Ottawa eyes Nordic model for prostitution legislation

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      The federal government is soliciting public opinion about the sale and purchase of sex by adults.

      Although its online consultation is hardly over, Ottawa is seen to favour the so-called Nordic model used in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.

      Vancouver lawyers Elin Sigurdson and Georgialee Lang agree that the Conservative government looks keen on going after buyers of sex and pimps, not the prostitutes.

      This follows last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision that invalidated criminal prohibitions against communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, living off the avails, and brothels.

      Sigurdson and Lang represented opposing sides in that case. They’re likely to be in the same position again if the government embraces the Nordic approach.

      “Our clients think that the policy of criminalizing clients or johns is going to create exactly the same harms that existed under the laws that were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada,” Sigurdson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      She was one of the lawyers for Pivot Legal Society, Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, and PACE Society, which held that current laws endanger sex workers in violation of their constitutional rights to life and security.

      “We think that to the extent that it causes the same harm, it’s going to be unconstitutional,” Sigurdson said about the Nordic model.

      Lang represented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and she indicated that many are convinced that this new system will withstand a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge.

      She also pointed out that as far as the ruling Conservative Party of Canada is concerned, the Nordic approach will not alienate its base, which includes her clients.

      “They’re a Christian-based organization, and they have a desire to help these girls that are on the street, the ones that are exploited, the ones that are beat up and that are drug addicts and are there because they can’t support themselves any other way,” Lang told the Straight by phone. “They support programs to help these women get off the streets, and so that sits with their profile where they’re saying, ‘We think prostitution is wrong, but we don’t want to attack the girls.’ ”

      The government has one year to introduce legislation that complies with the December 20, 2013, ruling of the country’s highest court.

      At present, the sale of sex is legal. However, soliciting in public, living off avails, and keeping a bawdyhouse are not.

      “There’s a strong, silent majority that don’t want the law changed,” Lang said.

      Scarlett Lake used to be a sex worker and exotic dancer. Now an owner of a Vancouver escort service, Lake is also a director of PACE Society, one of the groups represented by Sigurdson.

      “We don’t really trust the current government to be looking for the best thing for sex workers,” Lake told the Straight in a phone interview. “They’re going to be more concerned with how they appear to their constituents.”

      Lake rejects the Nordic model as a “terrible idea” that doesn’t make prostitutes safer.

      On February 13 this year, Joy Smith, a Conservative MP from Manitoba, released a report in which she suggested a Canadian version of the Nordic system. Smith’s recommendations include fines and jail time for buyers of sex, mandatory prison for pimps and human traffickers, and programs for exiting prostitution.

      For Sigurdson, the federal government shouldn’t stop with the Department of Justice’s web-based consultation that closes on March 17.

      “We would encourage the government to expand the process and, in particular, make sure that they speak to sex workers directly,” she said. “An important part of meaningful consultation is addressing issues in proposed legislation with the people that are going to be most directly affected by it.”

      Sigurdson said she is afraid that without speaking to sex workers, the government is going to make mistakes.




      Feb 26, 2014 at 1:47pm

      I'd be curious to know, for those who support the Nordic Model, which part of prostitution they don't like? Is it the sex?
      [You oppose people having sex? In this day and age? You've never had sex then?]
      Is it the money?
      [You oppose paying for services? You oppose capitalism? Not bloody likely!]
      You oppose trading sex for money?
      [So does that mean that you'll be prosecuting the CEOs of major Canadian corporations who all of a sudden decide to marry a woman young enough to be their daughter? You mean that women consistently ignore a man's income when deciding whether to have sex with them? I have an island in the Bahamas you might be interested in buying.]

      bela the bug

      Feb 26, 2014 at 1:55pm

      Evangelicals will be the death of us all. They should clean their own house of all the child molesters,rapists, racists and warmongers before they push their neurotic and psychotic pathologies on society. What a sick bunch of meddling mental midgets.


