The Conservative government’s plan to arrest men who buy sex and ban sex ads in print and online is a surprising move, says a Maple Ridge councillor who’s raised the issue previously.
“It very much surprised me in that it does seem to be in the other direction,” said Coun. Bob Masse. “I’m not sure that’s going to fly in the courts either.”
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced Wednesday that for the first time in Canada, buying sex would be criminalized.
Under Bill 36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, men could face a $500 fine for a first offence of buying sex. Maximum penalty for the offence would be five years in jail.
As well, advertising sexual services, both in print and online, would be banned, while prostitutes would be barred from selling sex in areas where children could reasonably be expected to be present.
The prison term for pimping would jump from 10 to 14 years.
A new category would ban escort agencies, massage parlours and strip clubs that provide sexual services.
Masse had complained in 2012 of prostitutes and homeless in the downtown, leading council to order a study of the area. He has a business near 223rd Street.
“I’m trying to see what’s the motive behind this,” he said of the new legislation.
He noted that in some countries where prostitution is legalized, it’s led to a huge influx of foreign sex trade workers controlled by organized crime.
Steven Lamothe, chair of Maple Ridge’s social planning advisory committee, said he’ll put the new legislation on to the committee’s agenda for its July meeting. But he sees some positives in the bill.
By focusing on those buying sex, sex trade workers could have more protection. According to the justice ministry, prostitutes would be protected from legal action against them, unless they were selling sex in an area where children are commonly present.
Without fear of legal threat, prostitutes could contact police more often. As well, people doing business with prostitutes, such as pharmacists or security companies, also wouldn’t be prosecuted, unless the relationship was exploitative.
That could reduce the number of street workers in Maple Ridge, while allowing women to stay safer, being able to operate more as a business, Lamothe said.
“It gives women the opportunity to look at things like having security and drivers and gives them some protection.”
But the crucial thing is how the law is implemented, and it could push prostitution further underground, he added.
A Vancouver group that represents sex-trade workers, though, is calling for the government to turf the bill and introduce a law decriminalizing sex work.
The Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education Society says laws that criminalize buying of sex increase the risk of violence. Vancouver police are already following that approach, which pushes workers into more isolated and dangerous areas, it said in a release.
“What sex workers in Canada want is decriminalization,” says Sheri Kiselbach.
“Decriminalization not only has been proven to increase safety and access to legal protections, but recognizes that sex workers, too, have worth and dignity.”
The ban on advertising sex services could also drive workers from the safety of indoors to the outside, she added.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp says the intent behind criminalizing buyers is to reduce demand for prostitution.
And banning the communication for sexual services in areas where children are commonly present “is necessary to protect communities,” he said Thursday.
Kamp added that the Conservatives disagree with the NDP and Liberals, who think prostitution should be legalized.
“Jurisdictions that have legalized prostitution have significantly higher rates of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and we think that’s unacceptable.”
Kamp said the minister consulted widely, receiving 31,000 responses, including from more than 100 front-line organizations.
Ottawa is kicking in $20 million over five years to help prostitutes leave the lifestyle.
The new law was introduced after the Supreme Court of Canada late last year struck down parts of the existing law, such as keeping a brothel, or living off the avails of prostitution and communicating public place for its purpose.
Ridge Meadows RCMP say they’ll wait until after the legislation is passed before deciding on enforcement. That policy will be determined in consultation with E Division staff and Crown counsel.
A federal survey of Canadians released June 1, following government-led consultations, found 56 per cent of respondents think it should be a crime to buy sexual services, but 66 per cent said it shouldn’t be illegal for sex workers to sell their services.
A study by UBC researchers released earlier in the week argued a Canadian move to the above system, known as the Nordic Model would force prostitutes to work in riskier conditions where they have less control over their health and safety.
Read a related editorial: Safety First