by Jessica Hume.  July 7, 2014.

OTTAWA – Justice Minister Peter MacKay defended his government’s proposed prostitution bill Monday and warned that without new laws governing the world’s oldest profession, prostitution will become decriminalized by the end of the year.

The federal government was given a year to come up with new prostitution laws after the Supreme Court struck down previous ones on the grounds they weren’t compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Bill C-36 has been controversial since the government introduced it earlier this spring.

One change the bill proposes is to shift the criminalization on to johns – the men who buy sex – rather than those selling sex.

The first of 60 witnesses to testify before the House justice committee between Monday and Thursday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the bill marks the first time the “inherent danger” of prostitution is recognized.

“If no action is taken by the end of the year, prostitution will become decriminalized,” he told committee.

MacKay hopes that by punishing the buyers rather than sellers, the demand for sex diminishes.

The bill would also earmark $20 million over five years to go to “exit” programs aimed at helping women get out of prostitution.

Though MacKay said the bill “protects communities” and “also enhances prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves,” concerns were raised over a provision that proposes to narrow the allowable kinds of advertising for sexual services.

Former sex workers, women’s groups and others have questioned this provision, arguing it has the potential to make it tougher for prostitutes to screen potential clients.

Waterloo University professor Emmett Macfarlane said this provision is similar to the old laws the Supreme Court rejected last year.

“By prohibiting advertising and reviving the ban on public communication, the bill would make it much more difficult for sex workers to safely access and vet their clients and ensure they can meet them in relatively safe places on their own terms,” Macfarlane said.

Under previous laws, prostitution itself was legal. It was the auxiliary elements – communicating for the purposes of selling sex, selling individuals for sex, running bawdy houses – that were criminal.

Many witnesses before the Commons committee were former prostitutes. Their stories varied widely, from women who’d been trafficked and forced into horrifying situations to other women who resisted being labeled “exploited” and maintained that they worked according to their own volition.

Timea Nagy founded a women’s shelter after being the victim of human trafficking and forced into sexual slavery.

Nagy rejects the term “sex work” because she says it can’t be called work if it involved being physically and sexually assaulted. She supports the bill and in particular its proposal to criminalize sex buyers.

Emilie Laliberte, sex worker and advocate for sex workers’ rights, rejects the notion that she is an exploited person simply because she sells her body for sex.

Hilla Kerner works at the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

She hopes the bill is amended but says she generally supports the criminalization of pimps and johns.

“But I reject the element of criminalizing women for prostituting in a public place,” she said.

Source:    QMI Agency, Sun News