For far too long, Canada's approach to prostitution has been to treat prostitution, and specifically the women involved in it, as a nuisance and not as a form of violence against women.
Over the past century, Canadian legislators have developed laws to address adult prostitution that have weighed heavily on criminalizing activities around prostitution, instead of the act itself, focusing on the 'nuisance' to the general public. As noted by a Justice Canada lawyer during testimony on the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws in 2005, the intent of communication offence in s. 213 was to "address the nuisance problem; it wasn't to address the overall prostitution problem."
This view was most recently expressed in the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on December 20, 2013, which stated that "the purpose of the communicating provision is not to eliminate street prostitution for its own sake, but to take prostitution 'off the streets and out of public view' in order to prevent the nuisances that street prostitution can cause."
This approach must change. Canada is now at a tipping point as we redraft the laws on prostitution. We must shed the 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude and shift our approach to recognize that women in prostitution have the right to dignity, equality and most of all, to be free from exploitation and violence.
First, under no circumstances should Canada ever consider legalizing prostitution. This would be a direct attack on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, girls, and vulnerable individuals, reducing them to a commodity to be bought and sold. Countries that have legalized and regulated prostitution have seen sexual exploitation, human trafficking and violence towards primarily women and girls increase drastically.
In the same regard, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality.
Both of these approaches ignore the significant harm that prostitution causes to youth, women, and vulnerable populations and normalizes the buying of sex.
Instead, Canada must take a new approach to prostitution that clearly reflects the goal of eliminating prostitution and sexual exploitation. Today I have released The Tipping Point, my report and recommendations on the measures Canada can adopt to address the harms and inequality of prostitution.
The Tipping Point emphasizes adopting a three-pronged approach (adopted in countries like Norway, Sweden and France) that would: target the pimps and buyers of sex instead of prostituted women, provide long-term funding for exit programs to assist prostituted women in escaping exploitation, and develop a national awareness campaign to promote the equality of women and reveal the violence, inequality and coercion inherent in prostitution.
As a society, we can only improve women's equality by helping women out of prostitution and exploitation, not encouraging them into it.
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