Good morning to you, and good afternoon from Copenhagen.
I am, in fact, not a professor of law yet. I am a Canadian lawyer and I've worked on prostitution and human trafficking issues since the late 1980s in a number of countries.
First, I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to present at this hearing, and especially for all the effort you put in to allowing me to participate via video link from Copenhagen.
What I will do today is comment on certain aspects of Bill C-36. That doesn't mean that I fully endorse, or not, other aspects of the bill that I'm not mentioning.
As the committee may be aware, I was a special adviser to the Swedish government for six years and I was charged with the development and implementation of legal and policy matters and intervention in relation to prostitution and human trafficking, on what is often called “the Swedish approach”.
The Swedish approach is firmly steeped in principles of gender equality, human rights, etc., and has also inspired other countries, as you well know, in Scandinavia, in the European Union and beyond, where communities are working to shift the culture of the idea that prostitution is inevitable toward the understanding that prostitution is something through which individuals in a society should not have to be exploited.
Please ask questions about the Swedish approach during question time. I would be happy to discuss some of the issues that were raised earlier during this meeting.
Let me go directly to Bill C-36. I want to first comment on the preamble.
First of all, I will say I'm happy to see that the government is taking action, for the first time in Canadian legal history, to comprehensively address the root cause of prostitution: those who create the demand, those prostitution buyers, those men who are involved as purchasers. I'm also happy that they have intended to target those who profit financially and materially from the exploitation of mainly women in prostitution.
To ensure effective application of any comprehensive legal framework that aims to prevent and tackle prostitution, it is essential, as we did very clearly in Sweden, to state which values and principles such laws are informed by and rest upon, as the government has attempted to do, at least partly, in the preamble of the bill. What is not visible in this preamble is that prostitution is a gender-specific violation. The majority of the victims are female and the majority of the perpetrators—buyers, pimps and traffickers—are men. We also know that in Canada aboriginal women and girls are highly represented in both indoor and street prostitution. This needs to be reflected.
I recommend that the preamble also include a paragraph that recognizes the international human rights obligations that Canada has under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for example, and also under article 9.5 of the Palermo protocol, which obligates countries to criminalize or discourage the demand for prostitution purposes.
Communication for the purpose to provide a sexual service troubles me deeply, as it does, I think, everyone who is responding to the call to comment on this bill. It is most troubling for me to note that the government decided, despite plenty of evidence provided by survivors of prostitution and human trafficking, academic and community researchers, women's anti-violence organizations, law enforcement, today's witnesses, and some provinces, as to the multiple detrimental effects of criminal or administrative sanctions on those who are exploited in prostitution. Not only are they discriminatory but they are contrary to the human rights obligations that Canada has signed on to.
I believe that instead of facing criminal charges and potential involvement in the criminal justice system, like any other victim of a crime, victims in prostitution should be accorded all the rights and protection available through federal and provincial victim bills of rights, and they should be encompassed and amended in Bill C-36.
I want to underline that in no legal system, no matter what measures are taken, should those who are involved in prostitution be apprehended, fined, prosecuted, and jailed for something that is a crime committed against them, and not by them. So I urge the government to reconsider and remove this offence from Bill C-36.
If the government still wants to ensure that prostitution doesn't exist in public places and close to children, should that be an important aim, the best way to do that is not targeting the victim but targeting those who create the demand for men who buy sexual services. We know that from Sweden. It is an effective way of discouraging men from taking part in purchasing sexual services in the first place. I'm encouraged to see that the government has decided to put into place legislation or an offence that criminalizes the buyers.
I do have some comments on this particular offence. I will give some and the rest will come in writing.
First of all, I want to contradict studies that are going to be presented and have been presented to the committee, which underline that men who purchase women and men for prostitution purposes are benign and have a real interest in the victim's safety and protection. We know very well from the large body of academic and community-based research, and also from direct comments made by men who purchase women on websites that are located in Canada....
In the case of my research I had looked closely at the big websites in the Netherlands, called hookers.nl, where men post the most horrific comments about the women they purchase. I've also been involved in interviewing buyers in Lebanon, where we also can see that—just as in all of the other countries where men have purchased sexual services—they talk about the benefits derived from controlling women in prostitution.
