Thank you very much to the members of the committee for inviting me.
As has been said, I'm a Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia. For the past two decades, my scholarly research and a good deal of my pro bono legal work has focused on the issue of sexual violence against women, including the criminal laws surrounding sexual assault, prostitution, and pornography.
I'm here today speaking from that perspective, and I'm going to focus on the criminal law specifically. I understand that at least part of the impetus for these hearings was the proposed coming into force of Bill C-38, which originally started as a private member's bill. I've addressed the specific provisions of the bill in my written submissions, and I'm happy to take questions on that.
What I will say overall is that I think the amendments that are being proposed to come into force are positive but modest and really somewhat peripheral to the core issues with the criminal laws relating to trafficking and prostitution.
In the short time I have with you this afternoon, I want to address three things. First, what do we mean when we talk about sex trafficking, and how does it relate to the prostitution industry as a whole? Is Canada meeting its international legal obligations to fight sex trafficking? What role do prostitution laws more broadly play in terms of Canada's meeting those international legal obligations?
Turning to the first of those questions, I'm sure the committee is aware of the confusion and misinformation surrounding these terms and that, really, some of the most common misconceptions are that trafficking requires crossing an international border. That's not true, but it is true that global poverty provides a supply to meet local demands when that local demand is not present, and that's why it's not enough to say we can just leave it to Canadian women to choose or not choose to enter the sex trade, or that if somehow we improve the conditions for Canadian women sufficiently, we'll know whether they are truly choosing or not. The reality is that there is an inexhaustible supply of poor women from around the world to fill that demand.
The second and related misconception is that trafficking requires movement of a person, but, of course, that's also not true legally. You don't have to move anyone to traffick them, although moving victims around does help to isolate and destabilize them. I have met many women who, during their time in prostitution, have been moved around from city to city, motel to motel, and to different provinces to isolate them from family and friends and to put them in situations in which they were wholly dependent on their pimp or trafficker.
Finally, I think the other big misconception about the relationship between trafficking and prostitution is that trafficking is forced and prostitution is free, and that's when we rename it “sex work”. That is not true. The reason these terms are not synonymous is because trafficking requires a third person. You can't traffic yourself, so it's true that not all prostitution is trafficking, but the reality is that plenty of women and girls are exploited in prostitution without a middleman or a trafficker. Their poverty, addiction, youth, indigeneity, or racialization is exploited directly by the men who buy them.
The idea that trafficking is the bad prostitution and everything else is the okay prostitution is wrong. Once you have a third party involved, trafficking is simply the exercise of influence, coercion, threats, or pressure to get someone to participate in or to remain in prostitution. Given the nature of the prostitution industry, trafficking is not rare. It is, in fact, pervasive where third parties are involved.
How has Canada then attempted to meet its international obligations? Well, as you know, Canada is a signatory to the Palermo protocol that requires Canada to take necessary measures to prevent and punish the trafficking in persons. Canada has attempted to meet this in two ways, first through the trafficking provisions of the Criminal Code starting in 2005. The problem, of course, is that we've adopted a definition that is much narrower and much harder to prove than the definition of trafficking that you will find in the Palermo protocol.
The definition of exploitation in Canada requires a proven threat to safety, and does not extend to keeping someone in prostitution through the exploitation of a condition of vulnerability, which is part of the Palermo definition.
The reality is that you don't need to use force or violence or threats if you can find someone sufficiently vulnerable. It's, in fact, better for your bottom line if you can get people who will comply without your having to threaten them with violence or rough them up. It can be enough, in fact, in many cases, for the pimp trafficker simply to threaten to reveal that the girl or woman is in prostitution to have her stay and comply.
It's because of how narrow this definition is that we see cases prosecuted instead under the procuring offence and under what used to be the “living on the avails” offence, now called “material benefit”. The fact that police and prosecutors are shifting trafficking cases over to these other offences, because it's so difficult to actually prove the very narrow and strict definition of trafficking, I think fuels the false claim of prostitution industry supporters that trafficking doesn't really exist in Canada. That's a reminder that with the way we've currently structured our laws, both the procuring and material benefit offences are crucial to the fight against sex trafficking, because, in fact, they are the main charges being laid.
The second way in which these obligations are addressed is through the 2014 amendments to the prostitution laws more broadly. You have already heard Judge Morrison talk about the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. These provisions respond to the protocol's recognition that it is important to use the law to target the demand for prostitution directly, something that is not addressed at all by the trafficking provisions, which only apply to the traffickers. The greater the demand for prostitution, the more money traffickers stand to make and the more women and girls they need to meet that demand.
Targeting demand by criminalizing sex purchase is consistent with the emerging international trend based on the human rights of women and the evidence of the pervasive inequality of the prostitution industry. Canada has followed the lead of Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, and has been followed by France, Ireland, and Northern Ireland in adopting this kind of model. I would say to you that a society that is committed to sex equality, to reconciliation with indigenous women and girls, and to the rejection of sexualized racism cannot support men's purchase of sex by decriminalizing that activity.
One hundred percent of men who buy sex, at least from everything I have seen, choose to do so. They are choosing. We don't have to know the backstory of each individual woman to see if she is worthy of our compassion in some way. We simply have to know that the men are choosing, and they are choosing to create that market.
I remain deeply concerned, and I will just say this in conclusion. Based on relentless pressure and misinformation from those who want to legitimize a commercial prostitution industry in Canada, this committee's process will be used as a pretext. We will be told that the government has strengthened the trafficking provisions, so we don't need laws that target prostitution. I want to say explicitly that if that happens, I and others will be there to call you on it.
I want to urge you to take a gender-equality and human rights approach that puts the interests of those who make up the vast majority of those in the sex trade first. Prostitution markets are not inelastic. Traffickers are dissuaded by inhospitable environments. I would say that we are not there yet, but in terms of the legal provisions we have put in place, we are moving in the right direction.
That's what I have to say.