Critics of prostitution bill say Peter MacKay's testimony won't slow court challenges

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      Advocates for the decriminalization of sex work say testimony delivered today (July 7) by Justice Minister Peter MacKay offered few clues as to how proposed prostitution rules could withstand a constitutional court challenge.

      Jamie Lee Hamilton, one of Vancouver’s leading advocates for sex trade workers, argued MacKay’s remarks are indicative of a divide that’s opened between the federal Conservatives and Canada’s top judges.

      “I think he [MacKay] is challenging the Supreme Court of Canada here, and I’m not sure if that’s right, for parliamentarians to be doing that,” she said in a telephone interview. “It seems that maybe they [the Conservatives] find some of the judges a bit too liberal-thinking, but the judges are addressing issues of law. On that frontier, I just find it really odd that the Conservative government seems to be in attack mode against the Supreme Court of Canada.”

      This morning MacKay spoke at-length on Bill C-36’s proposed changes to prostitution laws at a special standing committee meeting scheduled to continue through to July 10.

      “Bill C-36 does not seek to allow or facilitate the practice of prostitution,” MacKay said. “To the contrary, its goal is to reduce the demand for prostitution with a view to discouraging entry into it, deterring participation in it, and ultimately, abolishing it, to the extent possible.”

      Among other provisions, Bill C-36, makes it a criminal offence to purchase sexual services or communicate for that purpose.

      Hamilton argued that stipulation targeting clients contradicts the spirit of a December 2013 Supreme Court ruling known as the Bedford decision.

      She explained that Bedford struck down laws criminalizing key activities performed by sex workers for the reason that Canada’s prostitution laws should not endanger those individuals’ safety. Hamilton argued that by shifting penalties to target clients, sex workers are forced to remain underground, where they are less safe.

      At the July 7 committee meeting, MacKay conceded that he expects Bill C-36 will be subject to a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court. But he argued the proposed changes will pass that test.

      MacKay also emphasized that Bill C-36 marks a “fundamental shift towards the treatment of prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation”.

      “Without doubt, persons who sell their own sexual services are prostitution’s primary victims,” he added.

      Hamilton took issue with MacKay’s characterization of all sex workers as victims.

      “I think it’s wonderful that he wants to address exploitation, but we already have laws that deal with exploitation,” she said. “He’s equating all prostitution as exploitation, and that’s really an extreme type of thinking.”

      John Lowman is an SFU professor of criminology who spoke at the Justice Committee meeting shortly after MacKay delivered his opening remarks.

      In a telephone interview, Lowman told the Straight that in addition to constitutional arguments cited in Bedford—which relied on section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—Bill C-36 could also face a constitutional challenge under section 15, which pertains to equality, including equality of the sexes.

      He explained the new laws could be interpreted as discriminatory against men. That’s because an estimated 80 percent of sex workers are female, because Bill C-36 decriminalizes the side of a transaction for sexual services conducted by a sex worker, and because it criminalizes the side of a transaction conducted by a client.

      “In my eye, that creates a problem under section 15, which guarantees equality of treatment of the two sexes,” Lowman said. “This particular law allows that person to drum up business and then prosecute the person that takes the bait….It is institutionalized entrapment of men.”

      Lowman argued that Bill C-36 repeats mistakes identified in Bedford and creates new laws that are also likely to be found in violation of the charter.

      “Everything he [MacKay] has said has convinced me that this can’t stand up to constitutional muster,” Lowman said.

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      Alan Ranta

      Jul 7, 2014 at 4:01pm

      "... its goal is to reduce the demand for prostitution with a view to discouraging entry into it, deterring participation in it, and ultimately, abolishing it, to the extent possible."

      So you want to try to abolish the oldest profession in the world... Yeah, good luck with that. You'd think all those thousands of years of human existence would teach you that criminalizing this activity only ever makes it more dangerous for the women and men involved, but never remotely affects its prevalence... But I guess Cons like MacKay are just too thick to consider learning anything from history.


      Jul 7, 2014 at 5:39pm

      MacKay's history only goes back 6000 years. You know, when humans and dinosaurs used to frolic in the mist together!
      For the most part, I like maritimers. I've lived there, travelled all over it and sailed around it. But every- time I so much as hear this MacKays's name, I ask myself: "Is everyone in central Nova Scotia fucking retarded?"

      It has been proven

      Jul 7, 2014 at 6:30pm

      That there is a link between how homophobic someone is and the likely hood that they are in fact gay.


      Jul 8, 2014 at 6:34am

      It is scary how out of touch MacKay is. He and his pal Harper are living in some bubble, a fanciful place where the world is what they ponder. Shame on him for wasting everyone's time with this absurd nonsense.

      The sooner we can get rid of these guys, the better!

      Canada's failed experient of Conservatism:

      Jul 8, 2014 at 3:24pm

      Considering the Feds argued that "prostitutes are responsible for their own dangerous actions" in the Bedford decision, how can they argue in the form of a repetitious talking point that prostitutes are "exploited in an inherently dangerous occupation. By the way the Tories never refer to sex workers as citizens, which should be remembered the next time women are being butchered by the next Robert Pickton, without satisfactory legislation that protects sex workers.

      Also the fact that MacKay (and Joy Smith) only use talking points to support their views, rather than reference any kind of study that research proves that this is merely playing politics with their dwindling base. The party of law and order couldn't care less about law, they're only interested in maintaining power and winning the next election in the sleaziest way possible!


      Jul 9, 2014 at 7:07am

      Prostitution among adult and consentient people is a right of a sex way choice and it must be respected. Stop with this illogical "Prostitution-Phobia". Moreover, it is better to legalize and tax prostitution as soon as possible. I can say that prostitutes' customers are not in a little number, so politics must pay attention to the votes! Moreover, if Canadian Costitutional Court said that pimps and brothels must be legal, prostitutes' customers would be able to be illegal? I think it would not.


      Jul 25, 2014 at 9:27am

      Prostitution is the oldest oppression