Ms. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Dear Ms. Wynne,
Defend Dignity, an independent ministry affiliated with the EFC, is encouraging Canadians to write their own letters to the Ontario government on the issue at www.defenddignity.ca
I am writing to express my deep concern over recent comments in the media suggesting the Government of Ontario might not enforce Canada’s new prostitution laws over concerns about their constitutionality.
The new laws, crafted in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in R v. Bedford, were developed by the Federal Government in broad consultation with survivor organizations, women’s groups, law enforcement officials, front-line and service organizations, and a number of national groups such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Great care was taken to consider and weigh the evidence and the realities of the commercial sex trade. Their conclusions were outlined in the preamble to Bill C-36, which recognizes that prostitution is inherently violent and exploitive, that objectification of the human body and commodification of sexual activity causes social harm, and that prostitution violates both human dignity and equality between the sexes.
The vast majority of individuals in prostitution are not there because of truly free and informed choice, and most would get out if they felt they had a viable alternative. Where a choice has been made and the individual is not prostituting as a result of coercion, the choice is constrained; meaning the choice to prostitute is made out of dire economic necessity – quite often the choice between feeding your children or putting a roof over their head, or not.
Research and anecdotal evidence tell us that nearly all individuals in prostitution have a history of sexual abuse. As a society we must not affirm that a history of abuse means an individual can or ought to accept a lifetime of abuse in commercial sexual exploitation.
The objective of the new laws, then, is to put an end to sexual exploitation. These new laws represent a paradigm shift in law and policy, and eventually we hope in public attitude toward prostitution.
The Federal Government also carefully considered potential constitutional questions when crafting the laws. The preamble to Bill C-36, which outlines the objectives for the laws, provides an overall context and framework for any future consideration of the laws’ validity. The preamble indicates a clear shift from the treatment of prostitution as public nuisance to treatment of prostitution as sexual exploitation and violence against women. In its’ ruling in Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the harms imposed by the impugned provisions were “grossly disproportionate” to the laws’ stated objectives of preventing public nuisance and community disruption. The objectives of the laws, which include protecting those who sell sexual services from exploitation, protecting communities from the harms caused by prostitution and reducing the demand for paid sexual services offer a radically different context for constitutional consideration of the new laws.
In crafting the laws, the Federal Government took a big picture view of prostitution, and courageously challenged the long-held assumption that (primarily) men are entitled to paid sexual access to (primarily) women and children. These laws recognize the importance of denouncing and prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, because the demand for paid sex is what funnels individuals into prostitution and fuels sex trafficking both here in Canada, and globally.
At the same time, the laws initiate a critical shift in how prostituted persons are viewed in law. Historically, those who are prostituted have been treated as public nuisance. The Federal Government has made it clear that in the spirit and intent of the law, those who are prostituted are to be seen as victims of sexual exploitation, and are therefore afforded immunity from criminal charges, except under specific circumstances.
Criminal laws are not merely penal. They give expression to the social norms that undergird a society. They both express and reinforce the basis commitments that bind a society together. In a very real sense, the law is a teacher. And these new laws will teach coming generations of boys that buying sex is not just illegal in Canada, it is unacceptable, because at its’ core, prostitution is exploitive, violent, and a manifestation of social and gender inequality.
No law is perfect, but the approach taken with these new laws strikes an important balance and best recognizes the danger, harm and abuse inherent in prostitution. And by directly targeting the demand for paid sexual services, they initiate a monumental shift in law and policy that constitutes a victory for women; because all women and girls are safer in a society that chooses to stand up and say no to exploitation.
It is important to remember that Bill C-36 includes a provision mandating a five-year review. This means there is a mechanism in place to, at the five year mark, assess the effectiveness of the new laws and make adjustments as needed. We believe the new laws will have a normative effect on how our society views and understands prostitution and sexual exploitation, but this will take time. In the meantime, we urge the Government of Ontario to lend its full support to the new laws and to their enforcement.
Thank you for your consideration,
Bruce Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada