Skip to main content

Justice Minister Peter MacKay arrives at a Commons justice committee meeting on Monday July 7, 2014. Mr. MacKay says his prostitution bill complies with the Charter.ADRIAN WYLD/The Canadian Press

A pillar of the federal government's new anti-prostitution bill was the funding that came with it – but Ottawa is staying tight-lipped about how the cash will be spent, amid a barrage of critics saying it won't be enough.

The $20-million in new funding was announced June 4 along with the bill, aimed at programs that help get sex workers out of the trade. There were no details, however, including whether that was a one-time grant or an annual figure.

In committee hearings this week, the $20-million was said to be spread over five years. Departmental officials still say there's no estimate of how it will be spent.

"The specifics of when [and] how the money will be spent have not yet been finalized," Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Saindon said in a statement this week.

The "funding would be allocated through existing federal programs" with an emphasis on programs that "can help individuals exit prostitution," the statement said. It offered no further detail, and repeated language used in a press release issued a month earlier when the bill was tabled. The government's tight-lipped approach comes during a week where the Justice committee heard from dozens of witnesses about the new proposed prostitution law, Bill C-36, with many – including critics and supporters of the bill – warning there was too little funding.

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson called it "woefully inadequate," while Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan estimated his province, per capita, would get less than $200,000 per year, too little to make a difference when the province already spends $8-million a year on similar programs. "I hope the government will reconsider this and provide ongoing funding because the needs of sexually exploited victims will be ongoing, no matter how well the bill works," he said. Other witnesses told the committee they considered the funding a start, but hoped for more money.

During committee hearings, NDP MP Ève Péclet called the $20-million "a slap in the face" but Conservative MP Stella Ambler suggested other funding may be added on later. "It doesn't preclude there being other announcements," she said during a committee meeting Tuesday.

The committee is scheduled to carry out its detailed, clause-by-clause review of the bill next Tuesday.