As Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act moves closer to becoming law, debate on how best to protect women and children from the dangers of prostitution ensues. Critics of our legislation have focused on the legitimacy of prostitution as an occupation and highlight the right of individual expression. As such, they have decried any attempt to criminalize activities around prostitution as unconstitutional.
One of the most common arguments raised by critics is that prostitution is not itself dangerous but rather, the laws against prostitution make it unsafe. To them, legalization and regulation would end the exploitation and help to achieve women's equality. The experience of many former prostitutes reveals otherwise, and instead speaks to the fact that prostitution is an inherently dangerous activity. A survivor that testified at the House Committee on Bill C-36 said, "There is no way to make prostitution safe. This is what needs to be understood. No panic button, no amount of time, will be able to screen your client beforehand: nothing."
Critics of our criminal justice response also contend that prostitution is often the result of the economic inequality and poverty faced by vulnerable women and youth. Our government recognizes this, which is why we have committed $20 million to support a range of initiatives and efforts that will assist vulnerable individuals in exiting prostitution. This is in addition to the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and many other social and community-based programs supported by our government that are focused on fighting poverty, inequality and violence against women.
Even with this funding however, as we support women looking to exit this dangerous activity, the violence and exploitation inherent in prostitution continues to thrive. Prostitution is not driven by poverty. Prostitution is driven by men who desire to purchase women and youth for sex. That is why, for the first time in Canadian history, our government has brought forward legislation that aggressively targets the pimps and johns who fuel the demand for this activity with tough penalties.
The response from police, community organizations, and women's groups regarding the proposed legislation is positive. As frontline worker Michelle Miller testified at Committee "Bill C-36 is a progressive, historic piece of legislation that finally dares to criminalize the source of harm in prostitution, the johns."
Ending prostitution and the harms associated with it will require support and action from all levels of government. Provinces and municipalities must step up and share this burden. At the moment, only B.C. and Manitoba have developed strategies to combat exploitation in prostitution and assist its victims.
Those seeking to legalize prostitution claim it is the only option for a progressive society. As our federal Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay has articulately said however, a truly progressive society encourages the equality and dignity of women, not the exploitation of women. Our government wants to build a Canada that targets predators and pimps, helps vulnerable individuals escape prostitution, and upholds the dignity of women. With the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons, we recognize that we can do better for women and youth.
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