POLITICS
09/10/2014 04:30 EDT | Updated 11/09/2014 05:59 EST

Canada's Sex Trade Industry Shows Its Diversity As Prostitution Bill Battle Rages

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OTTAWA - Not-for-profit groups that advocate for those in the sex industry are divided in their response to the federal government's proposed new prostitution bill.

Some say sex workers aren't adequately protected by Bill C-36, but others say those concerns are a luxury for people who choose to work in the sex industry, not those forced into it.

The proposed law is the government's answer to a Supreme Court decision last year that found the existing laws violated the Charter rights of sex workers because it placed them in peril.

The bill is before a Senate committee this week following similar House of Commons hearings earlier this summer.

The government says the new bill addresses the high court's concerns because it essentially allows prostitutes to work freely — including hiring protection and starting up brothels — as long as they're doing it of their own free will.

But advocates within the sex trade industry say the new provisions do not go far enough to provide the safe working conditions demanded by the Supreme Court decision.

"We need to listen to what currently working sex workers have to say about their experience and start from there, and you need to believe to what they tell you about their experience," said Kerry Poth, chair of the board of directors at the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver.

"Because some of us find the idea of sex work to be disgusting or distasteful, doesn't mean that sex workers find it that way."

Some women's groups have scheduled a news conference Wednesday to outline their position on the legislation.

Not all of those working in the sex industry are free to talk, said Timea Nagy, who describes herself as a victim of human trafficking who now works with other victims.

"I hear the pro groups loud and clear when they say, 'What about us, what about the women who are in it because they want to be in it, we have the right for our safety,' and I say, 'Yes, you do," she told the committee.

"'But according to you, you made a conscious decision to enter into a very dangerous world. The trafficked victims didn't make that decision for themselves.'"

Justice Minister Peter MacKay told senators that the ultimate goal of the law is to end prostitution entirely, by making it illegal to buy sex or exploit those who sell it, essentially criminalizing pimps and potentially those who help women in the sex trade.

Nagy said without demand, the trafficking business would wither.

"Girls' lives are ruined forever by johns. Do we create a law for luxury, convenience, to be able to support a habit, or do we create laws to save lives?"

The government is seeking to get the law passed by the end of the year in order to meet the timeline established by the Supreme Court in its decision.

While he believes the new bill is constitutionally sound, MacKay acknowledged Tuesday it is still likely to be tested in the courts.