rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

C-36: Some initial thoughts on Canada’s new prostitution bill

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Most of you are likely aware by now that Canada's federal government has unveiled their new prostitution bill. I wrote about it for VICE this week and based on talking to a number of women on the issue, here are the conclusions I've come to for the time being. I say "for the time being" because I think at this point we're still speculating about the purpose of one particular (problematic) provision.

Ok. So first a very brief summary of key aspects of the proposed legislation, called Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act:

  • buying sex is criminalized
  • pimping is criminalized
  • advertising for sexual services is criminalized unless it is the prostitute themselves who is doing the advertising
  • prostituted people are decriminalized BUT there is a communication provision in there that leaves open the possibility to criminalize the sale of sex if it is being sold in a public area where there might be children around.

The purpose of the bill is to target the exploiters. It explicitly challenges men's right to buy sex and positions women in prostitution as victims, not criminals. There is money ($20 million, which I'm not convinced is enough) for exiting services and to support front-line work. The language used in the bill is very heartening and actually states that prostitution is inherently exploitative (which it is), that it "has a disproportionate impact on women and children," and that "the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity" causes "social harm." It explicitly names demand as the problem which needs to be addressed: "it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution."

All of this kind of thrills me. This language is explicitly feminist in that it names men as the problem and points to gender inequality as a key factor in terms of why prostitution exists in the first place and in terms of who is exploited in prostitution.

What is troubling is the communication provision. We don't know why it's there and we don't know how it might play out in real life. It's possible that "think of the children!" was stuck in there to appease Conservative voters who are concerned about prostitution happening around kids or in their (wealthy) neighbourhoods (meaning it could be a NIMBY provision). It's also possible that the provision is just an excuse to leave the door open to criminalize the most vulnerable -- women working on the streets, Aboriginal women. It's possible that, as promised, the focus will remain on criminalizing the pimps and johns and that the women will be left alone but if that was the intention, it would be great to take that communication provision out entirely. It could simply be applied to buyers, not sellers -- I see no real need to criminalize the women even if it were a NIMBY law (which I don't support, for the record -- just trying to get inside the brains of Conservatives...).

So. There are very good things in the bill and there is a potentially bad thing in the bill. It isn't, in my opinion, accurate to say that Canada has adopted the Nordic model, though we are much closer than we were previously. The Nordic model does not include a provision that could potentially criminalize prostituted people if in a a public place "where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present." But the reality is that we are in a better position to advocate for what we want now than if, for example, the proposal were to fully decriminalize or if it weren't so specific in its intention to target demand and support women. I would like to see a commitment to reeducating the police in order to ensure they actually focus on the johns and both leave prostitutes alone and support them if they need support. This is a key part of the Swedish model. It's also, of course, important to remind ourselves that Sweden has stronger social safety nets and a better welfare system than Canada does and so we need to keep the pressure on in regard to all of these aspects.

I'm particularly unimpressed by certain leftists who have continued to actively spread lies around about the Nordic model and the goals of abolitionists and of this bill. This, for example, is absolutely manipulative:

"Like the failed Nordic model, this made-in-Canada approach criminalizes the clients of sex workers, while ostensibly trying to convince sex workers to stop commodifying their bodies, in a hopeless attempt to end the sex trade."

1) The Nordic model has been very successful in terms of curbing demand and helping prostitutes exit the industry. To call it a failure is an outright lie. Check your integrity and journalistic ethics, folks.

2) The goal of abolitionists, the Nordic model, and the proposed Canadian model has absolutely nothing to do with convincing sex workers of anything. The goal is explicitly to target the johns and exploiters.

I have zero respect for people who are promoting and sharing this kind of bullshit and suggest that if you're going to take a stance, you might start by actually reading the bill.

I'm going to continue thinking and learning about possible impacts and outcomes and so these initial thoughts may change as we move forward. I'm looking forward to hearing all of your thoughts and concerns as well but will note that I'm seeing a lot of folks completely dismissing the bill as "bad" without having even looked at it, which doesn't feel particularly productive to me.

What would be productive, in my opinion, would be to work together to put pressure on the government and opposition parties to challenge the communication provision and be vocal about our support for the aspects of the bill that confront male power and privilege and work against the exploitative sex industry.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.