversion program.
Bill C-36 also initiates a critical shift in how those who are prostituted are viewed in law. Research and anecdotal evidence tell us that between 88% and 96% of those in prostitution are not there by choice and say that they would get out if they felt they had a viable alternative. This bill recognizes and reflects that reality. The government has made it clear that in the spirit and intent of the legislation those who are prostituted are no longer seen as a nuisance but as vulnerable, and therefore afforded immunity from criminal charges except under specific circumstances.
This is an important shift that we affirm wholeheartedly. We are concerned, though, that paragraphs 213(1)(a) and (b), which deal with stopping motor vehicles or impeding vehicular or pedestrian traffic, remain and are unqualified by the new section 213(1.1), which makes it an offence to communicate for prostitution in a public place or next to a place where reasonably minors might be expected to be present.
We understand the balance the government has tried to achieve between protecting vulnerable individuals involved in prostitution and protecting communities, especially children, from exposure. Where there is prostitution there are johns and pimps, and the objective of protecting children from exposure, being solicited by buyers, or approached by pimps is a good one. But the current wording of the section leaves a fairly big loophole that could undermine the intent of the law to criminalize mainly the activities of johns and pimps.
Further, by our interpretation the only ones who risk criminalization under the proposed laws are the most vulnerable: those engaging in street-level prostitution who are among the poorest, most desperate, and most addicted. Criminalizing vulnerable individuals creates barriers to their exit from prostitution and further entrenches the inequality and marginalization that got them there.
Criminal records are a significant barrier to many potential educational or employment opportunities for those who successfully exit, especially when so many who find health and freedom want to then go back and help.
We want to minimize the potential of this section for criminalizing prostituted individuals. The current scope is far too broad as it could be argued that minors could be reasonably expected to be just about anywhere in public. Our preference is that section 213 be either narrowed significantly or removed. Offences under section 213(1) and 213(1.1) are punishable on summary conviction, which, as I understand it, can carry fines of up to $2,000, jail time up to six months, or both.
If section 213 is not amended to minimize the potential for criminalization we suggest the punishment for these summary offences be set at a very low threshold with no potential for imprisonment, and be defined in the legislation so that we can ensure the most vulnerable don't continue to face undue hardship.
Ultimately a lot of this comes down to enforcement. How can we be assured that the spirit and intent of the bill will be upheld when it comes to enforcing the laws? We have travelled extensively across Canada, conducting public informational forums on prostitution, in partnership with Defend Dignity, and I can say two things with confidence. There are police officers and police forces in whose hands we feel completely confident that the spirit of this law will be upheld. But there are also others in whose hands we don't have that same confidence.
The Attorney General of Canada can give direction to the provincial attorneys general, who then give guidance to law enforcement within their jurisdiction, but how a particular police department enforces the laws is determined by the department itself, as evidenced by the number of police forces across the country that have already been policing in a manner consistent with Bill C-36.
We suggest that standardized training be developed for law enforcement, provincial attorneys general, and crown attorneys about the new treatment of prostitution under Bill C-36 to support enforcement that's consistent with the intent of the legislation.
Finally, the legislative changes proposed are part of what is to be a two-pronged approach taken by the government. We welcome the initial commitment of $20 million to supporting exit programs and hope this will translate to long-term sustained federal funding. The government should also engage provincial, territorial, and municipal governments and a wide range of stakeholders in developing a comprehensive national plan to ensure that programs and supports are in place to prevent vulnerable individuals from entering prostitution and support those who are in as they exit.
We suggest that such a plan could be integrated into the national action plan to combat human trafficking.
It's also important to address poverty and affordable housing as underlying social issues that drive individuals to prostitution or make them vulnerable to exploitation, because preventing entry into prostitution is just as important as helping with exit from it once they're in.