      Feb 26, 2014 at 11:18pm

      Conservatives should realise that a significant part of their constituency probable includes men who have bought sex sometime in the past, but wouldn't dare express a vocal opinion on it. Given the number of sex-workers out there, 80% of whom are not streetwalkers, and that there are probably millions of men who have bought sex from them somtime in the past, the Conservatives might be surprized at the extent of a backlash against them during the next elections. It's the same as Iggy ignoring the impact of his threat to confiscate certain types of presently legal firearms, and upsetting many of the 2 million licensed gun owners in Canada. Any political party that's forgets how to count doesn't deserve to run the country. This time, it might be the Conservatives.

      Yeah right

      Feb 27, 2014 at 9:19am

      I'm all for putting out a major effort to help as many of these women get their lives back in order and to give them alternatives to such a dangerous way to make an income. This will involve massive programs that will need to be well-funded and stay that way forever. It would also need to be run without strings attached....such as religious doctrine being part of the program. Can Evangelicals do that? Not likely since it is their job to convert people and those in dire straits are the easiest targets. Another problem is that the amount of money to go after the men will cost a fortune. Unlike the prostitutes many of these men will have the money to defend themselves in court.

      So while the principle is a good one, I don't see it working that well, regardless of the Nordic model. One thing that everyone forgets when using Nordic countries as models for social change is that they pay a huge amount of tax. I don't see Canadians being willing to part with their money.


      Feb 27, 2014 at 11:42am

      Governments and police have no business legislating and policing people's morals. Forget the nordic model and go with the New Zealand model. Full legalization and taxation. Forget the half measures.

      Formerly prostituted

      Feb 27, 2014 at 1:30pm

      Praying the Nordic Model gets passed. It is time that Canadian men see women through the eyes of equality rather than as a purchasable commodity. Until you have sold yourself numerous times daily like I did for almost 10 years, you really have no idea of the trauma and violence that ensues during prostitution, even for the women who "choose" to enter it, and work in high end brothels (like I did). Encouraging and easing men's sexual access to women who have limited economic options will do nothing to help alleviate the problems prostituted women endure. Prostitution is a gendered practice based upon marginalization. I met thousands of sex providers and NEVER met one who genuinely enjoyed the work.


      Feb 27, 2014 at 3:50pm

      I'd like to know what is the point of focusing on 'getting them off the streets' applies to the majority (90%) who aren't actually on the streets. What are they supposed to be protected from? Is it their goal to create indoor spaces for the outdoor workers to work in?


      Feb 27, 2014 at 3:54pm

      Really, she met 'thousands" How is that even possible?

      I get that you didn't enjoy your time. I didn't enjoy my time as a retails sales clerk, that doesn't mean i am trying to abolish minimum wage jobs. it also means i do not have the right to try to abolish the legal pursuit of an occupation done by willing and consenting adults.


      Feb 28, 2014 at 8:50pm

      For those who endorse the Nordic Model of Prostitution

      Page 7: Information received by the police during 2011
      showed that by far the majority of victims were girls
      and women. No boys or men were identifi ed in 2011
      as victims of human traffi cking for sexual purposes.
      The foreign girls and women recruited to Sweden for
      the purposes of prostitution came primarily from
      Eastern Europe (especially Romania, Lithuania,
      Estonia, Slovakia and Poland), Thailand and Nigeria..

      Page 17: The increase in Lithuanian women being sold for
      prostitution in Sweden in 2011 was particularly
      noticeable in the Stockholm area where police identifi
      ed fi ve different branches of Lithuanian human traffi
      cking networks. These groups knew each other, but
      did not appear to associate or cooperate.

      While the number of convictions for sex traffi cking
      decreased, human traffi cking from Lithuania to Sweden
      increased in 2011.

      It seems the traffickers seem to find their way to victimize women from poor nations. And Swedish authorities may not care enough about Lithuanian women.

      crusty clowne

      Mar 2, 2014 at 3:59pm

      I think if anyone is abusing children or acting as a pimp when someone is a drug addict and desperate to do anything for money, then the book should be thrown at the person. But in today's namby-pamby world of Canadian "justice", they would be lucky to get their hands slapped. So rather than get tough and do it right, the Canadian government wimps out with a bunch of posturing and hot air.

      When it comes to adults with all of their mental facilities in good shape, maybe it's time for the government to finally leave them alone and butt out of the personal business of adults.