Dear Mr. MacKay
John Cassells, March 18th, 2014
I salute all of you who took time over the past month to pen your input on prostitution legislation for the federal government (during the window of February 17th to March 17th). Perhaps you, like many others, painstakingly researched the issues and, in the end, just made your best judgement call. It really does come down that; a judgement call, because there is no perfect legal model to follow. But, there certainly is a wrong one. Legalization. There is more than a sufficient body of international research, to draw a line between legal prostitution and sharp increases in violent exploitation of women and children.
The legal challenge (Bedford vs. Canada) to our prostitution laws never really was about safety. Law Professor, Alan Young, who launched the challenge said this, of the violence, “We don’t know what will happen [if prostitution is legalized], but this isn’t about that.” Our law makers, however, see a golden opportunity to address that violence. Contrast Mr. Young’s assertion with Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s response, “Prostitution is a very corrosive part of what’s happening in society, and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bedford case will require legislation to fill the gap.”
I invite you to read my response to Mr. MacKay’s invitation for input:
Dear Mr. MacKay, I commend you in your stand against legalizing prostitution and thank you for your dedicated work to protect vulnerable adolescents and adults through new prostitution legislation. Though the case at hand relates to laws for adults only, I include “adolescents” purposefully, and will say more about that. Thanks too, for inviting input from the public. You’ll see I’ve copied Peter Van Loan on this email; he is my Member of Parliament.
I’ve been a youth worker for more than 25 years. In that time I’ve worked with countless girls and young women who were trafficked in the sex trade. I’ve developed outreach programs and support systems for these young people, and successfully helped many leave the sex trade. I have spoken about prostitution and human trafficking at a variety of functions and in the media. I have also organized several such events. I remain committed to those who are harmed by prostitution and it’s related crimes, and will continue to address such needs in my work.
The glaring problem with our prostitution laws is that buying sex has never been illegal. Canadians like to think of themselves as a nation that upholds human rights and defends gender equality. However, allowing Canadian men to gain intimate control of women’s bodies through financial leverage, is in stark contrast to this country’s core values. That must be changed.
Prostitution is not just dangerous, it has a far reaching impact on the health and wellbeing of the prostitute. Saying that prostitution is a victimless crime, is problematic because it’s profoundly harmful to the psyche. Most prostitutes will suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many will also develop serious physical health problems.
Adult prostitution is inseparable from the sex trafficking of minors. While prostitution laws address the involvement of adults in prostitution, there is a serious concern with the inflow of youth into the adult sex industry. This is because the sex trade is fueled by demand; and the highest demand is not for women, it’s for girls; children who are lured, controlled and perpetually violated. The lack of accountability on men who buy sex in Canada has led to a huge industry in trafficking girls 13 -17 years old. That number is in the 10’s of thousands, and each one of those numbers represents a young life destroyed by violence. This issue goes far beyond moral ideals or political bent, it’s a humanitarian crisis, callously created by Canadian men.
In principle, I also support the criminalizing of selling sex. I hold this view because I’ve seen that police intervention can be one of the most effective methods to provide options for those ensnared in the sex trade. If selling sex is illegal, you also have an easy answer to the question to “living off the avails”; it should never be allowed. My primary fear with prohibition of buying and selling sex, is that the legal system will punish those who are acting under duress or out of simple desperation. The intent of the law would need to reserve punishment for the prostitutes who are selling sex by choice. This would include a larger portion of male and transgender prostitutes, along with, as little as one in 10 female prostitutes. I would support full prohibition on prostitution on these conditions:
- The provinces and municipalities would generously participate in support services and court diversion programs to help women and children successfully exit the sex trade.
- Clemency for prostitutes would not be dependent on testifying against traffickers or Johns, because this is often not a reasonable expectation because of mental condition.
- Accountability would need to be placed on all jurisdictions to aggressively enforce laws pertaining to buyers (Johns) and traffickers/pimps.
If these measures cannot be reasonably achieved, I suggest looking to an abolitionist approach [or “Nordic Model,” which criminalizes the buying of sex and decriminalizes the selling of sex].
I like the results the Nordic model is getting in other countries and I’ve encouraged many hundreds of people to consider it’s merit. That being said I do have some concerns.
- We cannot expect optimum results from the Nordic Model unless we reform our welfare system. I say this because inadequate welfare systems are a major precursor to prostitution in Canada. Welfare in every region of Canada is inadequate, in that, 1) it doesn’t provide a livable wage, and 2) it systemically discourages recipients from seeking education and legal career opportunities.
- Legalizing the selling of sex would presumably give the green light to operating common bawdy houses. If that were the case, I fear that police investigations for minors and human trafficking victims could be considerably hampered because police access to these legal establishments could be more difficult to obtain.
If those concerns can be effectively addressed, then I consider the Nordic Model a viable option to full prohibition.
In closing, we absolutely must combat the demand for the flesh trade in Canada. We are long overdue to stop the legal purchase of sex. Mr. MacKay, you have a great opportunity to end the complicity of Parliament in the buying and degrading of vulnerable girls and women. I will look forward, with great interest, to seeing what you are able to achieve on this matter. Thank you for your diligent efforts to address injustice in our great nation.
Street Youth Specialist, SIM Canada http://www.sim.ca/
Arkenstone Founder & Canadian Street Dialogues Blogger
Website & Blog Page: http://johncassells.com/
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