Possible options on prostitution laws

As I stated in my earlier column on prostitution, the Supreme Court of Canada has challenged Canada’s Parliament to legislate definitive direction to the courts. Many think that if government would only regulate the profession, prostitutes will be healthy and safe and the cost to the government for monitoring this business would be to tax it. This is not the answer says a recently released report by the Macdonald Laurier Institute, “Oldest Profession or Oldest Oppression?” The author, Benjamin Perrin, is a UBC academic and a legal expert on prostitution and the sex industry.

Perrin’s unequivocal recommendation is “Canada’s objective should be to abolish prostitution,” because “its harms are inherent and cannot be regulated away.” In his paper, Perrin refers to legal prostitution experiments in the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand Australia and the U.S. State of Nevada. All have legalized prostitution but the human trafficking and associated oppression of women has not been lessened by legitimizing the trade. In the Netherlands, safety and health conditions have moderately improved, but still two thirds of the prostitutes (20,000) are trafficked from Eastern Europe and developing countries. Police have not seen a decrease in crime in any of these example countries. Despite decriminalization, prostitutes continue to suffer incidents of violence, threats, forcible confinement, theft and refusal to pay for services.

Germany’s new leniency encouraged prostitutes from abroad. Germany now harbours 400,000 prostitutes with many “virtual slaves to criminal gangs.” Perrin’s studies of other jurisdictions found the same conclusions.

Perrin’s recommendation to reduce prostitution and help prostitutes exit the trade is found in what is commonly referred to as the “Nordic Model” inspired by Sweden’s experience. Barbara Kay, a columnist with the National Post, says: “In 1999, Sweden left decades of decriminalization behind, opting to criminalize the purchasers—the “johns”—and the pimps, but not the prostitutes themselves. Instead, programs to encourage exit from the trade and alleviate poverty took precedence, along with public awareness campaigns targeted at male purchasers and education campaigns for police to illuminate the horrors of human trafficking. Prostitution has diminished and government reports suggest there are almost no foreign women remaining in the trade. In fact, a Swedish judge-led independent inquiry in 2010 found that “the Swedish model has disrupted organized crime, deterred sex act purchasers, changed public attitudes, and cut street-level prostitution in half. Plus it found no evidence that the problem simply moved indoors as some skeptics had speculated.”

Now I am only reporting a choice made by other jurisdictions, and some options for parliamentarians to review. I believe seldom is prostitution a career choice for women and therefore, it is important that assistance to broader career choices be part of the overall legislative initiative.

-Colin Mayes is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Shuswap.


















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