More than 220 legal experts have signed a letter warning Prime Minister Stephen Harper that proposed prostitution laws “likely” violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Such criminalization will continue to limit the practical ability of sex workers to screen their clients or negotiate the terms of the transaction,” the letter states. “Sex workers will continue to face barriers to police protection and will be prevented from operating in a safe indoor space”.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay tabled that legislation in June in response to a December 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision (known as Bedford) that found three of Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional.
Those rules penalized sex workers and were deemed to violate Section 7 of the charter, which guarantees security of the person. Bill C-36 shifts penalties away from sex workers and instead targets clients (a legal regime known as the “Nordic model”).
Speaking at the committee meeting on July 7, MacKay conceded that he expects Bill C-36 will be subject to a constitutional challenge. But he argued the proposed changes will pass that test.
According to MacKay, his legislation marks a “fundamental shift towards the treatment of prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation”. He said its goal is to reduce demand for prostitution, “ultimately abolishing it, to the extent possible”.
The legal experts’ letter makes the argument that Bill C-36 will have the same effects as those laws struck down in Bedford, and will therefore be found “likely to offend the Charter”.
The legal experts’ letter also includes criticism of an entirely new law proposed in Bill C-36, a ban on sex-industry advertising.
“This type of prohibition will significantly limit sex workers’ ability to work safely indoors,” it states. “This is concerning considering that the Court in Bedford clearly found that the ability to operate in indoor venues is a key measure for sex workers to reduce the risk of violence.”