OTTAWA - A ban on advertising sexual services takes effect Saturday as part of the federal government's new prostitution laws — but at least one of Canada's leading independent newspapers says it plans to defy it.
The prohibition is one of several sweeping new changes to the way prostitution is now regulated in Canada in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last year that found the old laws violated the rights of prostitutes.
But Toronto's Now Magazine, which has long published ads promoting sexual services in the back pages of its weekly tabloid, has no plans to stop, said Alice Klein, the alternative newspaper's editor and chief executive officer
"Now Magazine started taking sex ads because we take ads, that's how we support ourselves and we have always refused to discriminate against sex work and sex workers," she said in an interview.
"We are committed to free expression and we don't believe it's our right to say which advertisers are allowed to advertise and which advertisers aren't."
The Supreme Court struck down Canada's old prostitution laws last year, ruling they deprived sex workers of the right to a safe and secure environment.
In response, the government introduced Bill C-36, which upended prostitution legislation in Canada by criminalizing the purchase of sex — but not its sale.
Through the law, the government is also cracking down on all those who profit from the sale of sex.
"We will hold those who are advertising — not the prostitute themselves, but those who are advertising these services either through papers or online — also to criminal account," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said last July.
Klein said Now has sought advice from one of the lawyers behind the Supreme Court challenge.
"This is another area of the law which just makes the lives of sex workers really difficult and of course attacks their ability to earn a living," she said.
"But the law does say that sex workers themselves are allowed to advertise, and our legal advisers understand that to include the publication of their ads in our publication."
In Vancouver, sex workers are already reporting that some online advertising services are refusing to take ads for explicit sexual services, said Kerry Porth, a board member of Pivot Legal Aid Society in Vancouver and a former prostitute.
"It makes it harder to work indoors if you can't actually advertise where you are and what you're doing," she said.
Not everyone is opposed to the ban.
"We support the section of the bill that criminalizes advertising of sexual services because of the role that advertising plays in normalizing and entrenching racist and sexist stereotypes," Suzanne Jay of the group Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution told a House of Commons committee.
In the course of its studies of the bill, the House of Commons and Senate heard a wide-ranging variety of opinions and perspectives from more than 100 witnesses.
Their testimony exposed a divide between those who see prostitutes as victims and others who consider prostitution a career choice.
Though the government considers prostitution a crime against women that must be eradicated, they seem sensitive to the distinction.
The bill was accompanied by $20 million in funding over five years for exit strategies, a measure that was supposed to be emphasized on the bill came into force.
But when the government realized that day was Dec. 6, which happened to be the National Day for Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, they quietly announced the funding a few days earlier.
Some say it's entirely appropriate for the bill to come into force on Saturday.
"I think it's tremendous it becomes law on Dec. 6," said Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, which works with prostitutes among other women.
"We believe that prostitution is men's violence against women so we're happy to see this action that's been taken."
Walker was among the dozens of witnesses who told the government the $20 million wasn't enough, though she said her agency sill hopes to get some of the funding to hire an additional staff worker.
"Even if the government had announced $50 million across the country or whatever amount they determined, likely people would complain, including us, its not enough," she said.
The only way to solve prostitution is to address what leads to it, said Kate Gibson, the executive director of the Wish Drop-in Centre Society in Vancouver, which works with survival sex workers.
Divided evenly amongst the provinces and then amongst sex workers themselves, $20 million would amount to $47.02 a year per sex worker, Gibson said — a paltry sum.
"They think they are going to end something that is rooted in economics and historical trauma," she said of the government's efforts.
"They don't want to address any of that."
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