To increase applicability, you need to ensure that attempts are criminalized. Otherwise, you will not be able to intervene until a violation has been committed. You need to increase the scale of the crimes, which is in the very low level, to reflect the seriousness of the crime. A breach of those provisions should mean a criminal record that cannot be rescinded even if they participate in so-called john school. As well, as has been done in Norway, the provision should be extended extraterritorially so that the Canadian resident who attempts to purchase a sexual service outside of Canada can be prosecuted in the country.
Key to an effective policy strategy to prevent prostitution offences is to ensure that individuals, groups, or legal persons are not able to recruit, harbour, or materially benefit from the prostitution of somebody else. It was recognized very early in the international community that there is a close link between the existence of legal brothels and other legal or illegal prostitution-related activities in a country, and the attraction for pimps and traffickers to bring women to those markets, and also for the men who purchase to actually show up in those markets. This has been soundly confirmed, both in the practical applications of 16 years of work that we've done in Sweden, but also through academic research, and importantly, evaluation and court cases that have been taking place recently in Germany and Netherlands, where they conclude that their system is attractive to those who facilitate and sell women for prostitution purposes. So instead of repealing the prostitution...[Inaudible--Editor]...as the Supreme Court proposed, they need to be reformed, strengthened, etc.
I also think that it's interesting to testify at the same time as the Adult Entertainment Association, because one aspect of the Canadian legal framework that is not federal, but is closely related in practice and effects to the actions that we are discussing today, is the municipal licensing system of strip clubs, body-rub parlours, escort services, etc. The existence of such venues, I argue, has a direct impact on the scale and extent of prostitution-related activities and human trafficking into and within Canada, and of course, the creation of victims both in Canada and in other countries.
We also know that the opposite is true. If you enforce vigorously criminal provisions against the whole chain of perpetrators—buyers, pimps, and traffickers—we also see that traffickers and pimps will not establish themselves in the country or in that particular community. That has also been recognized by those countries in Europe that have a legal or decriminalized system.
I am not going to say anything about the advertisement provision right now, although I generally approve of it. But there are problems of jurisdictional aspects that I will leave. These are discussed in my paper.
When I testified to another committee in the Canadian Parliament in 2007, I suggested that the government should appoint an independent national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings who would have the mandate to investigate, monitor, and analyze the state and scale of prostitution and trafficking, but also all measures—legal and policy—to see whether they are consistent with the charter and with international human rights.
In conclusion, in a democratic society in which we strive for gender equality and equal treatment of everyone, no matter their background, we must include the right to live free from violence and exploitation, including exploitation through prostitution, no matter where that exploitation takes place, whether it is indoors, on streets, or wherever.
I urge the committee and in turn the government to resist the dramatic promotion of and the resulting normalization of arguments about prostitution as individual choice or legitimate and empowering work, in the Canadian public debate put forward by what is called in international human rights theory the “pro-violation constituency”, meaning organizations, individuals, etc., who, when their interests are threatened, lobby for and consent to policies associated with human rights and norms violations.
In the case of prostitution in Canada, such pro-violation constituencies are often or may be composed of individuals, groups, and organizations that directly or indirectly aim either to increase their exploitative access to those victims—and in the case of Canada and other countries, that is usually groups of men who want to have better access to women and young men through prostitution—in order to continue the exploitation. We have those groups in Canada. We have evidence that this is exactly what they're doing.
The other aspect and the other pro-violation constituency is of course those who derive a financial or material benefit from the exploitation of those who are drawn into prostitution, as is indicated, for example, in the Netherlands—the business associations that want to expand their empires and make more profits.
I think it is long overdue in Canada that we identify prostitution and human trafficking as intimately linked and understand them as serious forms of violence and systemic human rights violations.
It's time to act responsibly, ethically, and decisively by criminalizing those who exploit, those who benefit, and ensuring that those who are victims and exploited in the prostitution industry do not suffer any criminal or administrative penances.