Canada: Pass legislation to prevent the sexual exploitation of women & girls

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Date: 
14 Apr 2014

23 JUNE 2014 UPDATE: On 16 June, the government’s bill reforming Canada’s prostitution laws passed its second reading in the House of Commons and was referred to the Justice Committee (note: bills must undergo three readings and a committee stage in the House of Commons and also pass in the Senate, and then receive Royal Assent before becoming law). The Committee will meet the week of 7 July to hear testimony on the bill. This will be a good opportunity for the bill to be amended to truly protect the human rights of people in prostitution. Please continue to call on the Canadian government to ensure that the bill fully decriminalizes people who sell sex, while maintaining criminalization on pimps, brothel-keepers and those who buy sex.


6 JUNE 2014 UPDATE: Thousands of you called on the Canadian government to introduce a law to better protect women and girls – in line with the Nordic model – and we can report that we’re halfway there! On 4 June, Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced a bill to reform Canada’s prostitution laws. The bill criminalizes those who buy sex, pimps, brothel-keepers and those who advertise another person for prostitution. The government has also pledged C$20 million in funding for support services, with an emphasis on assisting those who would like to exit prostitution. Both measures are vital in helping to rectify the stark gender, race, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities evident in the prostitution industry.

Equality Now and our Canadian partners welcome these measures, but we are very concerned that the bill does not fully decriminalize those who sell sex. While the bill protects people in prostitution from criminal sanctions in many areas, it also maintains some criminalization. We and our partners – including survivors of sexual exploitation, many of whom entered prostitution as children – recognize that, more often than not, prostitution is not entered into out of choice, but rather through lack of choice. Any criminalization of people in prostitution would result in the added punishment, further victimization and increased marginalization of many who are already victims of heinous crimes and human rights violations.

We are working to ensure that Canada enacts legislation that will truly protect the human rights of people in prostitution while preventing future exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Stay tuned for further updates and information on how you can help.


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TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

On 20 December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional. The Canadian Parliament now has until December 2014 to enact new laws or prostitution and the inherently exploitative activities surrounding it, such as brothel-keeping and pimping, will be decriminalized. Activists throughout Canada and around the world are calling on the Canadian government to seize the opportunity to enact legislation to protect women and girls from exploitation and violence.

“If we decriminalize prostitution we’d be saying it’s open season on our women, especially our marginalized and vulnerable, when it’s them we should be protecting the most” says Trisha Baptie, a survivor of sex trafficking and founder of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), a Canadian non-profit that advocates for the abolition of prostitution. Trisha was exploited for 15 years in the sex industry in Vancouver, starting from when she was just 13 years old, in illegal and legal “establishments” both indoors and outdoors. She has since become a leading activist working with others to end the sexual exploitation of women and girls, and is among the many survivors advocating for Canada to target the root of the problem by passing legislation that criminalizes those who pay for sex while decriminalizing and ensuring support for women in prostitution. Known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” Model, this legislative and policy framework recognizes the power inequality between the buyer and the person in prostitution and seeks to rectify it by:

1.    Decriminalizing people in prostitution (i.e. people selling sex)
2.    Criminalizing those who pay for sex acts, brothel-keepers, pimps and procurers
3.    Mandating robust funding for services for people in prostitution, including assistance for those who wish to exit prostitution

This framework is gaining traction throughout the world and has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, is currently being considered by the parliaments of France, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and has been recommended by the Council of Europe, where Canada has observer status, and the European Union, with which Canada has an official partnership.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Right now, the Canadian government has a vital opportunity to better protect people in prostitution and help rectify the stark gender, race, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities evident in the prostitution industry. Precise numbers are difficult to obtain, but it is clear that the vast majority of those in prostitution in Canada are women, and that many – like Trisha – enter into prostitution as children. Further, women and girls from marginalized communities are disproportionately represented. For example, Aboriginal children and youth make up 90% of the visible sex trade in some communities where the overall Aboriginal population is less than 10%. The Native Women’s Association of Canada remarked on the impact of decriminalization of brothels on Aboriginal women: “The state has pushed Aboriginal women from one institution to another – residential schools, foster homes, group homes, and prisons…NWAC refuses to accept brothels as the new official institution for Aboriginal women and girls.”

While people in prostitution should never be criminalized, full decriminalization of the sex industry does not prevent exploitation or further the human rights of people in prostitution, especially in a context marked by inequality. As has happened in Germany and the Netherlands after they legalized pimping and brothel-keeping, it will only serve to empower and embolden pimps, brothel owners and the men who buy sex, and undermine efforts to combat sex trafficking and exploitation within the prostitution industry.

The exploitation of women and girls in the commercial sex industry is a human rights violation, and the demand for commercial sex is the main driving force behind sex trafficking. Canada, as a party to the UN Trafficking Protocol, has an obligation to “discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” Seeking to normalize and legitimize the sex industry by decriminalizing its surrounding activities is in direct opposition to this obligation. Canada has also ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which calls on countries to “suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women,” as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly calls on countries to prevent the sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.

By passing legislation in line with the Nordic Model, Canada will join other progressive countries by effectively advancing gender equality and addressing exploitation in the commercial sex industry, in line with its international legal obligations.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Please join Equality Now and our Canadian partners EVE, Sextrade101, and the London Abused Women’s Centre in calling on the government to enact legislation in line with the Nordic Model that will protect the human rights of people in prostitution while preventing future exploitation in the commercial sex industry.

Letters should go to:

The Honourable Peter MacKay
Minister of Justice
509s Center Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6
peter.mackay@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: 613-992-6022
Fax: 613-992-2337
Twitter: @MinPeterMacKay

Mike Wallace
MP & Committee Chair
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6
Mike.wallace@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: 613-995-0881
Fax: 613-995-1091
Twitter: @MikeWallaceMP

Françoise Boivin
MP & Committee Vice-Chair
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6
Francoise.Boivin@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: 613-992-4351
Fax: 613-992-1037
Twitter: @FBoivinNPD

Sean Casey
MP & Committee Vice-Chair
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6
Sean.Casey@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: 613-996-4714
Fax: 613-995-7685
Twitter: @SeanCaseyMP

Letters: 

Dear Minister/Member of Parliament,

I urge you to listen to the survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation advocating for the Canadian government to pass legislation that criminalizes those who pay for sex acts while decriminalizing and ensuring support for women in prostitution – known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” model. After the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prostitution laws as unconstitutional, your government has a vital opportunity to better protect people in prostitution, prevent sex trafficking and promote gender equality by joining other progressive countries that have adopted the Nordic model.

The exploitation of women and girls in the commercial sex industry is a human rights violation and a cause and consequence of gender, racial, ethnic, economic and other inequalities. While precise numbers are difficult to obtain, it is clear that the vast majority of those in prostitution are women, and that many enter as children. In addition, women and girls from marginalized communities are overrepresented. As many women and girls are not in prostitution through choice, but rather lack of choice, people in prostitution must not be criminalized, but instead should have access to comprehensive assistance and services.

The Nordic model has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, and is currently being considered by the parliaments of France, Ireland and Northern Ireland. I join Equality Now, EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), Sextrade 101 and the London Abused Women’s Centre in calling on the Canadian government to live up to its obligations under international law, including the UN Trafficking Protocol and UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to address the demand for prostitution that fuels sex trafficking and to protect people in prostitution by passing legislation that:

1.    Decriminalizes people in prostitution (i.e. people selling sex),
2.    Criminalizes those who pay for sex acts, brothel-keepers, pimps and procurers, and
3.    Mandates robust funding for services for people in prostitution, including assistance for those who wish to exit prostitution.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,