The Harper government will table new prostitution legislation in the Commons today.
The bill is the government’s response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision in December which struck down key provisions of the country’s prostitution laws.
While the court ruled the laws were unconstitutional, it gave the government a year to replace them.
Under these laws, prostitution itself is legal but almost all related activities – including communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and running a brothel – are criminal offences.
The new bill comes just two days after the Justice Department released the results of an online consultation which showed that a slim majority of respondents felt that buying sex should be illegal.
However, two-thirds of the more than 31,000 respondents said selling sex should not be an offence.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the new legislation will be aimed at protecting the vulnerable.
“We believe that this legislation is the proper response, it’s the measured response after having consulted broadly,” he said. “And we feel that this will go to the heart of protecting vulnerable individuals.”
Vanessa D’Allesio, a sex worker and member of the board of directors of Maggie’s – Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project, said the government failed to consult people who actually work in the sex trade.
The organization says decriminalization is the only system that will protect sex workers, by ensuring access to labour, legal and human rights.
A discussion paper published as part of the consultation noted countries have generally taken one of three approaches:
- Decriminalization or legalization (places such as Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia)
- Prohibition of both the purchase and sale of sexual services (all U.S. states, with the exception of Nevada)
- Abolition, or the Nordic model, which criminalizes clients and third parties but not prostitutes, accompanied by social programs aimed at helping sex workers (Sweden, Norway and Iceland)