ARPA Canada Submits Recommendations to Parliament on Canada’s Prostitution Law
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s prostitution laws, giving Parliament one year to pass new legislation. The following year, Parliament passed Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, also known as PCEPA. This law focused on the exploitation, objectification, and commodification of the human body that are inherent in prostitution. On this basis, the law sought to protect prostitutes and help them exit prostitution, seeing them primarily as victims of exploitation. The law is based on the Nordic model, first implemented in Sweden in 1999, which emphasizes the need to reduce demand for prostitution. This is done by criminalizing pimps and johns who exploit and purchase prostitutes, rather than criminalizing the prostitutes themselves.
Bill C-36 included a requirement to review the law within five years of its passage. It has now been over five years, and a comprehensive review is currently being carried out by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Within a year of this review, the committee will submit a report to the House of Commons, including any recommended changes to the existing law.
What Happens During a Review?
The purpose of a review is to look back and examine a law’s effectiveness and any unforeseen consequences that the law created. As part of the review, the Committee is holding hearings, where organizations and individuals can express their support or concerns with the law. So far, presenters have included a variety of academics, law enforcement, anti-human trafficking organizations, and sex work advocacy organizations. The Committee wants to understand whether the law has achieved its stated purpose of reducing demand for prostitution and protecting communities and those selling sex, or if it needs to be changed. Additionally, they will discuss whether the objectives are still appropriate to pursue. ARPA Canada was able to participate by submitting a written brief to encourage Parliament to retain the existing law.
Canada’s Prostitution Law
ARPA Canada’s submission focuses on the problem of prostitution in Canada, the effectiveness of the existing law, and recommendations for improvement. Prostitution is a problem because it denies human dignity and reduces people to commercial objects. While some sex work advocates argue that prostitution is a legitimate job choice, studies show that the majority of prostitutes suffer sexual assault and abuse, and most want to escape their situation. Additionally, prostitution is closely linked to human trafficking. If there is a demand for prostitution, traffickers will step in to provide a greater supply, with mainly trafficked women as the commodity. Canada’s legislation targets and discourages that demand.
Evidence from Sweden, where the Nordic model has been in place longer than here in Canada, shows decreased rates of demand for prostitution as well as an overall decrease in prostitution and human trafficking compared to the surrounding countries. Many Canadians are supportive of Canada’s prostitution law, but it can still be improved in three specific ways.
Our recommendations focus on better enforcement, better education, and better exit supports. This requires a collaborative approach between federal, provincial, and municipal governments. The federal government creates criminal laws around prostitution, but provincial governments deal with policing and enforcement. Provincial governments should have a consistent focus on appropriately enforcing Canada’s existing prostitution laws, helping to reduce demand for prostitution, and finding ways to discover where exploitation is taking place.
At the same time, Canadians need a better understanding of what the law is and why prostitution is harmful to individuals and to society as a whole. Prostitution denies human dignity, treats people like commercial objects, and normalizes harmful treatment of women. Appropriate information for teachers and students in provincial education systems can help the younger generation understand the issue and identify signs of human trafficking and exploitation to help protect themselves or others at risk.
Finally, women need better access to exit supports so they can successfully leave prostitution. This requires coordination between the different levels of government, along with various service providers. This can include support through law enforcement, health care and housing providers, and mental health and substance use agencies.
Canada’s prostitution legislation properly addresses concerns about the exploitation and commodification of human beings. Ultimately, we support retaining the current law, while also seeking ways to improve enforcement, education, and exit supports. We encourage you to read the entire submission here.