New prostitution laws a draconian step backward

Jun 17, 2014 By Matthew Friedberg
Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg says Ottawa's proposed new prostitution legislation is a step backward for Canada and will only force sex workers to remain underground in a dangerous, clandestine world.

"It's not an improvement – the law now is far more draconian and more unreasonable than it was before," he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The Conservative government's proposed new legislation would criminalize the purchase of sexual services, crack down on those who benefit from prostitution, and outlaw the sale of sex near schools and other places where children gather, says the Canadian Press.

The government has said the legislation targets johns and pimps while protecting the vulnerable. The idea, the government says, is to reduce the demand for sexual services, protect sex workers from exploitation, and safeguard children and communities, says the news service.

But Friedberg, partner at Caramanna Friedberg LLP, says it does nothing to protect sex workers and, in fact, only keeps the world's oldest profession underground, which will allow it to remain dangerous for those who work in it.

"So what you're going to have is those who are purchasing these services will still have to live an underground, clandestine life," he says. "The purchaser, who will be prosecuted, is going to say, 'I can't transact with you overtly in a free and open community,' so sex workers have to live the same kind of life they lived before. The net result is really the same. It's not going to improve the lives or safety of sex workers."

The Canadian Press is reporting that the prostitution bill creates new offences for:
  • the purchase of sexual services and communicating in any place for that purpose, with penalties ranging from a $500 fine to five years in prison.
  • receiving a financial or material benefit from the prostitution of others, including through businesses that sell the sexual services of others online or from venues such as escort agencies, massage parlours or strip clubs.
  • advertising the sale of sexual services in print media or on the Internet.
  • communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in public places where a child could reasonably be expected to be present.
As well, the legislation increases the maximum penalty for buying sexual services from children to 10 years in prison from five, says the Canadian Press.

The government has said it's devoting $20 million to help sex workers leave the business, says the news service.

The legislation comes after a Supreme Court of Canada decision in December that struck down key provisions of the country's prostitution laws. The court was concerned the provisions unduly increased the risk to sex workers, violating their constitutional rights, says the Canadian Press.

Friedberg says the government, in writing the new legislation, didn't listen to the courts.

"They've written new laws that are even more encompassing than they were before in the face of overwhelming evidence that the government should take a less-interventionist role in peoples' lives in this way," he says.

Friedberg says he was "surprised" when he read about the changes and expects the new law will also result in "immediate court challenges" to it.